Never alone, Never alone
I’ll be in every beat of your heart
When you face the unknown
Wherever you fly
This isn’t goodbye
My love will follow you, stay with you
Baby, you’re never alone
-Never Alone, Lady A
My grandfather, Royce Alvin Guillebeau Jr was born June 2, 1940 in tiny Thomson, GA. He was born to the late Royce Alvin Guillebeau Sr and the late Julia Newsome Guillebeau.
Logically I know that there were days before he met my grandmother – and I know his sisters could tell us about who he was as a young boy – but when you spend 60 years of your life with another person, they are part of you. The time before “Weebie and Al” was a brief and brilliant flash. I know that he was a beloved brother to 5 sisters, one who died in infancy. I know that he was a gifted student and voted “most likely to succeed”. I know that he was an MVP on the football team.
My grandfather was a handsome devil, and he met his match when he met my beautiful and strong willed grandmother, Weebie. I love looking at the old photos of them together when they were young.
These are some of my absolute favorites. It’s so obvious how much they adore each other.
As they began their lives together, they had already begun building a community of friends. In a time when most friendships last a decade or so, my grandparents have dozens of friends who they have kept for over 50 years.
My grandfather was a lifelong baseball fan. He said early on that he wanted 9 kids – a baseball team. So Royce came first, a big strapping lad with an indomitable spirit.
Then Randy came 18 months later. If you’ve ever met my uncles, you know what an incredible force they are. My grandfather said that they “were the only two people who could break an anvil”. So he decided to call off his pursuits of populating a baseball team, and instead decided to create a demolition crew.
One would think that a beautiful baby girl would balance things out, but my momma wasn’t going to be left out of anything, even if it was tearing the house of the foundation. She’s every bit as rough and tumble as her brothers.
While my grandmother stayed home raising the demolition crew, my grandfather set his sites on creating a new and lucrative career for himself. With only a year of college under his belt, he left school and started investment banking in Atlanta. This part of his story resonates with me, because I also started college and left early to try to make my own way.
He was beloved and successful in Municipal Bonds and Investment Banking, making a career that spanned 35 years, and countless friends. His successful career and financial intelligence made him a fount of knowledge for everyone he knew.
It could not have been easy, the long hours at the office, the demolition crew back home, but somehow my grandparents did it. They did it all.
They built a beautiful custom home on Hillside Drive in Grayson, setting the stage for my eventual stardom. It was a beautiful two story with an in-ground pool, diving board, pool house, a big horse barn, rolling fields of tall grass. Looking back through the photo albums, I loved seeing all of the photos from this first house.
The house still stands on Hillside Drive. The acres that surrounded it have been overtaken by closely cramped modern homes, and the Hillside House was completely gutted and remodeled, but the house still stands. What stories this house could tell! Countless pool parties, countless barbecues, countless memories.
I love seeing these photos of my grandparents, so in their element, enjoying life to the fullest. They are always surrounded by so many friends, many of them who I now consider aunts and uncles and cousins.
So you see, my grandfather was a beloved son, brother, husband, father, investment banker, friend – but on April 15, 1986 I made him a Paw Paw. He wanted his grandfather title to be “Big Al”, which is what many of his friends knew him by – the man, the myth, the legend, Big Al – but as we all know, I do what I want. He was Paw Paw.
My parents were so young when they had me. Of course this presents many difficulties as we all know. But one of the blessings that no one considers, I grew up having close relationships with all four of my grandparents. I lived 36 years of my life with a complete set of grandparents who were a much a part of my upbringing as my parents – that is a priceless gift that many of my peers do not possess.
My grandparents (on both side of the family) gave my very young parents the safety net that they needed to survive. Despite the fact that my parents did not stay together, my dad has always been grateful for the love and support that my Nanny and Paw Paw have provided. The provided a safe place for me to play and grow.
So on this beautiful property on Hillside Drive, many of most cherished memories were created. It was on these beautiful acres that I learned my love of animals from my grandmother. The beautiful open floorplan allowed for lots of running and playing, and the rooms were always full of family and friends who doted on me, the first of the grandchildren. I was the Queen for several years, but by the time my cousin Bo came into the picture, I was ready for a playmate of my own size. And the absolute icing on the cake, he lived next door! I could literally run out the front door of the Hillside house, jump the fence and run across the field to be at his back door.
Bo and I were thick as thieves for a few more years together, and we spent our happy childhoods riding bikes – sometimes in the house, I have a memory of riding round the big kitchen island on my trike – up and down the driveway. We learned to swim in that big pool. I almost drowned in that big pool. We spent big happy Christmases in the giant living room. I can still hear the sound the screen door slam as we would run in and out, in and out, from one adventure to the next.
My next two cousins, Haley and Ryan, joined us in our little happy heaven. Royce and his family lived in Birmingham, but we still saw them frequently. We’ve always had a close family.
