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If ‘Pop’ had lived through the pandemic

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

I was incredibly blessed while growing up to have known and to have been loved by my four grandparents, who all lived into their 80s and 90s. My mother’s parents lived next door to us on Emerald Street in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and my dad’s parents lived about five miles away.

You probably should not have a “favorite” grandparent, and trust me I loved all of them dearly, but I did have a favorite. He was “Pop,” my father’s dad, who I have thought about a lot over the past several weeks, a time when it seems that all of us have had time to think and reflect some about our lives while living through the “shelter in place” experience.

I have mostly been thinking about Pop on recent morning walks to the grocery store because he was legendary for his long walks. My two-mile walks to the store pale in comparison to the walks that he did. I am usually home from my short walk in about 45 minutes. Most of it is on sidewalks, and I make it a point to go in the middle of the morning when the temperature is comfortable, and I don’t need a jacket.

Pop woke himself up at four in the morning for his 10-mile walk on the side of a fairly busy highway with a narrow shoulder. He did this every day including in the dead of winter, and he finished it before most people were awake so that he could be back home early to take care of my invalid grandmother.

Pop and Grandma Stombaugh were content with the simple things in life and especially enjoyed being with their family. Other than their house and an old truck, they had few material possessions, but they always seemed happy, and I never once heard them complain about anything.

So, I have been wondering lately how Pop would be dealing with the pandemic, and I have come to the conclusion that he would be getting along just fine.

He would not be worried about the recent decline in the value of his 401K because he did not have one. In fact, he did not have any retirement income because the packing company where he had worked as a butcher for 47 years closed right after he retired and wiped out his pension. He and my grandma lived only on their Social Security income, but they lived frugally and always paid their bills on time. When my grandma passed away, it was discovered that she did not have life insurance, but Pop was able to bury and honor her with a nice funeral with $4,000 worth of quarters that he had put into several drawers in his dresser.

Pop would not have been upset that “non-essential businesses” are closed. He wore clothes and shoes that he had bought from thrift stores, and he did not need a high-priced mall store to buy a nice outfit. Despite his limited clothing budget, he always looked nice and was well-groomed with every hair on his white mane perfectly in place. When asked once about his shoes that he bought at Goodwill, he said, “I can make anything from a size 8 to a size 11 work out.” This from the man who walked in his shoes 10 miles day.

He would not be concerned that restaurants are only offering take-out and curb side service. He was used to “frying up something” for he and grandma at home so restaurants were not on his radar.

Pop would not be upset that schools had to be shut down for a few months to keep students safe. He only attended school until the fourth grade. “They kicked me out because I was too big for my desk,” he once remarked. Looking back on the wisdom and common sense that he passed along to us, he seemed much smarter than my brother and I even though we graduated with a college degree. He did just fine with his limited education experience, and with his timely wit and unique sense of humor, he could hold a conversation with anyone. “I don’t care if the president or a janitor comes into the room,” he once said. “They both put their pants on the same way I do, so I wouldn’t be afraid to talk to either one of them.”

Most importantly, Pop would have been concerned about how others were getting along through the pandemic with little regard for his own well-being (see comments above about how he took care of my grandma). The compassion that he showed for her extended to his family and his friends and everyone who knew him.

It is difficult to live through these most challenging times, but folks who lived through the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and two World Wars would have had little difficulty living through the current coronavirus pandemic as horrible as it is. I know that is the case for my grandpa (Pop). May he rest in peace.