21 February 2018

35 Years Later

Papaw at his 40th wedding anniversary.
Photographer unknown
Thirty-five years ago today, the world lost a good man -- Papaw, my grandfather.

I've written about my grandmother, Nana, and her final days, but Papaw died when I was six years old. Long before blogs. Long before hybrid cars. Long before smart phones and tablets. Long before so many things.

Thirty-five years is a long time. It's a long time to miss someone. It's a long time to cling to memories. And it's a long time for memories to fade.

For years, I had a cassette tape that had Papaw's voice on it. Sadly, I've lost that tape somewhere along the way. I don't really remember his voice anymore. I recall the voice on the tape being somewhat deep, but I no longer know if that's true.

Here's what I do remember about Papaw.

He read to me almost every night. I know he read more books than these, but I especially remember him reading Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss; Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman; and The Astrosmurf by Peyo. I knew Green Eggs and Ham so well that I could tell Papaw when he messed up reading.

Papaw hated reading The Astrosmurf. It's a comic book, so the text is in bubbles. He had a hard time with those. But I must have thought he was wonderful because I wanted him to read that book over and over (or maybe I knew he hated it and wanted to torture him).

Nana knew he couldn't stand reading The Astrosmurf and every so often, she would "lose" the book. Then a few weeks later, while she was cleaning or something, she would "find" it. "Why don't you ask Papaw to read this to you tonight?" I would delightedly hand him the beloved book, and he would shoot Nana the dirtiest look he could muster, knowing she was responsible. Nana would only smile.

Papaw used to wrap me in a blanket on cold mornings before school and carry me over to Mom's house (I usually stayed at Nana's and Papaw's overnight). Then he would start Mom's truck for us, so it would be warm when we left. Once I moved to Indiana, I wished he were here to do this all again, although I wouldn't have needed to be carried.

While Mom took me to school, I rode the bus home when I was in kindergarten. Papaw met me at the end of the driveway in his golf cart or the truck (weather dependent) every day and drove me back to the house.

Nana, Papaw and me.
Photographer unknown
Papaw drank milk. Once, he was sitting in his chair with his supper on the TV tray in front of him and a big glass of milk beside his plate. Being about five at the time, I grabbed the glass and took a swig. Unfortunately for me, it was buttermilk. I don't remember if I kept that drink down or spit it back in Papaw's glass, but every time I saw him with a glass of milk after that, I would ask if it was "good milk" or "bad milk."

Papaw loved working in his garden. We have some old home movies where I'm following in his footsteps while he's tilling the earth. I remember doing that more than once. I thought he couldn't see me because I was directly behind him and wanted to scare him when he turned off the tiller. I do not remember whether or not I was ever successful.

On the back of this photo, Nana wrote "the day before
he left us."
Photographer unknown
When he got sick and was in the hospital, I had special permission to visit him in his room. This was back when children under the age of twelve weren't allowed to visit patients. I don't know why twelve was chosen as the magic age, but I was only six. As I understand it, Mom and/or Nana spoke with the staff, and I was able to visit Papaw any time I was there. Maybe Papaw did this; I don't know.

It seems like we went to see him in the hospital every day after school. I was in first grade, and Mom would pick me up. We would drive an hour to the hospital in Victoria and stay there for a while before coming home. Nana was already there.

I know that he explained the cancer to me, but I don't recall the words he used. I know he told me he was going to die and what that meant, but I don't remember how he did that either. I do remember that he told me not to cry when he died.

When that happened, I honored that request.

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