Monday, February 18, 2013

Today is Pappaw's birthday.  February 18th.  It's a date that will always bring him to mind.  This is our first without him with us.  It seems like I should still be able to call and sing to him like I did each year, or that we should have been sitting in church together yesterday like we always were when we were celebrating.

Instead, I sat alone.  Not really, because there were people sitting around me, but I felt alone.  I tried to imagine him sitting at the end of the row, in his purple coat, smiling with his family alongside him.  If I tried really hard, I could feel him there, and I do try often, because I do miss him so.

You see, they just don't make many men like him any more.  Strong, determined, loyal, hardworking, faithful,  kind, loving, protective...  I could go on and on.  He was one of the few men I have loved most in my life, and he set a high standard for me.  He always wanted the very best for me, and he was always proud of me. He never failed to tell me so.

He left home a young man before it was legal to serve his country in the U.S. Navy.  He was a handsome sailor, tanned and strong, unsure of where life was taking him.  It quickly took him to my grandmother, thankfully, and their love story began.

Life was not easy for them by any means, but they were married just weeks short of 65 years.  He was a fisherman, a hunter, and a loom fixer by trade.  More than anything, he was a husband, a father of two girls, eventually a grandfather of 1 girl and two boys, and a great-grandfather of 1 boy and 5 girls.  He was so proud of his family too.  Well, mostly, he was humbled that God had blessed him with such a loving family, and he wasn't ashamed to tell you so.

When I was little, I loved spending time with Pappaw.  He taught me how to clean fish, and he took me to the garbage dump in his truck.  I know what you're thinking:  "Not a big thrill".  However, riding somewhere with my Pappaw was a big deal because I had all of his attention.  When I sat beside him on the couch, he would sometimes squeeze my knee so hard that I would slide down out of my seat.  I would pretend to be bothered, but I always went back to sit next to him.  I felt like I was sitting next to a giant.

Pappaw was so funny.  He didn't mean to be most of the time, but he said things sometimes that just caught you off guard and made you laugh.  He didn't have a mean bone in his body, and he didn't talk bad about other people.  I loved to hear him laugh too, and nothing made him smile and laugh more than his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I just miss his presence.  When someone is so strong, they can walk into a room and you can just feel that they are there.  Much of it for Pappaw was that he was so well-respected.  I can't imagine having ever disrespected him, because I always just wanted him to be proud of me.

In the last days, his strength was failing.  You could see in his eyes that he was struggling with not being able to do the things he once did.  He couldn't mow the grass or drive cars for the local dealership.  He couldn't lean down and pick up the great-grands and swing them into the air.  He tried to smile and laugh, but it didn't come naturally.  He was struggling with living in his last days.

I had a dream on a Friday night at the end of September about my Pappaw.  I woke up and just couldn't shake it.  I had to see him, and on Sunday I did.  He was asleep most of the time I was there, but he did wake up a few times to visit with the girls and me.  When we got ready to leave that day, he stood up out of his chair, and he hugged each one of us.  I held him a little longer that day, and his rough hands felt just as strong as they ever had.  He looked me in my eyes and said, "I love you, baby, and I'm proud of you."  It was the last thing I would ever hear him say.  He collapsed the next day.

It's one of the most devastating losses I've ever endured, losing my Pappaw.  I know he's at full strength now, having joined our many family members in Heaven, but if I try real hard, I can still feel him here.  He made more of an impression on me than he ever knew, but he knew I loved him and wanted to make him proud.  In return, I knew he loved me, and, as he told me on that last day, he was proud of the woman I have become.  It makes me stronger to think of him, knowing what he would expect of me.  I am so thankful for my Pappaw, and I hope I will always feel him here with me when I try real hard.

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