I was ten-years-old when he died. And I didn’t realize it, but that event became the third pathway stone on my journey as a writer. Often, during those days I’d just lay in my bed and stare at the wall. I could hear my friends playing baseball outside in the street, but I didn’t care. The cooing of the pigeons that plagued our neighborhood marked the passing of the time. Minutes. Hours. It all blended together in a sad song of Woodbine Avenue.
On one of those occasions, my grandmother came to check on me. She sat on the edge of my bed, and for a while, we both said nothing. Then she unfolded a white paper. “The hospice nurse stopped by today to see how we’re doing. She left this. I liked it and thought that maybe you would too.”
My grandmother read the poem, and we both cried for a long time. “If you want, we could tape it on your wall,” she said. I agreed and that’s what we did.
You can see what she read here.
Over the next few days and weeks, that poem was the first thing I saw when I woke up, and the last thing I saw before I went to bed. Often, I’d run my hand over the paper and then I’d trace the words with my fingertip. Little by little, the pain lessened. God allowed those words to seep into my soul and comfort me like a friend.
It was shortly after this, that I began to write seriously for the first time. I had a cassette tape of the sonnets of Shakespeare set to music. I would write for hours with the Bard’s great words in the background. It wasn’t until I started getting published many years later that my grandmother said out of the blue, “You, know, Paul was a writer too. I guess that's where you get your talent.” She handed me a manila envelope. It was stuffed full with my grandfather's poems, songs, and musings on life.
I was amazed. Here was a connection with my grandfather that I hadn’t known existed. Not only did I get my green eyes from him, but he was a writer! The very thing that I had come to love so much. I poured through the pages and scraps of paper. And there I found his voice again, telling me story after story. I laughed, and I cried. Just like all those years ago on the rooftop.
Sometimes I go back to that envelope and look at the rejection slips that my grandfather received from song companies and kept. And I think that although he never got published, I’m sure glad that he took the time to write down the words. Because to me, those words made a difference.
You never know how your words--spoken or written--will affect another soul. Or at what time God will choose to use those words. So, here I am, still writing away, leaving that decision up to Him.
My grandfather, Paul Emerson Cole.
Another favorite picture.