Dear Grandpa: In Memory of Rex Winkle

Published on Friday, October 14, 2016
Last updated Wednesday, October 25, 2023
5 min read

Grandpa didn’t like his picture taken often. He preferred to be the one behind the lens of the camera. Looking back, I think my interest in photography grew from the countless hours spent as a child flipping through his volumes of exposed film. His photos told stories of unending love, hard work, and adventure.

A vintage Kodak camera placed on a dining table, with Casey's grandpa
sitting in the background.
Grandpa with one of his several (now) vintage cameras.

Grandma and Grandpa married fast and young - a recipe for heartbreak in this day and age, but theirs was a true love of more than 65 years that continues on in the lives of his family and friends. Most wouldn’t consider Grandpa affectionate. He was a tough lover, and I believe and accept that deeply influenced the person I am today. In my lifetime, I only ever saw him shed a tear once - on the day he laid his own son to rest. But underneath all the tough love was one of the biggest hearts I ever saw. A heart of hearts. You saw love in his eyes, his smile, his tricks, his jokes, and most of all, in his actions. He was hardest on the ones he loved the most. And his loved ones, not only understood, but accepted that.

Old photograph of Casey's grandparents, shortly after they married, standing
on the rail of an overlook.
Grandpa and Grandma shortly after they married.

Grandpa worked hard for those he loved. He earned every penny he made. He "pinched every penny until they squealed". He lived most of his life in a house built with his own hands. Grandma had a safe place to call home for more than half a century. As Grandma would say, “Your grandpa made this old house out of more nails than wood.” A house strong enough for the love of his life, with his own hands. A house built for a family that he valued more than anything else in this world. Grandpa worked countless, painstaking jobs, and he always provided. Providing was how he loved.

Casey's grandparents standing in front of their 50th anniversary cake.
Grandma and Grandpa celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Provide. If it wasn’t used or on sale, he didn’t buy it for himself. He only ever made one major purchase of something new - a blue Chevy pickup truck that he drove off the lot with Grandma the day Elvis Presley died. And over 800,000 miles later, it still drives to this day. Grandpa didn't admit it, but he planned and made decisions for others, so that his loved ones could live better than himself. If that isn't the American Dream, I don't know what is.

Casey's grandparents standing together on the porch of the house his grandpa.
Grandma and Grandpa outside their home of over 50 years.

Grandpa, there’s some things I will never forget about you:

  • Listening to the Hank Williams vinyls you’d put on right before bed as we fell asleep when I was a child.
  • Hearing the sputtering of your Ford tractor when you were out in the field.
  • Waking up to the smell of coffee on the gas stove in the mornings.
  • Eating oatmeal with brown sugar, eggs, and toast with honey every Sunday morning before church.
  • Yelling at you the night you upset Grandma, and all you and she could do was laugh.
  • Locking you up inside the chicken house, or was that someone else?
  • Making trips to Dairy Queen with Grandma for buster bars and banana splits on the days you'd pick me up from school.
  • Listening to your countless stories that now I regret not writing down.
  • Your reaction when I told you Timothy drove the 4-wheeler through the side of the barn.
  • Your love for Western films, and how they portrayed just how much of an idealist you were.

And I will always look back on and relish...

  • The camping trips at Greers Ferry.
  • Coming into your warm house, full of fresh firewood and smoke, for macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, and toast that Grandma had made after a long day of sledding down the big hill in front your house when the electricity was out and school was cancelled.
  • That joke you pulled on your coworkers with the peppers you grew - tricking them into thinking they weren't as hot as they really were.
  • The stories of your journey to Michigan and your struggle to find work to provide for your family.
  • That story about pushing the old pick-up truck up that steep hill when it ran out of gas, to show off to Grandma… until it started rolling back on you.
  • You recalling the time you lost your wedding ring, and the finger it was on, at work.
  • That one time you swore you were struck by lightning.
  • That other time you stayed in your recliner while the tornado tore the roof off the house.
  • Birthday parties at your house.
  • Holidays filled with so many friends and family that the table wouldn't fit them all.

You are loved. We all love you. We will miss you. You have no idea how much we will miss you. But we know you're at peace. You're better off. Tell your mother, your father, your sisters and brothers, and your son that we said hi, and that we love you and miss you all.

So here's to one last "bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck." I love you.