“Well, GraceAnna, I’ll tell you what I know,” my mom began.
We had gone for a walk down the beach, just the two of us. It’s something we’d been doing every summer for the past eight or so years since our family had been vacationing at Fripp Island.
The specific subject matter of our conversations would change with each passing summer, but the nature of our walks remained the same: mother and daughter time.
We had already walked down to one end of the beach and we were on our return trip and I had just asked her what she knew about Grant Castleberry.
I stared out at the limitless ocean, squinting my eyes as I listened to her words.
“I know that his mom and dad used to live in Beaufort back in the mid-eighties. His dad’s name was Kelly and his mom’s name is Susan. They were involved with the start of Community Bible Church. Kelly was a pilot in the Marine Corps. I don’t remember how exactly, but I know that the jet that he was flying one day was involved in a terrible crash just off the coast of Georgia, and they never found his body.”
I was taken completely aback by the story. “Wow, are you serious? How old was he?”
“In his mid-twenties I believe. I know that Grant was young, maybe two or three years old. After Kelly’s death, he and his mom moved back to Texas. His death impacted a lot of people.”
“When we moved here, I remember a few people telling me the story. In fact, our church’s radio station was dedicated in memory of Kelly, because he spent the final years of his life investing in the ministry of CBC.”
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I was trying to process it all – a husband and a father dying at such a young age. I couldn’t imagine anything more tragic.
We waded through a tide pool as my mom spoke. When she mentioned the radio station, I suddenly remembered something.
When I was growing up, my brothers and I would often go with my dad to our church’s radio station. He would host a program each week that he called “The Bible Line.” People would call in from all over Beaufort County and ask him questions about the Bible.
He still holds the weekly program, and people still call in from all over.
While he was in the studio “On Air,” my brothers and I would sit quietly in the room next door and read or do schoolwork.
Eventually, I would get bored and analyze every crack and cranny in the room. I would stare at the tile in the ceiling or at the pattern on the carpet.
I remember one day getting up from the sofa and walking over to a bookshelf that was on one side of the room. There was a picture frame there. The photograph was of a man and a woman and a blonde headed little boy about two years old.
The man was dressed in a pilot’s uniform and was holding the little boy. All three of them were standing next to a fighter jet. I stared at the photograph just like I had stared at everything else in the room.
Next to the picture frame was a little model jet. It was just like one of the jets that are on display outside the gate of the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station.
The couple looked young and happy in the photograph. Never once did it occur to me that the man in that picture might not even be alive.
At the time, I wondered who they were.
I couldn’t believe that I had somehow missed the story all these years.
My mom continued, “Do you remember, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, when Grant and his mom and his step-father came and visited CBC? We went out to lunch with them after church. They were in town visiting Kelly’s memorial marker that is in the Beaufort National Cemetery.”
“Yes, I do remember that.” The lunch was something that I had completely forgotten about before now. Because I grew up in a pastor’s family, eating lunch after church with people was a weekly routine.
It was hard to keep track of all the lunches and all the missionary kids that we ate with after church.
But after my mom mentioned it, I realized that I did remember that day and meeting Grant. He stuck out to me because I have a brother named Grant and I had never met anyone else by that name. At the time, I didn’t know what his last name was.
I was 16 years old and very much consumed with my “busy” teenage life. I sat at the table with the adults while my brothers sat at another table with Grant.
I remember watching Grant get up and walk across the restaurant to refill his drink. He was tall and lanky and he wore cowboy boots, khakis, and a button-up starched maroon shirt.
I’m not really sure why I remember that. He just looked different. Definitely like something straight out of Texas.
I also remember that he didn’t say much to me besides hello.
That was all right with me. I had other “important” 16-year-old things to worry about.
And that was that. That was my whole encounter with Grant Castleberry from Texas.
I didn’t know that his trip to Beaufort that weekend was extremely important to him. I didn’t know that it was the first time he was visiting his father’s memorial marker since he was three years old. I didn’t know that the 17 year old boy that I watched walk across the restaurant to refill his drink was profoundly impacted by his father’s death. I didn’t know that Beaufort held a very dear and special place in his heart. I didn’t know that he had a rock solid faith even at that young age. I didn’t know that he already wanted to be a pastor.
And I definitely didn’t know that he thought I was cute but was afraid to talk to me because “Dr. Broggi” was present.
Oh, there was just so much I didn’t know.
“It was so great to meet their family that day,” my mom’s voice broke through my thoughts. “We had only ever seen Grant in pictures, so it was special to meet Kelly’s son and see what a fine, Christian young man he had become.”
We were almost back at the villa now and I saw my dad and some of my brothers walking out to meet us.
I was still processing it all.
I didn’t realize that this was just the beginning. There was so much more I didn’t know that I was about to find out.