My grandpa Ron, told me about a hundred times how with every paycheck he cashed, he and Grandma always put some money in their saving account at the National Trust Bank. According to Grandpa, that money went into the bank even if they had to eat beans for supper every night. He also made sure he had a few dollars to put in the plate each Sunday at church. He was said to be tight with his money. He never bought a new car and my aunts and uncles rarely had new clothes. He was proud of the growing amount in savings. He wanted his piece of the American dream. And he was willing to work, sacrifice and save to make it happen.
He had worked in the Lea mill for twenty years first sweeping the floors to at last being a supervisor. His American dream was to be his own boss. He wanted his own business. Grandpa made that happened when he took every cent out of his saving account and bought a large warehouse near the center of town. One of the first things he did was have ‘In God We Trust’ painted in huge letters over the entrance. New businesses were opening and parking lots were full of people shopping. He turned his warehouse into an outlet store selling Lea products. There were a lot of stores and warehouses nearby selling clothes, shoes, dishes and almost everything a family could want ‘direct’ from local factories or mills. Grandpa was in his store 6 days a week, every week except holidays. Aunt Margaret who had an associate degree in accounting kept his books. He was smart enough to get a cut rate accountant to advise him at tax time. I worked there in that warehouse every summer until I joined the Navy.
Time passed so quickly. I married and became the father of three girls. The Navy stationed us all around the world and we didn’t get back home to see Grandpa very often. I would try to call him and talk to him when I could. I did make it home when Grandma died but could only stay for two days. All three girls had gotten the chicken pox and my wife didn’t have enough vacation days at her job to stay home the whole time.
The years passed and my parents moved to Georgia when Dad found a better paying job. The rest of the family drifted away moving here and there. Finally only Grandpa and one cousin still lived in the old neighborhood.
Somehow I could never get the time to come back to visit Grandpa and my phone calls became more and more infrequent. When I did talk to him I found he had grown more contemptuous of society. He blamed everything he saw as bad on the democrats, hippies, an overall lack of morals, too many lazy people living off welfare and big government.
When Grandpa died I flew back alone to the funeral. All the aunts and uncles were there and a smattering of cousins. I arrived just in time for the service. I was shocked when I saw Grandpa in his casket. He looked so shrunken and worn. He was dressed in his Sunday suit and his mouth was fixed in a tight disapproving line. He was buried with his bible at his side. I stood dry-eyed through the service while most people around me cried nosily. After the graveside service I just had to get away. I wasn’t ready to go back to Grandpa’s house. I knew everyone would be there clustered in groups eating from covered dishes of food that his church and neighbors had dropped off.
I slipped away before most people had gotten into their cars. I quickly drove my rental in the opposite direction of Grandpa’s house. I was shaken when I drove through town and saw how much everything had changed. Most of the outlet stores were empty and bared shut. Some of the smaller stores now were tattoo parlors, pawn shops and pay day loans. I drove wide eyed and totally stunned until I got to Grandpa’s warehouse and pulled in the empty parking lot. It was shut tight and looked as if it had been empty for a long time. There was a weathered, hand-written sign reading “For Lease” hanging right in-between ‘In God’ and ‘We Trust’ on the entrance. I cried right there in front of that empty warehouse. Not only had Grandpa died but so had his dream.