The most important lesson a 6-year-old can get

My great-grandfather was one of those people that no one ever forgets. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone. One of the nicest persons you would ever meet. The hardest worker you could find is what I always heard about him. For a 6-year-old at the time, he also taught me a very valuable lesson the hard way.

I don’t have many memories of him, but I have a few. I remember visiting him at work at a doctor’s office next to New London Hospital. He was a maintenance man there that helped maintain the facilities. He would often pick me up and put me on his riding lawn mower as we went around the yard there. We would also go to his apartment that he shared with the love of his life, my great-grandmother. The apartment wall was covered from floor to wall with pictures of family. Nothing meant more than family to him. I remember hearing his stories. About what, I don’t remember, but I remember sitting on his lap listening.

A long time smoker of Camels, he had quit smoking when he found out cigarette prices went from 25 cents to 35 cents. Right in the store, with my grandmother who happened to be tagging along, they both agreed to quit cold turkey. My grandmother is still here today because of their joint vow.

It was too late for him though. In 1989, he was diagnosed with lung cancer with only months to live. It devastated everyone. This man, who seemed indestructible, would only have a few months to live.

As a 6-year-old, I never experienced death before. My great-great uncle Alberton passed away three years prior, but I was just three. But my great-grandfather, I had real recent memories with him and I was about to learn a hard lesson about death. I was told he was sick because of smoking. I watched him as he kept getting more weak and sick. I wish I remembered the last time I saw him. I probably never realized at our last meeting that it was our last meeting.

He passed away on September 6, 1989. I woke up for my first day of first grade and my mom told me the news. I got the talk of how he wouldn’t wake up from sleep anymore and how he was in heaven.

As a 6-year-old, something about his loss shook me to the core. The first promise I ever made to myself I have kept and will keep the rest of my life: never to smoke. I’ve refused to do it in the face of peer and society pressure.

Thinking about it now, I am sure he would list this as one of his greatest legacies: the fact that someone he cares about never smoked because of him. He saved my life.