The Leader Of The Misfits

I met him when I was in high school. His presence and personality were large and intimidating. He was the wood shop teacher. The “bad kids” and “losers” loved him. In my mind, he was the leader of the misfits.

I was a little afraid of him.

Then I started dating one of his favorite misfit students. My boyfriend had an “alternative” family structure and home life that felt more like neglect than a way to instill independence.

The wood shop teacher had taken my then-boyfriend under his wing. I realized that the wood shop teacher cared, mentored, coached, protected and, in some cases, parented his students. I realized that he saw — truly saw — the teen students who weren’t seen by many others. The students who felt ignored, neglected, insignificant, unimportant and unhappy.

My senior year, I fell in love with his son. Then, I fell in love with the wood shop teacher.

C.J. and Grandpa Colorado when they first met.

He might have been my soul mate had I been born thirty years earlier. He was a dichotomy. A man’s man with a master’s degree in English and a hankering for whiskey. He’d traveled the world before making a loving home with his own hands. He knew every pre-Y2K song and could dance to the song with a grace not known to many men over six feet. He collected quotes and knives. He had an artist’s spirit with a blue-collar sensibility. He understood women, fish, and woodworking better than any person I’ve ever met.

He went from being the wood shop teacher to my father-in-law to Grandpa Colorado.

In early September, he visited us in California to watch one of Chase’s football games.

“C.J., will you do me a favor?” he asked. “Will you paint my toenails? They are looking pretty bad and I think some polish is just what they need. What do you think?”

“YES! I’ll totally paint them! Stay right there!” C.J. said, running out of the room to get his mani/pedi supplies.

Grandpa Colorado picked his own nail polish colors. Glittery black for his left foot and metallic gold for his right foot. He sat very still while C.J. gave his toenails a supreme paint job. Grandpa Colorado thanked him and tipped him.

Weeks later, it was 4:19 a.m. when I answered the phone. Grandma Colorado was crying. Grandpa Colorado had a heart attack and died. I could hear first responders in the background. I put Matt on a plane and didn’t see him again for a week.

When Matt returned, we put the kids to bed and sat on the couch while he told me about his time in Colorado with his mom and brother.

One day while he was there, the funeral home called to see if any family or friends wanted to see Grandpa Colorado’s body a final time. Matt told his mom it wasn’t a good idea. A retired cop, he’s seen a lot of dead bodies. His mom hasn’t. Grief makes people feel a weird sense of duty. Off they went to the funeral home

Grandma Colorado’s time with her husband’s body was brief and she left the room. Matt and his brother remained. Something prompted Matt to pull back the white sheet to see his dad’s feet. He saw glittery black and metallic gold toenails gleaming back at him. Matt and his brother looked at each other and smiled.

Grandpa Colorado hadn’t removed the nail polish applied by C.J. He’d worn it proudly without shame or embarrassment.

When we told C.J. the next day, he smiled. Although C.J. couldn’t say a final goodbye, he knew that, until his death, every time he looked at his feet, Grandpa Colorado thought of him.

The leader of the misfits died with pedicured toenails, because he saw the unseen, protected the vulnerable and empowered the marginalized – whether they were family or not.

It doesn’t feel right to say we lost Grandpa Colorado. It feels more accurate to say that we lost the pleasure and privilege of being in his company. He was too good for us. Too wise, charming, funny, kind, patient, accepting and loving for us. Somehow we fooled him into hanging out with us. We let him turn up the music and dance and pour a drink and tell us the same stories over and over again because we were so damn lucky to have him see us, teach us, love us. And now, he is the stuff of legend. Deservedly so.

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About raisingmyrainbow

RaisingMyRainbow.com is a blog about the adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son.
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38 Responses to The Leader Of The Misfits

  1. Ally says:

    How lucky you are to have had him. I’d give anything if me and my son had a Grandpa Colorado in our lives. Hugs 🙂

  2. bestpi says:

    Heart Wrenchingly beautiful. So sorry for your loss. And the world’s.

  3. Raney Simmon says:

    That was so beautifully written. Sorry you’ve lost such a good person in your life.

