I never saw my paternal grandfather smoke a cigarette during the 11 years I knew him. He had quit smoking before I was born.
He was a short man with wide shoulders, stocky, and he had brown, leathery skin and light green eyes.
His face had been creased with deep lines due to age, and he had what looked like prominent Native American features.
Some distant cousins told me his grandmother on his mother’s side was full Cherokee. I have no idea if this is true.
Grandpa liked chewing tobacco, and he carried a Styrofoam cup with him wherever he went. I remember him spitting in that cup with great regularity when I used to spend the night with him and Grandma.
Grandpa walked every morning (at least a mile) right up until his diagnosis. We thought he was healthy, active, and would live a long time. We had no idea the ugly horror that would kill him.
He had a fight with cancer and lost. Doctors had diagnosed him with lung cancer in December 1991. By March he had stopped chemotherapy and radiation treatments and refused to eat.
Soon after, he had a few mini-strokes and died in the hospital. The strokes he suffered while hospitalized left him paralyzed on his left side.
The last time I gave him a hug and said good-bye was at his house, not long before he was admitted to the hospital. My brother and I were not allowed to visit him there.
My parents didn’t want us to remember him that way, sick and wasting away in a hospital bed while he had tubes hooked into his body.
The story I was told was that Grandpa reached up with his good arm and pointed at the pack of Marlboro Reds tucked in Dad’s shirt pocket.
He shook his head with disdain, warning Dad with silent conviction about what cigarettes can do and the damage they can cause.
My Grandpa died in 1992 from lung cancer. He was 75 years old. In 2015, his youngest son—my father—suffered the same fate at age 58.