The above photo was taken in 2005. Me and your grandpa drove back to Kentucky from Los Angeles before I left for Korea in the Fall, and this unintentionally ironic opportunity for a photo just presented itself on a platter after a long day of rolling through the desert in my constantly overheating Dodge Stealth.
I love this picture. It makes me laugh every time I see it. I also have a picture of him wearing a Texas t-shirt while sitting on the beach in Florida. I laugh, but the honest thing is, Blue, this photo highlights something key about your grandfather: he doesn’t quite fit the way he should.
I don’t mean that’s he an outcast or socially awkward or anything like that. Quite the opposite. He’s a mailman and knows every face on his route. This was always made clear to us at Christmas time when he came home with enough popcorn tins to last us through the decade. It’s just…well, he wears Kentucky shirts to the Grand Canyon. That speaks for itself, right?
He beats to his own drum.
This photo was almost ten years ago, Blue. In that decade (the popcorn tins did not last), he got a tattoo, grew a beard, bought a Harley and drove it all over the country. He’s even been to Sturgis, South Dakota for their annual rally. He’s a biker, Blue. True and through. Right down to his drawer full of Harley shirts and his weekly viewings of Dancing with the Stars.
You thought his drum kit was going to be all the same chrome, didn’t you? Here’s a lesson, Blue. People who beat to their own drum don’t always have a matching drum set. Sure, the snare drum and the bass pedal and the high hat might all be the same brand, but they’ll always have that Hello Kitty tom-tom hanging out on the side for no other reason then “just because.”
I found out your grandfather was a Dancing with the Stars man just a short time after that Grand Canyon trip. I left for Korea for a year, came back, and then sat down one evening to watch the NBA on TNT.
For years, your grandpa had been a basketball guy. Not necessarily NBA, but if a game was on, he’d sit down and watch with me. We spent many an evening cheering on our beloved Kentucky Wildcats together, so when the opportunity came up to watch a game, I naturally thought he’d be all in.
“Hey dad, you ready to watch the game?” I asked him.
He folded his arms across his chest, and leaned back in his recliner. “No,” he said bluntly. “I’m not watching that. Dancing with the Stars is on.”
People change, Blue. Mostly, you’ll never see it happen. Instead, they’ll just change like a glass bottle on the shoreline, slowly polished into a smooth surface by years and years of tides. Sometimes, you will see it happen but in the way it’s supposed to. Like how a senior is not the same as a freshman. On the rarest occasions, you see a person change right before you. Maybe they had already changed and you just didn’t see it. Maybe it took just the right circumstances to make it happen.
Any way it goes down, those moments, where you see person change, the oddest thing happens. It changes YOU. When my dad turned down basketball to watch a dancing show, my world changed forever, Blue. I suddenly had to reevaluate everything I had learned about the man throughout my life.
Immediately, I did a double take at him and said, “Who are you?”
He sat there, still with his arms folded, and changed the channel, stubbornly refusing to say a word.
My mother, your grammie, peered up from her painting, took one look at my bewildered face, and said, “This is what he does now.”
And she was right. Your grandfather did Dancing with the Stars. He wasn’t just a casual observer. He was an active participant in each episode, commenting on each dancer’s performance and evaluating it according to his criteria. “I liked that move.” “I didn’t particularly care for his costume.” “They look stupid.” While he enjoyed all the dancers, his favorite was Mario. He loved him some Mario Lopez and his flashy sequins twirling to the samba.
It went beyond sheer admiration. He not only rooted for Mario Lopez to win Dancing with the Stars. He voted for him! As in, he took the time and energy to text in his vote during the Finals. Keep in mind back then texts weren’t free. They cost a quarter or more. Your grandfather didn’t care.
Quarter spent, he watched the final with bated breath as Mario Lopez faced off against Emmitt Smith. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Mario lost to Emmitt, and your grandfather, cursing Emmitt Smith’s name, stormed off to his room. His loving family, gathered downstairs, laughed hysterically. As he slammed the door shut, he yelled, “Shut up! Mario got screwed!”
He stayed there the whole night, inconsolable. To this day, he still stews about the loss and whenever Mario pops up on some random show, your grandfather reminisces about that night when Mario got cheated.
Then he goes to ride his Harley. Because he’s a man who goes his own way.
I hope you’re like him, Blue. Like what you like. Be who you are. Vote for Mario.