The Smartest Man I’ve Ever Known

photo taken by Suzanne Baldwin, age 9
T. Edgar Punch (photo taken by Suzanne Baldwin, age 9)

I visited a friend of mine this past Saturday, whom I had not seen in over 20 years.  We were in high school and at college together.  She lives about an hour and a half west and north of here.  When I left my friend’s house on Saturday, I was feeling nostalgic.  No surprises there.  I took the Hwy 127 exit off of I40 and decided to go home by way of my childhood.  I guess I covered 37 miles of Lincoln County, starting near Vale and ending at the McGuire dam.  I stopped and took photographs along the way.

One of the places I stopped was the house near Vale where my Pappaw Punch lived.  I am writing a poem about what I saw there, how it made me feel.  As I think about him – about all my grandparents, really – it makes me even more embarrassed about the assumptions I find myself making about others.  I, of all people, really should know better.

My mother’s father was a trenchant observer of people; he was wise, and he was gentle.  I loved him and he loved me.  I wish I were more like him.  I wish I had bought him some Moravian cookies in Old Salem when I was in law school at Wake Forest, and taken them to him.  As far as I can recall, that is the only thing he ever asked me to do for him, and I didn’t do it, but he didn’t hold that against me.  He just loved me.  When I graduated from law school, I was quite the brat (I guess law school has that effect on some people).   I was actually disappointed that my mom had given me some diamond earrings for graduation, because what I really wanted was a bicycle (sorry, Mom.  You did indeed raise me better than that).  When I went to see Pappaw Punch that late spring, he gave me almost the exact amount of money it would take to buy the bike I had my eye on, and said, “Now, don’t do anything like buy a bicycle with this money.”  I still have that bike, a Raleigh racer.  It’s in awful shape, but I won’t let my husband get rid of it.   Later that same year, Pappaw Punch passed away.  That was too soon.  Way too soon.  I guess it always is.

Here is the beginning of the poem I am working on:

My grandfather’s house
was quite small. Since his death
it has been shrinking.

Barely taller than grass,
here, but gone, like cold breath
…like a boat, sinking.

I’m not even sure if this is the form the poem will take, but this is what is rattling around in my head. I will let you know how it turns out … and, as always, thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “The Smartest Man I’ve Ever Known

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