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  • Kristan Higgins

In love of grandfathers

Updated: May 3, 2023

I have always loved little old men. A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE features a character who is destined to become everyone’s favorite—Grandpop.

Grandpop, aka Robert Smith, is the patriarch of the Smith family—his only son and daughter-in-law gave him five grandchildren: Harlow (our heroine); the identical twins Addison and Lark; solemn Winnie; and a namesake, Robbie. Beloved by every one of his adult grandkids, and by his niece Cynthia as well, Grandpop starts stealing the show on page two and doesn’t stop.


I was very lucky to have had two wonderful grandfathers—Pop-Pop, from whom I got the Higgins name, and Sainted Mother’s father, Poppy, one of the great loves of my life. Kyle Higgins adopted my father when Dad was eleven, and Dad was an only child, so Pop-Pop only had three grandchildren. Readers, we adored him. I secretly glowed because Kyle and Kristan both started with K. We had the same initials! Clearly, that meant something very significant. Pop-Pop let us sit in his convertible in the garage, pressing the button to raise the roof, lower the roof, raise the roof, lower the roof. He nurtured a racoon family in his backyard, and the mama would bring her babies down into the grass so Pop-Pop could give them peanuts. Same with squirrels, who would eat out of his hand.



Pop-Pop worked as a salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was not a glamorous job, but it was enough. He served in the South Pacific during World War II, something he never spoke of. In fact, I only learned he was a veteran the day after he died, when we were making funeral arrangements. I was eighteen at the time. Stoic? The man was the definition of it. He put up with my difficult grandmother largely because of us, I think…my father, whom he always called “my son,” and my mom—he actually fixed my parents up. He adored us three tumbling, excited, mess-making kids, and we loved everything about him, from the way he smelled like Ben-Gay to his ironed flannel pajamas to the duck decoys he kept on a shelf. All we had to do was show up, and Pop-Pop was happy.



My other grandfather, Poppy, lost count of how many grands he had after about number twelve, I think. In all, there are twenty-eight of us. He stopped trying to get our names straight and thus all boys were “Sport” and all girls were “Honey.” This Poppy was also stoic…he once broke his shoulder and spent six days before admitting it was “a little sore.” He had a wickedly mischievous side…I remember being ten and walking around the block where he both lived and worked. Blocks were a big deal to me, since I lived in the country, and we didn’t have sidewalks (still don’t). As I rounded the corner, I was abruptly drenched …Poppy, laughing wildly, had dumped a bucket of ice water on me, just for fun. He taught me to curse in Hungarian.  He never gave me a piggy back ride or read me a book, but he’d let me sit in his chair if I slept over, which was a great honor. The first time he told me he loved me, I was 42, and had just given my grandmother’s eulogy. Like Grandpop in the book, Poppy was incredibly devoted to his wife.



In LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE, Grandpop works in the bookstore with Harlow. Sometimes he wanders off and takes a nap in an odd place, or leaves a restaurant without paying. At the age of ninety, he thinks he might want to get married again, and asks his grandkids to be his wingman at singles events and on dates. He defends them when they make mistakes, offers the occasional word of wisdom and loves nothing more than just being in their midst. He tells each one they’re his favorite. Life continues to delight him in its small pleasures…a wriggly dog, a good lunch, a sunny day. He cherishes his late wife’s memory, but it doesn’t make him feel sad. It makes him feel lucky.


Sometimes people ask where my heroes come from. In addition to the guy I married, the answer is probably my grandfathers. How lucky I was to have had two of the best!

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