The world is a slightly less interesting place today. Yesterday, my grandfather, James Stanley Suba passed away. Some people knew him as Coach, others as Stanley or Suba, to me he will forever be simply Pollock, a name he inherited from his father.
The trouble with trying to talk about Pollock is you never know where to begin. How do you put Pollock into words? It’s like trying to explain baseball to someone; words can only go so far, at some point you have to experience the game. Likewise, words will never paint a completely accurate portrayal of Pollock, only glimpses and aspects of a man who you simply ‘had to meet’ to even begin to understand.
Rather than trying to explain Pollock, I want to share a few stories about why I love and respect him.
This might not be the first thing that comes to mind for many people, but Pollock was a Godly man. I doubt he ever preached a sermon and I hope he never led a song, but he did teach me several important lessons that I hold very dear to my heart. Not long after I had decided to become a youth minister, Pollock and I were riding to a ballgame together. I was talking about the different aspects of being a minister, and the importance of teaching teens about God. When I asked Pollock if he had any advice for me, his reply was, “Tell ‘em to do what the good book says.” Simple, yet profound on a much deeper level than he probably ever intended. A few seconds later he added, “and be at the church house on Sunday.” When my faith becomes very complicated I often go back to that conversation in his truck and remind myself to focus on the basics.
On another occasion. I was joking with Pollock about his tendency to find a back corner in church. We were at a large church building in Houston with hundreds of people filing in before service. As we passed the front row, I asked Pollock how much tickets were for a front row seat. He replied, “that’s reserved for perfect people”. Like most churches, that row stayed empty the entire worship service. Pollock would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t perfect, and we would all agree. However, Pollock never let that get in the way of him going to church either. He also never let that get in the way of serving others, or living out the ‘good book’ in his own peculiar way. Many times I am confronted with my own sin and it is very easy to hide, or feel ashamed. If there was any example that Pollock set for me in regards to faith it is that you don’t need to be perfect to be a follower of Christ. Pollock may have been stubborn, gruff at times, or whatever else one might add to the extensive list, but he did love God.
A more popular aspect of Pollock, is that he had the best stories. I think the reason his crazy stories were so great is because you knew the more outrageous they were the more likely they were to be true. Pollock was never very far removed from some crazy event involving either a boat, a fish, a ballgame, a donkey, a mishap in the shed or something a ragknot or rinky-dink (or some other more colorful name) had done to him. Even if the event itself wasn’t much to talk about, Pollock had a way of making stories interesting. Many of our family gatherings centered around Granny and Pollock’s kitchen in Galena Park where hours and hours of stories and laughter have been shared. Little details like facts or exact numbers never seemed as important as the desire to share.
Currently there is a movement in Christian culture emphasizing living out life as a great story. Pollock understood this years ago. While authors today grasp at what it means to tell a great story, and how to modify your life into something worth talking about, Pollock inherently knew that life is interesting in and of itself. He would have never said anything about it, or spent much time in thought over such an idea, he was too busy creating more stories to share. Over and over again. I never minded hearing Pollock’s stories for the tenth time. I never minded that the number and size of fish seemed to grow with every retelling, and I never minded that the facts weren’t always straight. Pollock brought people together with his great stories, and was a master at that art.
Another aspect of Pollock was probably reserved for many of the young men like myself that he mentored in some way shape or form. For many of us, there was a certain moment with Pollock where you knew that you had earned his respect. I remember mine very clearly. Granny and Pollock had driven their RV out to California to visit our family. I was in my early teens and could not have been more excited to have Pollock around for a while. One afternoon, Pollock was struggling with a stubborn oil filter on the RV. I was on my usual duty of ‘flashlight holder’ in the middle of the afternoon because I knew nothing about cars. The usual lines of encouragement that I received from Pollock like, ‘growl at it’ and ‘you have to be smarter than it’ did not seem to have the same effect when returned back to him. Pollock simply could not get the oil filter off of the RV. I finally worked up the courage to ask Pollock if I could give it a try, and he replied, “ok boy, you see if you can get at it” in his typical gruff voice. I immediately reached underneath the filter and unscrewed it with minimal effort. I could not have been more excited about changing an oil filter, but was too scared to smile because I didn’t know how Pollock would respond. It was the first time in my life where I had done something Pollock couldn’t and it was on his own RV. He looked up at me with wide eyes and a toothless grin and yelled, “well I’ll be. Attaboy D!” From that day on I was never on ‘flashlight duty’ in the afternoon. Handshakes became the official greeting with Pollock, and I was treated with much more respect. I cannot stress enough the importance of this moment in my life. Every boy needs a moment where they first feel like a man, and mine came with handshake from Pollock after changing an oil filter.
