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The Things My Grandfather Taught Me


Tom O. Smith
When I was in college, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer.

A lifelong smoker, almost every memory I have of him includes a business suit, cigarette in hand.

His father died when he was a young child. Eventually, his mother remarried.

Her new husband was hard on young Tom, often physically beating him. So at the ripe ol' age of eleven, my grandfather decided to leave and never return to his Springfield, Missouri home.

Though it was tough during the Great Depression, my grandfather managed to find several odd jobs, including one at a hardware store. That's where he began to learn about business and sales.

Eventually, he made his way to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where he met Mary Sellers. They were soon married and settled down to raise a family.

Next came Sur Strike Baits, a wholesale fishing tackle business.

My grandfather traveled all over the Carolina coast, selling and stocking mom and pop stores with lures, rod & reels, and other fishing equipment.

He usually traveled throughout the week, making it home on the weekends, to spend time with his family.

Tom O. Smith came from a generation where a deal was often closed with a simple handshake, not necessarily a written contract.

When he told someone he was going to do something and shook on it, it was as good as done.

His reputation preceded him, a solid businessman who was good for his word.

He would say things like, "I want horns, but I'll die butt-headed."

"If you don't vote, you can't complain."

"Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see."

Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are on Christmas morning. The entire Smith clan would crowd into the living room, with Grandad in charge.

One at a time, he would hand out a present, calling out the name of the family member.

He had a rule, though, that everyone had to wait until the gift was unwrapped and opened, before passing out the next present.

This caused me to appreciate seeing others giving and receiving. To this day, I carry on this same tradition on Christmas morning.

My grandfather's smoking habit, though, eventually caught up with him.

He followed the advice of his doctor and went through the traditional cancer treatments. It was a lengthy and painful process, not only taking a toll on him, but also on our family.

Years later, my mother commented that she believes this killed him more so than the cancer.

My grandfather did not want to spend his last days in a hospital bed, like my grandmother had done. 

So with the help of my mother, along with aid from Hospice, he was able to continue living in his Taylor Street home.

I helped out as often as I could, returning to Rocky Mount from school, to give my mother a much needed break.

One day I came in and saw Grandad sitting at the round kitchen table, unshaven and in his robe. Accustomed to seeing him clean shaven and in his business suit and tie, I knew things had taken a turn for the worse.

By this time, he struggled to do many of the things we take for granted.

Going to theTom and Mary Smith restroom had become an ordeal. I would help him out of bed and into the bathroom, arms around his waist, so he could relieve himself.

Soon he was too weak to do even that, so I would hold the plastic urinal and watched as he urinated, while laying in bed.

He slept more and more, waking up just long enough to get a drink of water. His body was shutting down.

One bright summer morning, we went into his bedroom.

We could see he was no longer breathing. His eyes were closed, his mouth was open, and his body was rigid and cold.

I watched as the men from the funeral home removed him from his bed, placed him on a stretcher, and wheeled him out the front door.

The eight month battle Tom O. Smith had with cancer was over.

He is now holding hands with his beloved Mary Sellars once more.