Mythic stories were told by Mom about Grandpa Rell. How he was smart and charming with startling grey-blue eyes, an important banker and a big personality in a small farming town, like Atticus Finch and Clark Kent rolled into one. Rell died from a heart attack when I was six months old, so all I have are pictures and other people’s memories.
Mom’s stories colored how I viewed the Grandpa that I never knew, but my favorite story is one that she would never have shared with me. I heard it third hand from a second cousin years after her death.
As the story goes, Rell, his four brothers and two brother-in-laws were a tight group, pillars of their community and church who were a rowdy bunch that loved to drink and smoke cigars.
One year, Rell and this band of brothers were charged with setting up the town’s fireworks show. It was a beautiful 4th of July evening near the Sappa Lake picnic grounds and the pre-party was well under way. Rell picked up a wooden box of the fireworks and started across that grassy field towards the lake edge. I imagine him all smiles, laughing and joking with the other men, chomping his cigar in the corner of his mouth, before he stumbled on a rock and the cigar popped out of his mouth. He stopped and looked impatiently around for his stupid cigar before it dawned on him.
Fireworks. Box. Lit cigar. He threw the box on the ground and yelled at his friends and family to get back as they all ran for cover.
The next week, the local newspaper ran a brief item about how that year’s fireworks show was extremely short but spectacular to see.
I have no idea whether this incident happened or not, but I love the story. The Rell of this story was not the icon of Mom’s carefully crafted stories, but someone I would have wanted to know as an adult. Someone who was smart and interesting but also one who made mistakes and lived life to the fullest.
Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa Rell.