I remember when my Paw Paw got his first sports car, a shiny red Nissan 300ZX (this car is still on the farm, hidden under twenty years of dust in the pole barn). Oh how I loved that car. Instead of a pink barbie car, I insisted on a red one. I wanted one just like Paw Paw. I told Nanny that I was going to find me a Paw Paw one day. I wanted to live the life that they had, I wanted to have the love that they had.
You can imagine our childlike horror when my grandparents sold their beautiful Hillside home and moved to live on 100 undeveloped acres in Walton County. Even my childhood horse, Scarlette, was confused by this move. She was so upset by the move that she refused to leave the gate. It was only after they built her a barn that she seemed to understand that she wasn’t being abandoned.
From a big open two story floor plan on a hill to a double-wide in a valley, the five grandkids thought they must’ve lost their mind. Paw Paw looked up at the big hill and thought about the home that they would build one day, but they didn’t build for several years. Despite the smaller footprint, we came to love this home as well. A home is only defined by the love that it contains, and of course ours overflowed. We still had big Christmases and big family dinners and Thanksgiving.
We came to love the ranch. Every morning Paw Paw was up bright and early, out to work on this job or that. The work on a ranch is never done, from mending fences to painting, servicing tractors, heading the stock yard, there’s always something to get into. If you find that you’re bored, you can always just build a hay fort, something that we were all absolute pros at.
One day Paw Paw looked up the big hill and decided it was time to build. Nanny picked out her floor plan, and construction began on “the big house”, Reinbeau Ranch. It was every big as miraculous as the home they had built on Hillside drive, only instead of a big inground pool, it featured a multitude of acres to roam. As a child, the land felt infinite.
We were joined by a fifth and final grandchild, Ansley. We had our own little gang of rascals, and we spent out happiest summers running in the fields, playing in the barns. I spent every summer – the whole summer – at the ranch. I would ride horses, ride on tractors, visit with the cows, ride horses some more. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with my Nanny and my Paw Paw, my own little slice of heaven.
The ways in which I am like my grandmother are obvious. She’s loud and fiery. She will share her thoughts and opinions easily, and she is not furtive about her feelings on something. At a glance, you wouldn’t see the ways that I am like my Paw Paw.
But my Paw Paw was a man who found beauty in data. If you could give him a metric to track, he could improve upon it. He was sentimental in surprising ways. He never got rid of anything, but he was meticulously organized and detailed. He could easily walk back to his well organized office and pull out every hallmark card he’s ever received from his kids, sorted by sender. Every letter, every shred of momentous occasion.
He tracked his health in quantitative ways. If you know me, you know that my Garmin is one of my absolute key pieces of tech, and it was the same for Paw Paw. He got his 10,000 steps every night without fail.
He loved technology. He was the most capable 82 year old on the block. He kept up with Facebook, and used it to connect to and maintain his numerous social networks. He made sure to keep his high school class together, organizing and celebrating with them as often as possible.
Every grandchild on the ranch has worked the fields – except for me. Growing up, I felt a little bit out of place in this way. So many of my family are tremendously strong and hard working in every sense of the word. My Uncles could hold off a football team all on their own. Hell, my two uncles and my mom are the backbone of the Athens Fed Ex. If you know me, you know Ive never operated a single piece of grass cutting machinery, from a diminutive lawn mower to the big tractors used to maintain the farm. The closest I’ve got to being a farm hand is driving the big F350 in the field to haul a hay trailer, but I’ve never been one to get dirty and sweaty at manual labor. But with only a high school education, I have created a successful career in technology, and I pour all of my intellect and passion into my job every single day – a trait that I surely inherited from him.
He began investment accounts for all of his grandkids and taught us early on about the stock market, long term and sustainable investments, and financial wisdom. He continued to instill the importance of our financial health as we all grew up and began our adult lives.
I learned to love travel from my other grandparents, but it was my Paw Paw who opened my heart and mind to the wonders in our backyard. He loved this country so much. He could list every president, and tell you about their lives. He has visited most of the presidential homes as he travelled this country from one end to another. He instilled my love of National Parks, and taught me that you don’t need a passport to experience some of the greatest wonders of the world.
He taught me the importance of both your blood family and your chosen family. I grew up amongst the community that he built, and to this day I can’t actually tell you the blood relatives from the lifelong friends – they’re all family to me. These people have been in the picture before my parents were even in the picture.
There has never been, and will never be, a man like my Paw Paw. He had a force greater than gravity, impacting the trajectory of every single life he came in contact with. He imprinted his greatest attributes into each of his kids and grandkids, and it’s a mark of craftsmanship which is absolutely unmistakable. Just spend some time with my mom and uncles and you’ll have a glimpse of the greatness that my Paw Paw.
I know that the next two days may be some of the harder days of my life. It’s going to be hard to celebrate the end of an era, but we’re doing the best that we can.
I want to hear your stories. I want to see your photos. Please share with me your favorite memories of Big Al. Tell me about the way that he impacted your life. We want to cling to the vibrant life and stories that he lived so that he can continue to live on with us until we can go be with him again.