He was 40 years old or so when I was born, so I had the unique experience of a young “in his prime” kind of grandfather. I was spoiled rotten with his attention.
Those who knew my Granpa would agree, Shelly Stapleton was a part of what’s called a “dying breed” of man. Half cowboy, half saint, a bright star, whose light was cast further than most, terrifying to behold and yet comforting when standing in it’s warmth. He was a wall, a rock, a man who knew the line of decency and justice and was uncompromising when it came to defending it. Cross him and you’d be crossing a bear. Ask him for help and he’d go above and beyond with a big ol’ grin. And Granpa’s hands told the story. The calluses were born out of selfless service to his country, his wife, and his family.
He was the servant of everyone he encountered. Unless of course he didn’t like you. And if Shelly didn’t like you... you must be up to no good. I never saw him associate with those who weren’t honest and true to their word. Shelly could not be bought or sold. He knew a fair deal and demanded that others respect him as much as he respected them. He made companions for life this way and it made a great impact on me and my brothers. He was a student of people. He watched, listened and read them well. As you might expect, he also won some money at cards.
The day we buried him, I met Billy Baldwin, Granpa’s best friend since second grade. This dear old man teared up when he told me story after story of the two of them getting into mischief on the Houston ship channel in the 1940s and 50s.
“If anyone ever said it couldn’t be done, Shelly would glance over at me and I would say to him, ‘ya hear that Shell?’ and Shelly would look back to me and say ‘Well. I guess we are gonna have to show them, aren’t we?’”
Billy said my Granpa was never afraid to try anything. If he didn’t know how to do it, he would make his best guess at it until he figured it out. Of course, I already knew this about my grandfather. It was always that way. Granpa knew everything about everything. Or at least one very important or interesting thing about everything (that made him seem like he knew everything).
There was literally nothing he wouldn’t try and learn. It was that way with fishing, hunting, construction, history, literature, golf, woodworking, pecan harvesting, horse racing, cattle, rope swings and chocolate cakes. He was a conversationalist, a humorist, and a prophet. God and His creation were a constant marvel to him and he lived grateful. Granpa had a boyish curiosity about the way things worked and he got a kick out of creating things with his hands. My grandfather was also playful as he was intimidating. He always had a “Shellyism” to break the ice among friends and family. These smart quibs were like dad jokes, except way more intelligent and funny. Shelly had a way of making you think for a second or two and then bust out laughing. If a stranger didn’t understand a joke, that was alright with him. He’d figure out a way to make them laugh later on. He was very comfortable in his own skin.
If someone asked “How ya doing Shelly?” he’d reply “I feel more like myself today than I ever have.”
If he liked your cooking, he’d say “I better not get any on my forehead, my tongue would beat my brains out trying to get to it.”
If he wanted a cigar, he’d say “I’m fixing to smoke all over myself.”
If you said “It was good to see you Shelly!” He’d say “It was good to be seen!”
And if you were saying goodbye, he’d say “See ya wallago!”
I love you Granpa. I miss you already. Thanks for continuing to teach me.
See ya wallago.