Who had the most positive influence on you as a child? 2/10/21
My paternal grandfather, whom I always knew as Earl L. Heverly, but whose full name was literally the longest name of anyone I know, “Lincoln McKinley Earl De La Monte Heverly de Heverly,” given to him by his grandfather Samuel, was clearly the person who had the first, most positive influence on me, until his death in1962. Although a close second was his wife, my grandmother Bertha Genevive Gecan Heverly, and my maternal grandmother, Helen Dabney Bruce, the reason I chose Grandpa Heverly, is because of all the humans that were present in my young life; he stands out as the one who I first recall ever causing me to have HOPE, be brave. He continued to inspire me to be fully my best, sing, dance, adventure, and generously celebrate LIFE.
In sixty years, I was the second born in our family, the highly hoped-for firstborn female in the Heverly Family, but always in my little heart, in fierce and impossible competition to outdo my brother Earl. He was 21 months older than me. Hopelessness set in early and deep as I worked hard to do everything my big brother did and better. It rarely happened! I owe this “outdo” mentality to why I was so chubby at such a young age. I was super aware of the rule of eating everything on my plate and remember trying to do so, asking for as much as my brother had on his, and then feeling sick with overeating after our meals.
By the time I was eight, I was horrified with my body; I felt the only good thing about me was my long blond wavy hair, beautiful white teeth, and my fine singing voice. Then my mom cut my hair really short, I got glasses, and entered the world of despair.
In our family, it was a long-held historical fact for my grandfather to date, measure, and mark each child’s height on the wall every summer in my grandparent’s cabin. That lovely tradition is still carried out today by all of us. I quickly passed my brother’s comparative height early on and was very proud of this ONE victory.
The summer of my seventh or eighth year, for some reason, my grandma decided she should start weighing us all and record it in a little book she kept. This book was my torture, but I let her do it until I was nine. Then, feeling old enough, I stubbornly refused to step on the scale she had brought into the living room, or join the line of kids, happily waiting for their turn. Even the surrounding family’s children playing with us were hopping on the scale. They, too, had been added to the wall of measurements as the now newest members of the third generation of Oak Lake Kids. My grandfather was sitting, watching, and reading from his chair but could see my discomfort as my grandmother kept calling me to hop on the scale. I was overcome with shame but did not dare disobey my grandmother entirely, so I waited until all the other kids left the room and stepped into my torture, fleeing the moment it was over. I was so upset and humiliated that I didn’t return to the cabin until later that afternoon. When I walked into the living room, my grandfather immediately got up and surrounded me into his arms and held me in a long, warm, tight hug, rocking me back and forth, kissing the top of my head, and gently saying, “Just remember Peaches, (his nickname for me) that when a man hugs you, he wants to know that he has someone to really hold on to…never forget that.” His words flooded my whole being with HOPE. Hope that I would one day be just the woman some wonderful man would see true worth in and desire to hold tight as my grandfather had done. It was a life-giving, changing moment. That was the summer I became the youngest one to swim the lake, victoriously breaking my brother’s record.
My grandfather loved taking me for long rides in his fancy Lincoln Chrysler, playing real records on the record machine installed on the passenger side. We’d sail through the woods and rolling hills surrounding Oak Lake, all the way to Spooner sometimes, just listening to music and enjoying the views, watching for wildlife and wildflowers. He’d sometimes take us, kids, for walks in the lumbar woods that he owned and always invited me to come for breakfast in the mornings at his cabin any time I wanted to show up. There were always little bowls of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries in cream, a “3-minute egg” in an egg dish, cinnamon toast from Spooner Bakery, and even pancakes some days. Tiny decorated glasses of orange juice and a bit larger glass of milk completed the beautifully presented meals that I was always careful to eat, not spilling a drop or crumb. My grandmother really was the one that taught me how to set a beautiful table and present food in a fancy and welcoming way, and we all credit her with keeping my “war wounded’ grandfather alive with her careful preparation and presentation of healthy foods.
My grandfather never broke a promise to me and highly proved it the crazy day, when we were all at the cabin, him watching over us protectively from the cabin lakeside porch, as we splashed, played, and swam. We kids were always pestering him to swim with us, which he NEVER did, but promised the day the water and air temperature was the same and would also be the day he would come swim. This condition began years of us measuring the water temperature several times per day while swimming, which was literally every day and all day when we were there unless there were thunder and lightning storms. Finally, one perfect August afternoon, after days of very hot weather, my brother raced down the dock with the special thermometer that you could stick into the water, displaying both air and water temperature at the same time. Lo and behold, it was a perfect match! This was a DAY in Infamy for the Heverly Kids! We all raced up the steep rock-lined staircase, screaming with joy, to show grandpa, who then got up immediately, went into the cabin, and came out in his swim trunks. I had never seen my grandfather this exposed and was kind of shy about the sight.
In triumph, down the stairs, we all trooped, where my dad and all the neighboring families kids awaited us! Grandpa waded in; we kids jumped off the dock joining the merry crew, and together we swam to the Hassmans’ ever-present raft, out many yards from the shore. I swam in the back of my grandfather, and it was then I saw the six-bullet wound scars on his back. At the time, I thought in horror that some inhumane person had burned his back with a lit cigar. I later learned that this was a part of my grandfather’s long legacy of being “a war-wounded soldier,” but never discussed his “cigar” scars with anyone for many years until long after his death.
My grandfather taught me the value of endurance, generosity, speaking truth, hard work, and family loyalty. He was by no means a perfect human. Still, he was the one that held our family together until he died of lung cancer. His cancer began long ago by his days in the Heverly Coal Mines, worsened by being shot and left for dead in the jungles of Nicaragua, and sealed with his years of smoking from a very young age.
Once my grandfather died, all hell broke loose in our family, but that, too, is a different story.
Laurel is a singer, songwriter, mentor, teacher, wife, mother, and birth/labor coach, church planter, actress, dancer, writer, producer, crew member at Trader Joe’s Nashville, and founder of “Finding Hope,” a Skype-based counseling/life coach/mentoring program. As a follower of the teachings of Christ, Laurel has made it her life goal to welcome, encourage and walk alongside others on the journey of discovering lasting hope, speaking truth in love, celebrating the wonders of life, love and JOY of living, in working together on this amazing planet of ours with grateful and peaceful hearts.