My grandfather, William Gaitor, passed away on Wednesday, June 9, 2010. He was 86. My mom is an only child and so am I (well I’m her only child…). My maternal grandmother passed in 1996 so its just me and Mama against the world now. Its so weird, my grandad has always been there. Even when Granny passed, we always had him so this is almost surreal sometimes. Its like, how can a world exist and he not be in it? Unfortunately I’ll come to grips with his absence and miss him terribly, like I miss my grandma and my Dad. He always told me how proud he was of me… I just wish I had told him that he was one of my heroes. During our last conversation he spontaneously said he loved me. I’m glad I got to tell him one last time.
- William Gaitor was born on March 7, 1924 in Miami. He was affectionately called Bill or Gaitor by his friends and family. He married my grandmother, Muriel Vera Rolle in 1955. Grandaddy liked giving nicknames (a habit I just realized I picked up) – my grandmother’s nickname was ‘My Muriel’ and my nickname was Pumpkin Poo.
- Grandaddy was a proud Veteran of World War II. My childhood is filled with his stories of his European travel while a soldier, and he loved teaching me the few words he remembered from different languages. Examples are greetings in French, German numbers, and words that I’ve figured out later a child probably shouldn’t be taught… He also told stories of imminent danger, such as the time where his bad habit of being late caused him to be the only survivor when his entire unit was killed. This sparked my early desires to learn different languages and see the places that he’d been, like Berlin or the Eiffel Tower.
- My grandad was a gardener and did work for the wealthy residents of Miami Beach. He was proud of his work and loved telling stories about how he met famous people. One of his prized possessions was a fake $3 bill with the BeeGees on it (instead of a president lol).
- My grandparents loved to dress up. My grandad was the definition of clean before Outkast knew anything about it. He never went to church with us, but on Sundays he’d wear 3-piece suits with coordinating hat, pocket square and shoes. Whatcha know bout that?? And before anyone was complaining about men wearing their pants on the ground, Grandaddy had a thing or two to say about it himself.
- Grandaddy always told me how proud he was of me and my mom. I loved to ride around with him when I was growing up, he’d take me to go see his friends and talk about how good I was doing in school. “My grandbaby is real smart,” he’d say. After I moved to DC he always talked about how I lived ‘up there with the President’ and asked me a few times if I’d ever seen Obama around town. He was proud of Obama too and happy he got to see the day that a black man was elected president.
- Grandaddy didn’t really talk about race. I never heard him make disparaging remarks about white people or about black people being discriminated against. He would tell stories of incidents from his youth, but he never blamed anyone else for his lot in life.
- My grandad was a great cook. He’d cook for me when I probably shouldn’t be eating, like really late at night. I knew that if I woke up and everyone else was asleep, I could go wake him up and ask for a snack. A typical snack was fried bologna sandwiches or ice cream and cake (I have a terrible sweet tooth). He also liked to fish and boiled fish and grits was one of his favorite dishes that my grandmother made for him. He liked to clean fish on the porch and I’d often go sit with him when he did. He liked to tease me and eat the eyes after they were cooked because he knew it creeped me out.
- After my father passed away, my grandad would teach me certain things that I didn’t learn from my mom or grandma. Like one time he told me if anyone touched me anywhere funny, to let him know and he’d break their neck. Or when I was in high school, he told me not to pay any mind to those ‘jive turkeys’ running around, to do my school work and focus on getting into college. And I wasn’t too old to get a whipping either if he felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do.
- My grandad never complained when any of us asked him to do something. He drove me to elementary school every morning, cooked me dinner when neither my mother or grandmother were at home and spoiled me rotten any chance he got. One incident stands out in my mind: he was driving me to school one morning. As usual, I was talking 90 miles a minute about something I found interesting. He was smoking a cigarette and put it in the car’s ashtray. I guess I distracted him because he pulled out the pack in his pocket and lit another. When I saw him do that, I started crying hysterically, telling him that smoking was going to kill him, everyone said so, and I didn’t want him to die. “Please Grandaddy,” I begged him between sobs, “stop smoking! I don’t want you to die!” When I was in high school he told me that he stopped smoking cold turkey after that.
- My grandad was a man of few words, but he always said what was important. Like he didn’t hesitate to tell me he loved me, was proud of me, or that I was wrong. If I did something contrary to what he said, like cut my hair, he didn’t fuss at me later. He just accepted that I had my own mind and had made it up to do something.
So tell me my Motivated CEOs and Boss Ladies, who is one of your personal heroes or she-roes? Who was an instrumental figure in your life, and what lessons did you learn from them?