My grandpa passed away this past week. Verland E. Bishop, who liked to be called Bill by friends and family, was the only grandfather I ever knew. My grandpa on my dad’s side died in a sugar factory explosion when my dad was only 8 years old so I never knew grandpa Hodson.

Grandpa Bishop was in his 90’s and his health had been failing him these past few years. But despite those health challenges, you are never truly prepared to lose a loved one. He will be greatly missed and leaves a legacy of children and grandchildren that loved him dearly.

A Complex Man

He spent most of his life working as a paver operator, building roads in the Northwest. The paver moved slowly across the gravel and grandpa’s face became weathered from the punishing heat of the summers. The fumes of the tar and road chemicals effected his breathing and the extremely loud machinery greatly reduced his hearing capacity in later life. He suffered much from a distance that developed in conversations because he struggled to hear what was said. This only contributed more to his quiet nature. He was a deeply personal and private man.

When I was young, grandpa seemed stern and unapproachable but as I grew older, I realized there was a soft center inside of his tough outer shell. He and grandma never missed a chance to come visit, always supportive of my accomplishments whether it was a school graduation or a Christmas visit, they were always there.

Grandpa served honorably as an Air Force mechanic in Europe during World War II. One thing I’ll remember is grandpa’s not-so-sophisticated attitude towards other races, especially the Japanese. It wasn’t so much that he was filled with hatred to those of different races and cultures as much as he just had a lack of understanding towards them. If you’ve ever seen the movie Gran Torino starring Clint Eastwood, you have a pretty good idea of what grandpa was like. Ironically, grandpa’s assigned doctor was an Asian man which caused no small amount of consternation for grandpa. But just as Eastwood’s character had a surprising amount of heart and showed his love in his own way, grandpa had a similar tenderness behind that tough exterior.

Music and Creativity

One of the things I am so indebted to grandpa for is his belief in me. He gave me my first guitar. It was just something he found at a garage sale and thought I’d enjoy. I can honestly say I would never have learned to play guitar, write songs, play in all kinds of bands, and record several records if he had not done that simple act of giving me a guitar. Music is such a huge part of my life and whenever I play music, I think of him and that simple act of giving.

I’ll never forget the time we were visiting grandpa and I had my brothers with me and grandpa asked us to play something. We played a few Railyard tunes and I had a chance to tell him how important he was to my passion for music. The look on his face as we played and sang was a reward in itself.

That thoughtfulness continued to the end of his life. When my mom rushed to be at his side in his last few days, one of the first things grandpa asked her was how my book was coming along. He was always thinking of me, wishing me success, believing in me, supporting every creative project I was working on.

A Legacy of Memories

I can honestly say grandpa’s example of hard work and strength of character made me a better person and continues to inspire me. He had a tough exterior but underneath was a warm smile and loving heart. That’s how I’ll always remember him, pointing the way, cheering me on with an expression of confidence and affection.