Sunday, July 17, 2011
This was a collection of memories about my grandfather which I read at his funeral in February of 2009.
Some of you knew him as a contractor or a customer, others knew him as a friend, one of you knew him as a best friend and a soul mate, six of you knew him as Daddy, but sixteen of us knew him as Pappy.
Not long ago, my sister Nel and I were talking about how we take for granted the idea that grandparents have an inclination toward excessive and impulsive spending, and the notion that they are endowed with all the time in the world, the wisdom of the ages, and a heart open to love and patience. As I’ve grown, though, I have realized that like everything important in life, none of those qualities just happen; they are choices, all choices that Pappy made.
Pappy did so much in his life—more than a 200 word obituary, or this short essay, or five display boards of pictures could possibly portray. Some of his accomplishments I just discovered as we prepared for his funeral. But I like to remember the little things that made him “Pappy” to us.
I remember the way he knew a little bit about everything. It was impossible to spend time with Pappy without learning something. Whether it was through a trip to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry or by visiting antique stores or by hearing the stories of his childhood, I always discovered something new.
I remember his ever present whistle and loud throaty laugh; his version of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart;” his stubby Merthiolate coated fingers and his offers to apply the orange, potent medicine to any of our scratches and cuts; the way his hair tuffed up in the back after a nap; his love for Mamaw—always bringing her little things and surprises. I’ll always remember the twinkle in his blue eyes when he had a secret or a surprise; his never ending supply of plaid shirts; his eagerness for a snack—especially the late ones which included Devil Dogs; the Ford Mustang that he restored and loved—and sold before he could give it to me as a graduation present; the way he loved to tell stories and laugh at his own jokes; the way that he and Mamaw couldn’t go to bed until they got down on their knees and said their prayers. I think all of us grandkids can remember a time when we’ve worn Pappy’s glasses at the tip of our noses and pressed the buttons on the calculator at his desk; and we’ve certainly all endured his tendency for reckless driving at one time or another.
Nel and I can remember the times he teased us while we were primping and preparing to go somewhere. He told us that instead of hairspray, we might as well put sugar water on our hair. He constantly mocked us as we applied our make-up—assuring us in his own teasing way that he thought we were beautiful just the way we were. We remember the way he and Mamaw made the trip to South Carolina for our birthdays and then left the same day to go home; and we also remember every time we left to go back to South Carolina from Maryland the way that he would cry—and not bother to hide his tears.
I can remember trailing my fingers through the sawdust in his shop while he worked on a project; I remember feeling as if I were with a celebrity when I walked with him anywhere in town, because it seemed that he knew everyone. When I asked him “who was that?” he would answer, “Just someone I did work for.” But I knew it was more than that—Pappy rarely ever just ‘did work for someone’ without making some other kind of mark in their life or heart. I appreciated his natural inclination to build—it seemed like his hammer touched every building in town in some small or large way. Even his company trucks spoke of his legacy with the words “Many happy customers” written across the side or the truck with a bright yellow smiley face printed beside it.
Pappy loved to make people happy. One of the most vivid memories I have of this was in June of last year, when we were preparing for Nel’s baby shower. While we were out shopping I noticed a little wooden train at the Amish market. Each train car was a letter which connected to spell a name. Later that day I suggested we go back and get one to spell out the baby’s name at the shower. Pappy agreed but when we went back to buy it we discovered that each little ‘car’ cost five dollars---for six of the train cars Pappy would be shelling out a lot of money for such a petty thing. But in typical Pappy fashion, he laughed about going broke—and then reached for his wallet.
But my favorite memory was one of my last of Pappy. He was standing in front of all of us at their 50th anniversary party beaming, so in love with life. With the look of a man who had come back from the dead to the land of the living, he said, “I’m ready to live my life for the next fifty years.” And when he said “live,” he meant it. He poured more into those next seven months than most of us will put into a lifetime and he pursued life with a casual disregard for the worries that hold most of us back like pride, money, time, or excuses.
Recently I heard these words to a song which I feel describes the lesson that Pappy was blessed enough in this life to learn—what I think he would want us to learn from his life:
“You only get one time around
you only get one try at this—
One chance to find out
The one thing that you don’t want to miss;
One day when it’s all said and done,
I hope you see that it was enough
This one try, one life to love.”