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GAIL WHITE Grandpa's co-conspirators go on memory runs



Published: Wed, July 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



I was swimming at the Firestone pool with the children once when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a man on a lawn tractor coming up the hill to the pool. As he approached the pool fence, he turned to drive alongside the perimeter.

It was then that I saw the wagon trailing behind him. It was a utility wagon, designed for yardwork.

But this man's wagon wasn't full of twigs and sticks, it was full of children.

Seven little faces peered over the sides of the wagon, smiling from ear to ear.

This man, a grandfather I guessed as he got closer, stopped the tractor at the baby pool.

All the children hopped out of the wagon, waded into the pool and, within moments, hopped back into the wagon.

I watched as the grandfather pulled away from the fence and all the smiling faces in the wagon disappeared down the hill.

Oh, how I wanted to be in that wagon!

Chance meeting

A few days later, I saw this grandfather at the baseball field.

"I need to know you," I said as I approached him.

His surprised look turned into a smile as I told him of the pool encounter.

The tractor man's name is David Hanna of Columbiana.

"Those are my grandchildren," he confirmed my thoughts. "I am their Papa."

"Why did you leave the wading pool so quickly?" I ask.

Instantly, I feel eyes on my back. Papa smiles a sheepish grin.

"Because they're not supposed to go in the wading pool," a woman behind me says. It is Julie Wessling, Papa's daughter.

"Oops!" I say with a smile. "I got you in trouble."

Papa gives a sorrowful look to his daughter, but there is a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "They needed to get their feet wet," he explains.

"We go all around in the tractor," Papa says, fully recovered from his reprimand. "Sometimes, I take them over to my Dad's. He always has a jar of cookies waiting for them."

Sometimes they ride to the cemetery to plant or weed the flowers on the grave of Papa's mother or father-in-law or son.

Sometimes, they make an ice cream run or a gummy bear stop.

Sometimes, they go on picnics in the woods. And, sometimes, when they think no one is looking, they get their feet wet in the wading pool at the park.

'The mud run'

"In the spring, when it's wet," Papa's eyes light up with delight, "I take them out in the woods. I find a big puddle on one of the paths and I floor the tractor. They get splattered in mud from head to toe."

He laughs aloud just thinking about it. "They love it," he beams. "We call it the mud run."

Papa is sporting a new tractor and wagon these days. His children had magnetic signs made for the sides of "Papa's Limo."

Papa's tractor days began long ago, when his children were young.

"They were all sitting around on the back porch with their wives and husbands one day," Papa recalls. "My kids were talking about their favorite childhood memories."

The tractor rides in the wagon topped the list.

"They talked about the time we packed bologna sandwiches and rode in the wagon out to the woods and had a picnic," Papa smiles.

"I took them to Disney World once, bought them everything they wanted. It was financially devastating for me!" Papa says.

"Now they sit on the back porch as adults and tell their spouses their most fond memories were in the wagon with bologna! They didn't even mention Walt Disney World!"

Money can buy plane tickets, park rides, even a wagon and bologna. But money can't buy a Papa.

"My grandparents were just names to me," Papa explains. "They were gone before I could remember them. I want my grandchildren to remember me."

Judging from the smiles peering out of the top of the wagon, little Tyler, David, Morgan, Brett, Stacey, Tanner and Marian will never forget their Papa.

gwhite@vindy.com




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