Some grandfathers shuffle around in cute button up sweaters. My grandpa preferred a white polyester suit and cowboy hat. They called him “Cactus Jack” at the local Utah casino. But he didn’t start out there.
My grandfather was a native Floridian. If you’ve spent much time in Florida, then you know there aren’t many of them. Twelve to be exact.
He and grandma raised my mom and her siblings in a fishing resort on the coast. Mom spent her childhood fishing, shrimping and shelling along the beaches in between entertaining the seasonal guests. While Grandma kept many things running including the resort and the household, Grandpa sold real estate, managed the resort, and pursued his hobby of speed boat racing. Because several of classes of competition were eliminated, he technically still holds a few world records today.
Years later Grandma and Grandpa retired from the fishing resort, purchased a motorhome, and drove around the country visiting every imaginable town and tourist stop. They settled in St. George, Utah.
Grandpa visited the local casino to pursue one of his passions: playing cards. He became more than a regular, he became part of the establishment. Everyone knew him by name. He counted the card dealers as friends and shared his faith on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Grandma sat at the slots and as one person described, “Lead more people to Jesus that anyone she knew.” The casino comped Cactus Jack’s meals, his RV-hook-up, even a portion of his casino chips. Though he spent 20- to 40-hours a week in the casino, he wasn’t a gambler. Grandpa was a professional poker player, a human calculator of sorts, using his modest winnings to supplement his social security check.
The first time my husband, Leif, met my grandfather pulled out a deck of cards and spread out a handful of cards face up. Then he tapped the top of deck and asked Leif, “What are the odds of the next card being a Jack or higher?”
Leif stared at him blankly. Grandpa began gently explaining the cumbersome math equations needed to calculate the odds of the top card. Not bad for an 84-year-old.
Grandpa was not only gentle with Leif, he was gentle with everyone, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He held doors open and took off his hat when he met someone new. He believed that his faith should affect the way he treated others, so he looked for opportunities to bestow dignity—especially on grandmother when she died a few years ago.
Early in my writing career when I was still writing news stories, I interviewed John Hagee. Grandpa thought I won the jackpot. He must have asked me to share the details of that interview a dozen times. I never understood my grandfather’s enthusiasm for Hagee, but I was grateful for it. Why? Because that passion revealed my grandpa’s greater love, namely, Jesus.
I have no doubt that my grandpa is with Jesus today. And that makes me smile.
Make no mistake, my grandpa wasn’t perfect. He refused to give up his pet addictions of tobacco and casino chips, he was infamous for his lead foot behind the wheel, and he watched far too much television. But who am I to judge?
I consider myself lucky to have such a grandfather.