President Harry Truman said that, "a weeping man is an abomination." Truman was president from the close of World War II into the early 50s. I saw this quote just the other day, and was reminded of my grandfather, Oren Ryals. Oren was my father's father, and when I was a boy I idolized him. He ran a chicken farm on a seven acre spread near McMinnville Oregon in the 50s and early 60s. I got to go down and spend time working there just about every summer between 1956 and 1963.
Oren loves his grandchildren very much and I'm sure from his perspective he spoiled us rotten. He built a bunkhouse out of the bar and stayed out there with my brothers and I we came to visit. He told us tall tales of Bigfoot and other legends, and we had great time. He taught me the value of working hard and enjoying the fruits of my labor. It seemed as though he could fix anything from repairing a building to repairing a truck or a tractor. He also worked hard on his chicken farm, establishing an egg route in Portland as a market for the 14,000 or 15,000 eggs the chickens is produced every week.
When I was quite young, before the age of 10 and remember grandpa being quite affectionate. However, at the conclusion of a trip my mom, my brothers and I had taken to visit with grandma and grandpa, I was deeply shaken by the way he said goodbye. We were standing in the train station in Portland. It was the summer of 1960, and here was heavy with diesel fumes and sticky heat. I remember the massive engine throbbing just behind us as though breathing. I loved trains, and was so excited to be heading home to Seattle on one.
There we were, say goodbye to grandma and grandpa. Grandma hugged everybody of course, and grandpa of my younger brothers. I thought he was saving me for last because I was his favorite, but think that was just a fantasy I had. The conductor's voice rang out, calling everyone to board. I stepped towards grandpa and put my arms out to get out just like I always had, but he stuck his hand out to home raise and shoved against my chest, stopping me cold. Shock shuddered through me and I wondered what I might have done wrong.
I looked up into his face, tears welling, and he said rather roughly, "big boys don't cry, and they don't hug either. Men shake hands." With that, he stuck out his hand for me to shake. Numbly, fighting back tears, I shook his hand, then turned without another glance and climbed into the train. My brothers and I settled into our seats, and I looked out the window. Grandma and grandpa waved to us, smiles on their faces, as though nothing had happened.
I sat there feeling crushed. I sniffed once or twice as I wiped away the remnants of my tears. I vowed then and there never to cry again. If grandpa said it wasn’t okay to cry or hug him, then that must be okay. I would just have to get over my hurt. It would be six long years before my tears again graced my cheeks.
I tell you this story because, as I read, President Truman's words that I quoted you at the beginning of this essay, I was reminded of my grandpa. He turned 50 years old in 1952, and I realized that this was the reality that my grandpa lived in. He really did think that a weeping man was an abomination, and he was trying to protect me from being thought of it that way. He was just doing his best. Today I picked up my grandpa with great affection and love. He taught me so much, and he really did love me the very best way he knew how.
Tears flow easily for me now. I consider them sacred. I know in my heart, the tears are not a sign of weakness. Instead, they are a sign of strength. I honor them in myself and in others. My heart breaks open for all of the people who do not feel as though they can afford to cry. Part of my mission is to teach people that feeling is healing, that any feeling fully felt shifts. It took me a long time to learn to laughter is connected to tears just as rain is connected flowers. One enhances the other, creates a context, provides perspective. Tears are healing. Trust your tears, and trust your heart.
Steve Ryals is author of Drunk with Wonder: Awakening to the God Within. went from homeless and shooting drugs in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district at 17 to graduating from UC Berkeley on the Dean’s List six years later. Steve has now been free of alcohol for over six years, From 1994-2004, Steve was a free-lance music reviewer. He wrote and published over 1,200 reviews, hundreds of which are still available online.
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