Pollock had a great smile. This may come as a surprise to many people who have seen Pollock’s lack of teeth, or lack of teeth on his dentures, but it’s true. Hidden behind a gruff persona and years of chewing tobacco, was a great, often sly, smile. This was the smile he tried to hide when one of the grandkids managed to give him the queen of spades (or as he called it, the ‘green weenie’) during a game of hearts. This was the smile he freely showed when giving the ‘green weenie’ to one of the grandkids during the same game. This was the smile that came out when years of picking up a spoon at the start of a ballgame finally payed off when someone shared their ice cream with him. This was the smile that came out after Gomer Pyle, Barney Fife, Ralph Kramden or the Stooges said somethingon TV that Pollock could actually hear. This was also the smile I received when walking through the door to their house. This was the same smile he gave my dad, and it was the smile that he simply could not hide when my mom or little sister (his only granddaughter) gave him a hug that he claimed he didn’t like but never ever shied way from.
Something else I always admired about Pollock was his lack of diplomacy. He said what he meant, nothing more and nothing less. I’m sure this frustrated many people, but you never had to guess what Pollock was thinking. Wether you agreed with him or not, wether he was being stubborn or not, you always knew where you stood with Pollock. And he treated everyone this way. Pollock never met a stranger. I’ve seen Pollock converse with major league ballplayers and classmates of mine at a junior high in the middle of the ghetto. He treated everyone with an even keel, for better or for worse. That type of honesty may not always come across as effective or practical in our world, but like many other things, Pollock had his own way of doing things, and that included the way he treated people.
One part of Pollock’s life that I always admired was his respect for the Marine Corps. According to legend, Pollock lied about his age to join the Marines along with some of his buddies. My dad was an officer in the Marines, and was always treated like one, years after both of them had left the service. On several occasions Pollock mentioned to me that I needed to respect my dad more for two reasons, he was my dad and a Marine. I may not have always done a great job with that, but his words have always stuck. Another great memory I have of Pollock came from one of his several visits to San Diego. We took Pollock to MCRD to watch a marine bootcamp graduation ceremony. Pollock had graduated from the very same bootcamp years earlier, and was very excited to be back. While we were walking towards the stands, a young Marine pulled Pollock aside, and asked if he was a veteran. Pollock said yes, and was invited to sit in a special section reserved for veterans. I can not think of a time where I saw Pollock more full of joy. Except possibly later that day when he got a ‘decent haircut’ at the MCRD barbershop.
Lastly, and most notably, Pollock had his own unique simplicity. He was never really phased by the comings and goings of the passing world. His life was very simple, but very meaningful. He never got caught up in celebrity status, or what was trendy or popular at the time. He wore a straw cowboy hat in the summer when it was hot and a felt cowboy hat in the winter when it was cold. He ate three square meals a day, and worked to earn them. Practicality trumped presentation, and anything could be fixed or upgraded with the right tools. Pollock never really seemed to be swayed by what others thought of him and maybe that is why so many people thought so much of him, even if he wasn’t always the easiest person to love.
The last time I was at Granny and Pollock’s house in Galena Park, I had what can only be described as an extremely typical day with my grandparents. The day involved a ballgame, some scrabble with Granny, a couple of big glasses of pepsi and some great home-cooked meals. But before any of that came about, was a morning filled with working out back with Pollock. The house was going to be put up for sale, and he needed help with the shed. We headed out back to the massive shed made of scraps of corrugated aluminum (none of them bigger than a few square feet). The old shed had started to lean over the years, and was now at five to ten degrees off of perpendicular to the ground. Without explanation, Pollock had me run some rope through the rafters to a spot outside. We attached the rope to some stakes in the ground and proceeded to winch the ropes tighter, until the shed was standing up straight. “Hey D, come here tell me if that looks straight to you.” I told Pollock that the shed did in fact appear to be sitting upright again, and that was it. No major fixes, no big deal, just pull the massive structure tight and head inside for some lunch. I stood there looking at this old rickety shed now held semi-upright by a few ropes and some stakes, looked over ay my shirtless, toothless, eighty-something year old grandpa and just smiled. Then he looked over at me with an expression on his face like I was the weird one.
I’m going to miss Pollock. I’m going to miss hearing him say, “I’m gonna lay some wisdom on you”. I’m going to miss hearing about his latest adventure, and the one’s we’ve heard about hundreds of times. I’m going to miss his unique sense of humor and way of dealing with people. Most importantly, although I never heard him say these words, I’m going to miss how much I always felt loved by my Pollock.
One love, one heart.