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A Matter of Faith: Pappap Hurst

I remember coming home from sixth grade, looking out the bus window at Pappap’s country home, and wishing I could enter a World’s Best Grandfather writing contest. I knew my entry would win, because I did have the best grandfather in the world.

On the outside, Pappap’s house looked somewhat shabby, with its rough-shingle siding, but inside looked like a cozy museum, with its low ceilings, pastel walls and rose-designed carpets. It held treasures such as Uncle George’s old tin cup, a gnarled walking stick and antique knick knacks. We kids liked the three monkeys best: See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil.

Centered in a wooded neighborhood of mostly relatives, Pappap’s house served as the hub of activity, especially for his grandchildren. Each Christmas Eve, all of the relatives gathered to celebrate Christmas and Pappap’s birthday. He was born Andrew Brown Hurst, December 24, 1899. That Christmas morning, his dad had held up the newborn and said, “Look what Santa brought.” One brother protested, “Is that all?”

Raised on an old cotton plantation in Georgia, Pappap often found himself the brunt of his older brothers’ jokes. One day when they picked cotton, they stuffed Pappap in one of the bags to help meet their daily quota, which didn’t go over too well with their father.

After graduating from high school, Pappap hitched a train to Pennsylvania, where he worked in the steel mills as a carpenter until he retired. As far as his grandkids were concerned, he had always been old and retired. Grandma died in her early sixties, and I barely remember her. Pappap lovingly took care of his bedridden wife for three years.

Every morning, we heard his bobwhite call as he made his rounds visiting his grandchildren. He smelled of sawdust and hand lotion and carried candy in his pockets — pink mints, licorice and orange circus peanuts.

In our free time, we followed him around while he whistled and worked, trying to keep up with his quick, long strides. He looked sideways down his nose, bird-like, with a twinkle in his eye and laugh, “Ho, ho, ho,” almost like Santa Claus. I can still hear the shrill sound of his table saw. Being retired didn’t mean he had stopped working. Almost everyone around had porches, picture frames or roofing done by Pappap. They called him, “Handy Andy”.

He also doubled as a dentist. When we had loose teeth, we went to Pappap’s kitchen. He tied one end of a string around the tooth, the other end around the doorknob, and then slammed the door — quick and painless. I didn’t realize not everyone had their teeth removed that way until years later.

Always on the go, we seldom saw Pappap sitting, except at meal times. When he went off to do something, we had free run of his home. He never locked it. We snatched candy from the ceramic candy dish with a tattletale clatter. Or we went out into the musty laundry room and found a watermelon with a note that said, “Call all the kids together.” We quickly obeyed, enjoying the sweet pink fruit and seed-spitting contests. We played croquet in his yard, rolled inside tractor tires, or played in the water that gushed out of the old-fashioned pump.

He liked to hitch a hay cart up to his tractor to give us rides. One time, when we crossed a rickety bridge, the cart unhitched. He didn’t know he had lost us and kept on going. We finally yelled loud enough for him to hear. He looked around and laughed, “Ho, ho ho!”

But it wasn’t all fun and games with Pappap. If you stuck around long enough, he put you to work. On Saturdays, we dusted and vacuumed his house. And he had us paint porches, picnic tables or bookshelves, all in battleship gray. To this day, I won’t paint anything in battleship gray. We often worked in his yard or garden.

He told us how to do things instead of doing them for us. When we used the hose, he expected us to put it back the way we found it. He stood there patiently teaching us until we were able to wind it around the holder as well as he could.

He left us painting supplies, and materials to make things. We constructed a merry-go-round-like “Flying Ginny” from a wheel from farm machinery, designed and painted a board game the size of a billboard, and built a space station out of cardboard boxes.

As teenagers, we admired Pappap’s stamina. He worked all day, showered, put on “smell goods,” and then visited his “lady friend.” He didn’t come home until about 2 a.m. People said that you wouldn’t want to buy one of Pappap’s cars because it would drive the 14 miles to Johnstown on its own.

One time, I brought my city-bred college roommate home to experience country life. We bumped into Pappap returning from hunting. “Look what I got,” he said, as he reached into his coat and pulled out two dead rabbits by their back feet.

I’ll never forget how my roommate gritted her teeth, forced a smile and said, “Oh, how nice!”

One highlight of my wedding was when Pappap stood up and gave us advice like, “Pay taxes and vote, even if you don’t feel like it,” or “When she calls for supper, drop everything and come running.”

A simple unassuming man, quietly living out his faith, Pappap wouldn’t be considered a great man by the world’s standards. You don’t have to be rich, good looking or accomplish great things to be a great person. He enriched the lives of everyone who knew him, especially his grandchildren, by the way he added kindness and fun into daily details. He made us feel loved and valued with the time and attention he gave us. When Pappap died, nearly the whole town showed up for the funeral with stories of what he did for them. To me, he was not only the greatest grandpa in the world, but one of the greatest people of all time.

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