Pa-paw

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I remember my Papaw as a strong, loving, deliriously happy man with a passion for taking care of his family. Though he never deliberately taught me a lesson in anything, I am constantly realizing how my future expectations have changed dramatically due to his love and affection, and the impact that my sixteen years with him will have on the rest of my life.

For years I woke up on Christmas morning to the sound of my Papaw shuffling down the hall, slowly easing down the stairs, and falling back softy into his leather reclining chair. I would unwrap my gifts while under his quiet gaze and gentle smile, thank and hug him, and press my face into his flannel shirt to be greeted with a familiar scent. Sneaking a small spoonful of mashed potatoes before prayer was met with a slow and steady shake of the head, a look that often accompanied “you’re not that sneaky, and I haven’t lost my sight yet.” Even the snores that echoed throughout the second story after our Christmas meal became oddly comforting after awhile, and gave the impression that everything was exactly how it should be.

My Papaw took a calm and practical approach to life, constantly winning arguments about my bedtime by countering with “If you don’t go to bed, how are you going to wake up in the morning?” Sayings such as these baffled me as a child, often leading me to think that my grandfather wasn’t far from Confucius with his clever proverbs, and obvious knowledge of all things. As I grew older, I learned more about my Papaw, and found out not only that he had not attended college, but also that he never graduated from high school, a fact that puzzled me more than his sayings ever did. Conditioned to believe that college was the only way to succeed in life, I could not understand how he lived in such a big house, drove an enormous sky blue truck, or could afford to buy me a months worth of dilly bars when we went to Dairy Queen. Noticing my concern over the matter, Papaw sat me down and explained that he had worked hard every day of his life to get to where he was, and though he was proud of his accomplishments, college would have made his life a great deal easier. He advised me to attend college, work hard at something I enjoy, but above all to choose a path that I could take pride in every day of my life. This was extremely valuable advice to give to a 13-year-old girl, but with every year that has passed, his words have become clearer in my mind. Though this advice was given purposely, he continued to counsel me unknowingly simply by living his life. Due to this, I will never settle for less than what I want in life, never marry someone I can live without, never waver in my faith, never pass by someone in need of my help. Not only will I make myself proud, I’ll make my Papaw proud of who he raised me to be.


It’s impossible to imagine my Papaw’s house without his face in the front window, waving goodbye as we left, and waving again as we arrived. It always seemed as if he had been standing in the exact same spot the entire time we’d been gone, just waiting to welcome anyone into his home and out of the cold for some hot chocolate and peanut brittle. The warmth that resonated out of his home, however, was not from the fireplace that was always burning, or the stovetop that was permanently covered with pots, but from the little moments that only his grandchildren could tell you about. Walking into the kitchen to find your seventy-year-old grandparents kissing like teenagers, knowing exactly where to go when you had a nightmare, begging Papaw for ice cream at the Inside Scoop, when you knew all along that he’d never turn you down; those were the things that left you with the warm-all-over sort of feelings. Not to say he was a pushover, because I can remember clearly the few times I did disobey him, the times I received threats such as “I’ll hang you upside down from the top of that tree out there in the snow if you don’t quit it.” I can’t say I ever believed him completely, but then again I always stopped just in case. He was strong, but not in the macho man sort of way, just in the sturdy, never going to let you down kind. The last time I visited his old house in Martinsville, I couldn’t help but think that it was smaller than it had ever seemed before, looking almost pathetic sitting on top of a hill all by itself, and though at first I assumed it was because I’d gotten older and taller, I soon understood the true reason for it’s apparent decrease in size. Though my Papaw wasn’t any taller than five foot eight, his presence radiated happiness, love, strength, and everything else he stood for, right through the windows and onto the driveway, into the car where I sat in anticipation of our next visit.

All of these weeklong visits resulted in much more than just tractor rides and biscuits and gravy- I realized who I wanted to be. In a world where over forty percent of marriages end in divorce, I’m willing to wait for the one person who I can’t imagine living without, the one person who is going to be able to give me what my grandparents had, and the one person who will love me just as much as I love them, and never stop. In a world where new religions and scientific ideas are springing up all over the place, I’m going to stay strong in the beliefs I’ve carried with me so far, and the God that hasn’t failed me yet. In a world where most people won’t make eye contact with the homeless, I’m going to be ashamed of myself when I pass by those in need without helping. I’m going to remember the grandfather that taught me how to live my life with love.

The lessons that we learn from those we love end up becoming the most important and effective lessons of our lives, and become even more meaningful when we no longer have them around to teach us. Though my Papaw is no longer alive, I feel as if I am still appreciating his lessons, and making him even more proud with each day that passes.

Papaw died of cancer, a disease that eventually weakens both body and mind, but never comes close to touching the spirit. Though his voice grew weaker, it never lost its authority or influence over any of us. Even when his body finally gave out, he was still threatening to tie me upside down from any of the trees in the backyard, and I was still nervous he’d jump up and do it. Letting him go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so thankful that I had him for the

sixteen years that I did. I know that he loved me enough in those sixteen years to last me the rest of my life.

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