A Death In the Family

From the Obituary:

Herbert Leo, Sr., age 94 of Elizabethtown, Kentucky and formerly of Searcy, died Thursday in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was a native of Manson, Arkansas and was a member of the College View Church of Christ in Elizabethtown. He retired from General Motors in Willow Run, Michigan. He is survived by three sons, Burris Dale of Bowie ,Maryland, Herbert Leo, Jr. of Indianapolis, Indiana, James Marion of Elizabethtown, Kentucky; two brothers, Marionof Westland, Michigan, Lehman of Jonesboro, Arkansas, two sisters, Evelyn of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, Frances of Wayne, Michigan; 10 grandchildren; 25 great-grandchildren; and 3 great-great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ethel Jane; and his parents, Jasper Marion and Pearl Novella.

Modes of Transportation

Due to my being far younger than my siblings and cousins (14 years younger than my youngest brother), I have fewer memories of my grandfather during his active years. He was already 69 years old when I was born, and in his mid-seventies by the time I can form coherent memories of him and grandma.

One memory I do have of grandpa before he entered assisted living: His license was revoked in Arkansas because of his eyesight. Now Grandpa carried the Family gene to its fullest extent, and the Family gene is a very stubborn, sometimes obstinate, gene. The Family gene does not take “no” for an answer. The Family gene says, “It’s my way or the highway.” How many members of my family does it take to change a light-bulb? Only one, but if two are in the room, it may never get done!

Well Grandpa was very independent along with being stubborn. The state told him he could no longer drive his car, but he wasn’t about to let anyone else do his Wal-Mart runs for him. Fortunately, Wal-Mart was quite close to his house. Wal-Mart was less than a mile away, quite literally across the street. (The fact that this street is a highway bears absolutely no bearing to this story … None at all.) This was not a distance Grandpa could have walked, but other solutions can be found for one possessing the Family gene.

He drove his riding mower.

Yes, you read that correctly. Grandpa drove his riding mower from his house on a road bearing his name (I am not making this up), across the highway, up the road about a quarter of a mile more, and into Wal-Mart’s parking lot, where I assumed he parked in his usual handicapped parking space. It was best to never ask him why he did this. It was also best never to suggest he not do this. One never questions the Family gene once it guides you in its path.

This went on fine for several months until one day his dog Tango was chasing him rather vigilantly. Now Tango always chased the riding mower, but this time, he seemed a little more distraught over something. Thinking little of it, Grandpa continued his holy pilgrimage to Wal-Mart aboard his trusty lawnmower, in his own world, being annoyed by the heat at the seat of his pants and the fact that the lawnmower was not driving as well as usual.

Yes, the lawnmower’s engine had caught on fire. Fortunately, Grandpa was not hurt. Of course, many members of the family used this event to illustrate just how unsafe it was to ride that lawnmower around and how he needed to allow others to assist him more.

Grandpa’s response to the whole sordid affair? “I thought Tango was barking louder than usual.”

The Indoor Bonfires

Speaking of fires, I think everyone in the family will always remember the fireplace in the house. It seemed like that fireplace was always roaring, no matter the temperature outside. “Ethel,” Grandpa would say, “it’s gettin’ kinda breezy. I think it’s time to throw some logs on the fire.” And so he would.

Mind you, “some” logs on the fire consisted of a pile that nearly filled the entire fireplace. From a child’s point of view, it sure looked cool to have those logs burning, flames going so high into the chimney, you couldn’t tell where they stopped. Man, was it hot though. I am a firm believer that Arkansas (despite weather reports to the contrary) never gets below 100º Fahrenheit during the summer, thereby singing my grandparents’ skin to the point that 85º felt positively nippy. Hence, the eternal flame within the living room.

One visit, we noticed the air was getting rather hazy while the indoor bonfire was raging. Dad convinced Grandpa, with no little arguing, to put the fire out; but the haze persisted. Once the fireplace had cooled below the boiling point for human flesh, Dad inspected the fireplace to find the shell had cracked – actually, it had melted entirely away in one spot. As a result, smoke was pouring through the ventilation system that was intended to only transport the heat from the fireplace.

Before he was placed in an assisted living center, I don’t know how many fireplace shells Grandpa would go through, but I do know this: The bonfires never stopped, nor did they shrink in size. It wasn’t Grandpa’s fault the fire was too hot. The fireplace shell manufacturers (bless their hearts) needed to make them there shells stronger!


You have been a powerful force in our family for many years, Grandpa. You will be missed, but I hope to see you one day in our eternal home. Hopefully, fireplaces are made out of stronger stuff there than they are here on Earth!