He could handle anything. And he was my granddad.
I was in the 9th grade when he passed away. One of my fondest memories was trimming his beard with an electric razor as life after stroke made the ordinary chore somewhat challenging to perform on his own. His skin was loose yet firm, rough but fuzzy, and the popular razor I’d seen in television commercials ran over his stubble as swiftly as our lawn mower; which, uniformly, I took pride in operating. Cutting the grass is a Mraz’s inheritance, and my Dad, brother and I honored it, and still do.
I barbered my granddad in his favorite chair, poised in the corner of the living room where he could keep one foot propped up on the wood stove and the other out in front of the kitchen door where he could trip me up. He had a quiet sense of humor. We called him Papa Razz. He called me Dick.
He kept his eyes closed mostly, rolling his head up and back like a cat having his chin scratched, grinning as such. Infancy had become his body and mind and at 14 I was the adult. Or at least, I felt like I was, entrusted with the care of a well lived man who retained his 1930′s hairstyle and spectacles all the way into the 1990′s.
He created the name Frank D Fixer when a soda company appeared at the door of he and my grandma offering to hang an advertisement over his shop, built adjacent to their house. He didn’t over think it. His name is Frank. And he fixes things. Easy enough. The sign hung for decades, maybe even a full decade after his departure, and only came down when my grandmother’s roof was slain by a tree during a heavy summer storm. Residents of Hanover, Mechanicsville and Tappahannock referred to Papa’s sign as a landmark. In our rural Virginia town it was common to hear things like, “Go 2 miles past Frank D Fixer and turn left.”
With him I’d take out the dinner scraps and toss them into the compost pile and then stand back and watch him burn trash in a barrel. The years he spent welding in the dark shop was before my time and in my time I was too young to apprentice anyway. I preferred climbing trees, picking blackberries and racing go-karts. In the backyard he grew long rows of tomatoes, squash, melon and okra, which my grandmother boiled into something unrecognizable, which was most certainly my least favorite food of that era. Luckily my brother lost control of the go-kart one day and plowed over all the okra, cleaning the plates in advance for everyone.
Papa passed taking a nap in his favorite chair. The same chair I trimmed his beard days earlier. Just a gentle nod of the head into that sweet daytime catnap bliss he went. Lucky man.
Today I’m nearly half the age he was when his accomplished life came to a close. I’m cutting my teeth on a house and building a shop of my own, preparing to raise a family. My Dad, now retired, still cuts the family’s grass with glee. Being the son and grandson of those men has a lot to do with my success. Knowing how hard they worked for their families gives me the strength and encouragement I need to do the same. Plus, the kind of work they did is a constant reminder that the work I do is really play.
As for the the Fixer signs, they remain in storage until my sister and I find time to restore them and decide on new locations to hang them. I’d like to put one over the garage of the studio at the farm in San Diego, overlooking and inspiring the next few generations of Mraz’s that may come up there; Oh, the seeds we’ll sow, the lawns we mow and the okra we’ll grow.
…I will grow you a garden of Eden. And I will bless our family with the gifts my granddad handed me. How wonderful that will be.