My grandparents, Herbert Wharton Beaman and Mary Cobb Beaman, helped raise my brother and me because Mama and Daddy both worked. In fact, Daddy worked out of town during the week on various construction projects, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
We were far from being latchkey kids. Nanny and Ga Ga knew our whereabouts at all times and made sure we got our homework done before we went outside to play after we got home from school.
For 40 years, Ga Ga was a sawyer at Camp Manufacturing Co. (which later became Union Camp Corporation and then International Paper). He sawed off what remained of the tree limbs on the logs that rolled off the trucks into the pit where he worked. It was grueling work.
When Ga Ga retired, he and I became sidekicks. Mama always said I was the apple of his eye. Before I was old enough to go to school, Ga Ga would often take my hand in the afternoon, and we'd walk the six blocks to The Virginian Drug Store on Main Street in my hometown of Franklin, Virginia. That's where he and his other retired buddies would meet up to drink coffee and talk.
Ga Ga would pull up a chair for me at the table and order me a block of my favorite Neapolitan ice cream that contained layers of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. He spoiled me terribly.
One Christmas, Ga Ga decided he'd make the holiday even more magical for me by bringing home a surprise visitor. I was watching TV in the living room when I heard the back door in the kitchen open. I knew it was Ga Ga and ran to meet him. About the time I set foot on Nanny's black-and-white linoleum kitchen floor, I heard someone call out "Ho! Ho! Ho!" in a deep voice. I skidded to a stop, looked to see who had said it and nearly passed out when Santa Claus himself walked through the door.
I was terrified of Santa when I was a child. In my mind, he was a very suspicious character, and I would never crawl up into his lap when he was in department stores listening to kids' Christmas wishes. The sight of him in my house scared me to death. As he strolled toward me with open arms, I did an about-face and fled back into the living room where I promptly hid behind the sofa.
No amount of cajoling could get me to come out, and Santa finally gave us and left. He did leave me one of those giant candy canes, which I didn't mind too much. I guess Ga Ga was disappointed that his surprise had backfired, but I didn't hold it against him.
I knew in my child's heart that he had done it out of love.