  4. DRKellogg says:

    You really know how to turn a phrase, Ms. Lori!

  5. Monica says:

    I will promptly paint my toenails gold and black. Thank you for sharing – you have a beautiful family and I am sad that you are one less. Blessings to you all.

  6. Anonypilgrim says:

    I’m so sorry for you loss.

  7. nwheremn1965 says:

    That was both sad and beautiful made me both laugh smile and cry. So sorry for your loss, and happy for you as well because of the life experiences and blessings from having him in your lives.

  8. sandyfield49 says:

    That’s beautiful. The world could do with more Grandpa Colorado’s.

  9. Ellen Bekier says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your father in law. So sorry for your loss…he sounds like he was quite a guy! I love that he still had the nail polish on his toes…brought tears to my eyes.

  10. Terrie D. says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful person and I am glad you all have so many wonderful memories of him.

  11. kencuth says:

    Peace on his spirit, and blessings to you all! Once again you’ve made me teary.

  12. I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m so glad you all had him in your lives.

  13. Gillian B says:

    A real father, a real hero, a real man. With beautiful toenails. That was beautifully written. Thank you.

  14. Dawn says:

    I should have grabbed a tissue before reading this one! What an absolutely beautiful tribute. Only a life well lived can merit words so kind. Hugs to you all for your loss.

  15. Wonderful story. Sorry for your loss.

  16. David A Morse says:

    So sorry for your loss.

  17. cla517 says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. And I’m so proud of Grandpa Colorado for keeping that polish! God Speed to him.

  18. Gabrielle New says:

    What a beautiful, loving, giving man. May his memory be for a blessing.

  19. j9tigger says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an equally beautiful soul.

  20. Lisa says:

    I am so sorry for your loss….

  21. Laurie Carey says:

    Thank you for sharing this moving tribute of a much loved man.

  22. Patti says:

    When something special comes across my eyes, I choose to read slowly, to savor each word and the image it yields. Such was this. What a special man. No wonder Matt is the man and father that he is. You and your family have been blessed!

  23. dinerv says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. My minds eye saw him standing in a white gown on a cloud, barefoot with painted toenails, with a smile on his face. May all your good memories comfort you. ❤️

  24. Cass says:

    That was beautiful. I didn’t even know him and now I’m sorry that I never got the chance.

  25. Dan Woog says:

    A life well lived. A legacy that will endure. A loving tribute. No person could ask for more.

  26. Hufflestitch says:

    I am so sorry you didn’t have longer. This was so beautifully written for a wonderful man. If only all children could be so lucky to be seen by such a gentle soul like his.

  27. gtrac says:

    So sorry. You painted a picture of an incredible person we would all like to know.

  28. Bennett / Sister Unity says:

    Crying. Thank you.

  29. Cathilee Sharretts says:

    What a loving tribute to Matt’s Dad. What a man. Sending healing light & love to you all. May good memories (like this post) fill your heart . THANK YOU for writing this.

  30. Robert Rehak says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful, amazing, and loving man. The article reminds us to be kind to everyone because we don’t know what others are going through in life. Thank you for sharing.

  31. mdaniels4 says:

    Oh God, im so sorry Lori. And Matthew. May you remember the great t times soon. I’m so sorry.

  32. Peg Cook says:

    I have missed your posts. I love to keep up on the latest family exploits. Reading your book was just the beginning.

  33. Harriet Neal says:

    blessings on you and your family. may his memory be as a blessing for all of you. lovely eulogy.

  34. Monica says:

    I’ve missed you and your posts. I am so loving that he wore the pedicure forever! You are always in my thoughts and I wish the world more rainbows! Thank you!

  35. I am so very sorry for your loss. He sounds like such a wonderful human being – the world will be less without him – and more because he lived. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. My deepest condolences to all your family.

  36. I’m so sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful guy.

  37. Elaine Z says:

    I’m so sorry you are no longer able to hang out wth such an awesome guy. But a man is never gone as long as he is remembered. So Grandpa Colorado will be with us for a long, long time.

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