I wouldn’t exactly say that Kevin Granata was my friend. Our wives were friends, certainly. I knew his kids and had been to his house. Occasionally, we had been in a meeting together regarding this or that. And I liked him well enough, but we were more acquaintances than friends. But on this, the anniversary of Kevin’s death at the hands of a gunman at Virginia Tech, I thought it fitting to tell a few stories of Kevin that are seared in my memory.
Christmas Morning, 2005
On Christmas morning, 2005, I was tiling our bathroom floor. We were remodeling two bathrooms (which had previously been one bizarre bathroom), and I was doing much of the work myself. I had thought of hiring someone to do the tile work, but the tile installers from our local home center (Lowe’s or Home Depot, I can’t remember which) wouldn’t do wall tile, only floor tile. Since we planned to tile the tub surround in one bathroom, I figured that I might as well learn about laying tile by doing the horizontal floor first. I rented a wet saw to cut the tiles. Since I was doing two floors and a tub surround, I knew it would take a few days to get the tiles laid, and so I rented the saw over the long Christmas weekend to save some money.
Early Christmas morning, I started laying tile. As often happens with home improvement tasks, you can read all the books in the world, but until you actually start doing something, you won’t really learn how it’s done. So, I promptly smacked my head into the steep learning curve that is laying tile. I remember being frustrated, but no more so than usual at the beginning of learning a new home improvement skill. But Becky said it was the most frustrated she had ever seen me. So, she called Linda, and Linda sent Kevin (who had laid some tile in his own home) right over.
Kevin helped me get the thinset mixed right (I had it a little too thick, if memory serves), then spread it (I was putting it on too thick), and lay the first few tiles. I was embarrassed to be taking him away from his family on Christmas morning, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was probably there less than an hour. But after that, the rest of the tile went much more smoothly. It was still time consuming — I used that wet saw until late into the night before it was due to be returned — but the project had become manageable.
Our house is in an eclectic neighborhood of Blacksburg. There are big houses and tiny ones, new houses and older ones. In particular, there is an old couple that lives in a tiny, tiny house on the corner just down the road from us. This road, as it happens, is a road the Granata family travels daily, as their house is farther out from town than ours. The couple’s mailbox had been smashed in repeatedly by marauding teenagers. On this particular summer day, the mailbox had been destroyed again, and Linda sent Kevin and the boys out to replace it. They bought one of those crazy heavy duty Rubbermaid mailboxes, with the notion that it would be well nigh impossible to smash, and they put it up.
I still see that mailbox almost every day when I take our dogs for a walk. And when I see it, I always think of Kevin. Replacing the mailbox was Linda’s idea, but I wonder how I would have responded if Becky had tried to send me out with the same task. I would surely have resisted, but now I hope that I remember and, remembering, don’t resist.
I don’t remember the exact date. It was Monday. It might have been April 2. It might have been April 9. Maybe it was even March. In any case, we had managed to maroon one of our cars at church. Becky wasn’t feeling well, and I needed to go retrieve the car. So we called Linda, who sent Kevin. I remember dreading the two and half mile trip a bit. Kevin and I were both quiet souls, and I wondered what, if anything, we’d have to say to each other.
But he picked me up, and I directed him towards our church. We talked about this and that, and he commented that he had seen my name a lot in the funding list that our Office of Sponsored Programs sent to faculty, listing recently awarded research grants and contracts. “I like that list,” he said. “It’s all good news, celebrating accomplishments without putting anyone down.” Incidentally, the Office of Sponsored Programs stopped sending out that list a few months ago. They say it’s all on the web, but I miss that listing of good news amidst the junk in my faculty mailbox.
So, those are my stories of Kevin. They represent just about all I knew of him. I’ve turned those stories over in my mind time and again during the last twelve months. I decided early on that the loss of 32 precious souls taken senselessly from our campus was too much to contemplate. So, I focus instead on the loss of Kevin and on what he meant to his family, friends, and colleagues. And I try to be a good friend to his family, who are getting along as well as any family might after losing a husband and father. But when I look at that collection of stories, I’m sorry that I didn’t know him better.