I love reading about larger than life characters. Walt Longmire, Spenser, Earl Swagger, Jeff Cooper, Andrew Jackson, and Louis L’Amour are a few of my favorite examples. As long as I can remember my Grandfather was one of those mythic figures. He was tougher than steel and rawhide. He flew planes, shot in competition, fought in WWII, ran his own company, taught himself to play the organ, hunted, and fixed anything he put his mind too.
As a wee lad, I couldn’t say “pop” so I called my grandfather “puck.” Puck was the man with the tractor who let me ride on his lap while he mowed the lawn. Puck was the man who took me for my first haircut with a barber. Puck was the man who put my Christmas presents together and showed me how they worked. Puck was the man who gave me my first pocket knife—a stag handled silver chased Boy Scout folder that originally belonged to my great great grandfather. Puck was the man who took me fishing and taught me how to cast a line. As I grew older and more independent, I spent hour upon hour listening to his stories—delivered in his dry “just the facts” style. Some of my favorites were when he fixed his first car at age 12 (taking the bus to his grandparents with all his oil and tools in the process), how he almost shot down a Japanese fighter in WWII, how he quit smoking cold turkey, how he put his kids through college by fixing up old boats and selling them at a profit, and how people used to date my aunts just so they could see his gun collection. I listened to him talk for hours while he tinkered with his plane or changed the oil in his car or landscaped his yard. A couple years ago I bought a 1907 vintage colt 1903 pocket hammerless. When I told my grandfather, he said that he never cared for them that much since they were prone to corrode in the marine humidity. The way he told it, they’d go up for a flight and come back to the carrier and the gun would already have begun rusting. A month later and I had to get mine refinished because it too had started corroding. He always had a story or bit of wisdom to share—and even if it was something I’d heard before it was worth hearing again.
I remember him as a physically imposing man. He was a bewhiskered colossus with the answer to any question. It wasn’t that he was physically large—more that his life seemed so much bigger than the one I lived in. He didn’t just go out for Sunday dinner; he flew to whatever eatery his group of fellow fliers decided on for that week. If there was a problem around the house, he would fix it. He learned how to fly in the dark by instrument for the heck of it. He rode his bicycle well into his 80s 15+ miles a week. One of my proudest childhood moments came when I finally beet the old man at arm wrestling. He was a force to be reckoned with—uncompromising in his principals, fiercely loyal—a man who was shaped by events that I know only from history books and movies.
Chester Nixon passed away Sunday May twenty fourth, 2015 at age 94. To my knowledge the only task he set himself that he didn’t accomplish was making it to 100. I am reminded of a line uttered following the death of Teddy Roosevelt:
"Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight”
He would often ask me to sing the Navy hymn at his funeral. It seems a small tribute for so great a man—I pray you find it worthy.
Husband, veteran, businessman, hunter, pilot, father, captain, grandfather, and friend—he was the finest man I have ever known. Puck, you are loved. You are remembered. You will be missed.
Rest in peace sir, the world is smaller without you.