An old snapshot shows my grandfather standing over an Easter egg. He has gently placed his foot on it. It is there for me to “find”. I had been running around wildly – never stopping to really look.
This is what I remember most about Papaw. He was a compass in my life and a constant. He was the north star.
He started working when he was ten years old, delivering coal. A little later he began “hoboing”. The details on that are fuzzy, but I always used to think about Papaw when I heard, “King of the Road”. It used to fascinate me, imagining him as a rogue of sorts. But, the more I hear about it, the more I think he used trains as a way to eke out a living, not as a way to have a carefree existence.
He never had that.
So few of us do, for that matter. But, if we’re lucky, the day to day struggles to keep afloat are met with a hug at the door when we get home.
He did have those.
He and my grandmother showed me what love is. It isn’t about saying, “I love you.” Love is an action word. Day in and day out, putting people you love first.
Papaw rarely said he loved us, but if you were a member of that family and you didn’t just know it, you weren’t paying attention.
My grandmother would literally have given us the shirt off her back. If we complimented something she owned, she would offer it to us. They gave us their hearts and souls to a degree that was concerning to me.
How does a person find happiness in such selflessness? I didn’t exactly view it with contempt, yet I didn’t really get it. I wasn’t a mother at that point. Of course, the piece of my life that was for me got smaller when my daughter was born, and then I got it, and I got how it was okay.
No life spent with that much love in it is a wasted life.
As hectic as their lives were at times, they somehow managed to give us a sense of stability. The safety was an illusion. They ran a family business that was always on the verge of going under. Yet, Papaw quietly did what needed to be done and Mamaw did the same, only more loudly. You would smile at that if you knew them. He was a man of few words, and she was a woman of many.
Anyway, it turned out fine. They were perfect together, and they made it all work.
Now, with his passing, they are together again. I imagine she fussed at him for making her wait so long.
I hope somehow that he is singing. He loved to sing to us grandkids. I swear I can even remember him singing to me when I was an infant. He sang, “You are my Sunshine” in a deep soothing voice. The best cure for colic there ever was.
When we were older, he sang, “I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad. She’s the only girl – yes, the onliest girl – that daddy ever had…” It still makes me smile.
I’m tempted to say, I feel lost now that he’s gone. I do, of course. But, the words seem trite. I can’t bring his life onto the page the way I want to.
I guess, I just want to thank him for teaching me to sing.