This evening as I started out on my walk, I breathed in the fresh air and just soaked in the warmth from the sun. The breeze kept it from being uncomfortably hot, and it just felt great. I guess I am my Papa’s granddaughter. He is known for having said in the middle of a sweltering summer, “If it were just a little hotter, it’d be right nice.”
That thought made me smile, as I dug through my memory bin and pulled out those of my Papa. I was only five when he died, so the few I have are very precious and even more vivid as time passes.
I loved my Papa. He was somebody special. You just knew it. He was very patient with me. Papa is the one who taught me to play Chinese Checkers. I loved lining up the marbles and getting it ready. He also taught me about making folks feel at home. He and I were playing one time (who knows if I was really capable of playing by the real rules at the time), and a car pulled up. His niece was there to visit. Papa said we should put the game away so we could visit with folks. Another time he and I went to the candy store. I don’t remember much about that one, except that I got a big round swirly sucker and he had us pick one out for his niece too, “so she won’t feel left out.”
Daddy and Papa raised cows together, so we were over at their house and farm a lot. I remember getting silage with Daddy to feed the cows. If I got out of the truck when the truck was weighed, then I had to get out again when the silage and truck were weighed after loading it up so they’d know how much we got. Honesty was important. Still is. And to this day the smell of cows can make me cry with happy remembering.
Papa also raised pigs. I can remember being there on hog killing day, but that was more about the hustle and bustle and pots over a fire in the yard. Some of those blanks may have been filled in by imagination over the years, so I apologize to you who know what really happened–you know who you are. The thing I most definitely remember are the baby pigs in the barn. Papa put down red carpet for them. I always thought that was the most special thing. Forget Wilbur, those must be really, truly special baby pigs if Papa put down that beautiful red carpet for them. I can still remember it, me leaning over the old wood rail to see them on their glorious red floor. Sweet little baby pigs. I was filled with delight and wonder.
I also remember Papa being very sick. I didn’t know it then, but he had a brain tumor. I remember him being in the bed in the front bedroom. The room with the windows and light. The grownups did a good job of carrying their sadness and worries on their own, because I don’t really remember being upset in the middle of everything, and for that I thank them. The main thing I remember about that time was we were not to let the screen door slam. We had to carefully hold it and return it to its frame. Not an easy task for the six and under crowd, happy and carefree at their grandparent’s home and excited to be with each other. I can still remember the feel of dashing out that door and leaping off, our feet barely touching the steps as we headed out into the yard to play.
The day the call came I remember vividly. A cold fall evening. I was in the kitchen with Mama at our little house on Boy Scout Road. I had turned five less than two weeks before. Mama stood holding the black wall phone. She turned her head and started crying as she hung it up. My next memory is being at Granny’s standing out under the cedar tree with my cousins, looking back towards the sadness that hung over the house. We were the most somber group of five, six, and seven year olds you’d ever want to see. Someone said, “He was a good person.” Nods all around. Another said, “Yes, he’s in Heaven. With the angels.” We all nodded seriously and with certainty in every fiber of our being. We KNEW.
Papa was a wise man. He and Granny raised bright and thinking and thoughtful, caring children. One bit of wisdom that has been passed down and shared with me more times than I can count is, “You got a car, you got car trouble.” Amen to that, Papa. When my Daddy and his older brother were little and they saw my Granny disciplining a puppy that she was raising, they got very upset. They packed their bags and were headed out. They told Papa they were running away. He pulled them to the side and gave them each a nickel for their journey. I think Daddy said they might have gotten to the end of the road before their second thoughts and lack of plans sent them back home.
Tonight I’m thankful for the breeze that blew in warmth and warm memories. I am thankful it’s happiness that I feel when I think about my Papa and not the sadness that was a part of the last year or so of his life. I give thanks for the cows and trucks and silage and pink pigs on red carpet that are the backdrops of my childhood. And for Chinese Checkers and big colorful swirly suckers. Good things the happiest of memories are made of.