My grandfather’s name was Richard Thomas Weidmer, Jr. — known to most simply as “Tom” — and he died just under six years ago. Tom Weidmer was a father of six, grandfather of more than I can be bothered to count at the moment, and surely a role model to more than it is possible to [count].
He read — a lot. We used to read together, as I read a lot, too. He would sit in his armchair, a huge, plush, forest green reclining throne which utterly dwarfed everyone but him; and he would read Westerns, spy novels, broadsheet newspapers, really anything made of paper with ink on it.
We had that in common. I’d go through the Hardy Boys series like I would Cocoa Puffs (which, incidentally, go extremely well together). I read the Harry Potter series more times than anyone above the age of twelve was able to fathom. My copy of the DaVinci Code was covered in handprints, because my palms would always sweat from the suspense. He always encouraged such behavior.
Another of our rituals was to go out and eat hamburgers, usually at Braum’s, because Whataburger used “too much mustard”. He’d drive us there in this massive brown truck of his that seemed invincible, much the same way he did. Some days, he would buy me a chocolate milkshake; those days were always good ones. I am his oldest child’s oldest son, a fact he reminded me of whenever I was feeling insecure — which was often. It never failed to comfort me.
Tom Weidmer had a way of making you feel special just by speaking to you. Perhaps that is because he was not a man of many words (he preferred principles), or maybe it’s because his voice sounded like what you could imagine God’s sounding like if God were from East Texas. Hallsville, TX, to be exact.
He was a mountain of a man, even when sickness and age withered him into immobility. He was known for having the arms and hands of a gorilla. They made it such that he didn’t have to lift one in order to get you to behave. He would build things with them. He built the house in Hallsville which housed twenty or more of us at Christmas time, and which has acted as home to many of us over the years.
In the yard, he had a workshop. It was full of lumber and tools and purpose. He made us wooden rocking horses, toy boxes and play swords. When you played with them, you got the impression they were indestructible because he made them, and he was indestructible. Though it did eventually kill him, death seemed not to best him. He had a warm, crooked smile. I like to picture him flashing it in the face of whoever welcomed him at the pearly gates.
I don’t know if I believe in heaven, but if it exists, I know that’s where he is. It’s a well kept secret that he drank and smoked heavily at one point (vices I am far from being able to judge him for). My grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of seventeen — running away from home to do so, which I not so secretly admire him for — and subsequently fought in two wars. I never did find out if he killed people, but if he did, I would not think less of him for it.
As previously mentioned, he was a man of principle. There was right and there was wrong, and there was nothing else for it. I remember driving with him once and asking why he didn’t go five over the speed limit like everyone else. “It’s the law for a reason, big boy (he called me big boy), so you ought to follow it.” That particular lesson never stuck.
He was a firm believer in doing something right if you were to do it at all. When I was twelve years old, he offered me ten dollars to mow his lawn. In my eagerness to finish quickly and impress him, I ended up doing a shit job of it. He told me to “get back out there and do it right.” That lesson did stick.
I wrote something in high school once, a paper in which it was excruciatingly obvious that I was trying much harder to exhibit vocabulary than knowledge (not an uncommon occurrence, at the time). He praised my way with words, and expressed genuine pride in me. I will never forget that, either, because otherwise I would never have started writing.
His last words to me were spoken over the phone; they were succinct and impactful, in the same way that everything else he said was. “Well, big boy, I like the way you’re growing up.” Though it can be difficult for me to convince myself that would still be the case, I try to tell myself it might. He was much more than a good man, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would suggest anything to the contrary in earnest. I wept uncontrollably at his funeral. Most of us did.
R.T. Weidmer, Jr. received a well deserved obituary in Hallsville’s local newspaper, but I’m not sure it did him justice. I won’t pretend to claim that this does, as I truly do not believe words are capable of that, but I figure it’s something. I wish he could read it, because I think he’d be proud; but he can’t, so thank you for doing so.
In very loving memory of Richard Thomas Weidmer, Jr.
10th August 1927 – 27th May 2010