"A Twentieth Century Hero"

My grandfather was a 20th Century hero.
My memories of him are dim,
   Unsummoned by day-to-day practicalities
   And starry skies of introspect.

He left the farm still a young man
   In search of his wife's dreams:
   Urban comfort and white bread.
He worked quietly in a cigarette factory
   For forty years.

I remember how he always let me beat him
   in checkers.
I remember his backyard garden:
   The tomato plants carefully tied to wooden stakes.
I remember our trips to the tobacco warehouses:
   The sweet dry smells
   And busy men
      Buying up tobacco for the cigarette factories.
   He always bought me peanuts and a coke.
I remember how he would never smile for a camera,
   In spite of my mom's best efforts.
I remember the bags of peanuts
   Quietly waiting in my room after school,
      Which had ended our trips to the warehouses.
   I remember his shiny black '54 Chevy,
   Which he fed only premium gasoline,
   Which became mine when he died.
I remember feeling far too little grief
   When he died.

He worked quietly in a cigarette factory
   for forty years.
He liked long solitary walks along quiet city streets.
He tended his garden with loving care and let
   his grandson beat him in checkers.
He died when I was twelve or thirteen,
   And unaware of his role:
      A 20th Century Hero.

- Mark Wayne Davis, 1982