If you know me to any capacity at all, you know that my love for stories supersedes my love for any thing in this world.
Growing up, I thought it was so cool that my dad smoked cigars and his dad smoked pipes. The sweet aroma of pure tobacco smoke still to this day takes me back to summers spent with my grandparents. As I grew, I dreamed of the day that I could smoke a pipe beside my grandpa and just simply exist in that moment with him.
When I was a junior in high school, my grandpa was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. With the reception of that news, he put up the pipe. Cold turkey. And the craziest part to me was that it wasn’t hard for him to stop. He knew what he had to do and just did it. Selfishly, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing of it all. I mean, I was just a few months away from being eighteen and being able to stand on his back porch and smoke with him! Obviously, I never mentioned my disappointment to him or anyone else.
November rolled around and I turned eighteen and my parents and I went to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. After supper, my grandpa told me to meet him on the porch. Being the incredibly obedient child that I am, I made no move toward the porch and I looked at him with a puzzled look written all across my face.
“Just go outside. I’ll be out there in a second.”
So I walked outside into the thick, lukewarm, humid air of a southeast Texas winter and waited. As my grandpa slid the back door open, I noticed him carrying something in his hand. Rather, I noticed him carrying a few things in his hand. As he came nearer, I recognized the shape of the objects. In his hand was two pipes, a bag of tobacco, and some matches. I’m sure he got a kick out of my non-verbal response, because he just offered a full-teeth smile and started walking me through how to pack a pipe and smoke it as a gentleman. As he taught me the art of smoking a pipe, he began to tell me a story. I’m convinced that this is wear my love for stories began, because the story he told is still incredibly intoxicating to me even to this day.
Grandpa had been having this reoccurring dream since just before he was diagnosed with the cancer. As I laid in bed after he told me about this dream, I pulled my phone out and wrote down everything that I could remember him saying. All the details. All the meanings. Everything. Here is Grandpa’s story of his reoccurring dream during his battle with the cancer that took him home.
Heyden, I’m really not one to dream, especially to have the same dream over and over. But I feel like I should tell you about this dream I’ve been having since just before the doctor told us what was going on.
For the first few weeks of having this dream, I was walking along this hard, red dirt road in the midst of this beautiful countryside. There were a few people on the road with me, but no one I knew. Then I would wake up and that was it. Then the next night I would have the exact same dream with no more clarity. Every time I would wake up with no new information.
A couple weeks ago, the dream not only went farther, but it finished. I was on that same hard, red dirt road; I was in the midst of the same countryside; however, now I was the only one on the road. As I continued down this road, my eyes exploring the landscape around me, I came upon a fork in the road, and I just kept to the path that I was already on.
Then the climax of the dream. I started to catch a glimpse of a beautiful pasture on the other side of a long fence line. A fence line that extended in both directions as far as the eye could see. With each step toward the fence, it grew more and more beautiful. As I approached the fence, a warmly toned voice wrapped itself around me and this is what it said,
“You’re almost to the end of the road. You’re almost home.”
And that was it. As he finished, we just existed together in that moment. When the tobacco devolved into ash, we cleaned the pipes and went back inside to join the rest of our family back at the kitchen table.
As the next nine months went by, he grew more and more frail and became less and less the physical grandpa with whom I grew up. But as he grew more and more frail, the legacy of Jack Peery grew stronger and stronger. I learned that if I could even be half the man that he was, then that would honestly be enough.
Grandpa went home in July of 2013. For some reason, I was allowed to be at the table and in the conversations planning his funeral. As we sat around that same kitchen table that held all kinds of memories, the preacher that was doing the service asked all of us to give him any stories that spoke to the character and person of my grandpa. There were incredible stories left and right from my dad and aunt and grandma of who he was as a man, a dad, and a husband. After they shared all of their stories, the preacher looked at me and asked if I had any stories.
I did. I absolutely had stories of Grandpa. I had a ton of stories. Why couldn’t I think of any? Then it came to me. The one story that came to mind was the story of his dream that he had shared with me over a pipe nine months earlier. I spoke of the dream as though it were common knowledge; as though he had clearly shared it with my dad and aunt and grandma. After I shared it, my family looked at me and told me that I was the only one with whom he had shared his dream. Me.
He only shared that incredible dream with me.
Now, I hold incredibly tight to the stories that people share. Why? Because to me, stories are the easiest and most effective way to change the world. I think of the stories that Grandpa told me and how they have shaped and formed the man that I am. They’re vital. Holy hell, they’re so incredibly vital.
So stop being afraid to tell stories. Your stories could completely change the trajectory of someone’s life. Your stories could shape and form them in ways that no one knew was possible. Your words carry weight; and when they are put into story form, they hold the potential to bring life from the ashes of people’s past.