How do you begin to put into words just how much someone meant to you…
I lost my grandfather, Pappaw, who had been struggling with Alzheimer’s, four years ago today. What follows is a mixture of a letter I wrote to my grandmother in 2009, one year after his death, and my current thoughts/memories.
As I’ve often thought about sitting down and writing my “Letter to Pappaw,” it always started the same way… “How do you begin to put into words just how much someone meant to you…”
It’s something that I’ve thought often about because Pappaw meant more to me than I really realized through most of my growing up years.
It wasn’t until I really started looking into myself that I was able to see how much he molded me and how much he cared for me. It wasn’t until I started hearing some of the stories people were telling at his funeral that I could see how deep his influence was in my life.
It’s the Little Things
Little things like always keeping food around because “you never know when you might get hungry.” For Pappaw it was in the shop or in the trucks when he was out spreading and for me it’s in my desk at work.
But it’s not just keeping the food around, it’s SHARING it as well. Pappaw would offer people anything he had in his fridge and would often buy things because he knew they liked it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that.
Having those “late-night snacks” is something I always thought was normal because Pappaw did it. It’s just something that was part of my DNA but it took me a while to understand it.
I can rattle off memory after memory of me doing things with my grandfather that have nothing to do with pictures.
Pappaw used to take me out riding in his trucks during my visits as a child. He used to spread lime and fertilizer on people’s land/property and I would always love sitting in the truck with him while he did that.
He used to chew tobacco and would spit in an old coffee can stuffed with paper towels that sat on the seat in his truck.
I remember sitting there watching him do that and would chew raisins so I could spit in the can too because I wanted to be like him. I’d always ask him if I could “taste” it and he never would let me do it.
I remember him taking me to Mr. JW (don’t know his real name) to get my hair cut and he would always be so proud of me for how I’d sit there and be still.
He’d take me riding on his tractors (he has a farm) and his three-wheeler (this was before they had four-wheelers).
I remember sitting up “late” with him to watch the news, mainly the weather, even though he’d fall asleep most of the time.
I remember that every night around 9:30-9:45 we’d go into the kitchen for a snack that was usually a bowl of cereal (Frosted Flakes), a “Coke Float,” or a bowl of ice cream. We would sit at the table and just talk about things. I still have “snack time” almost every night before bed.
Pappaw was very outgoing too and he’d often talk about people and things that I had NO idea about, but I’d sit there and listen and enjoy being there with him.
Pappaw’s Man Cave
One thing that ALWAYS was the case at my grandparent’s house was that when Pappaw was in his shop, a building 50 yards behind the house that had all of their tools and was big enough to pull their trucks in to work on, he was “different” than when he was inside the house. He would sometimes swear in the shop, but would NEVER swear in the house.
I remember Granny walking out to the shop one day while I was sitting out there and she heard Pappaw swear at something. She gave her usual “Bobby Wommack!” and he just looked at her and said, “Woman, you’re in my house now. When I’m in yours I abide by your rules, but out here it’s MY rules.”
He didn’t say it in a harsh tone or in a mean way. Instead it was his way of letting Granny know that he respected her house but this was his shop.
She didn’t say a word but I never really remember her walking into the shop much after that.
He was on his best behavior inside the house, didn’t swear, didn’t chew tobacco, would always take his shoes off in the laundry room and change out of his dirty clothes immediately. He did those things out of love and respect for Granny.
I never once heard him complain about anything. When I say anything, I mean anything. Never heard him say one bad word about Granny, money, his life.
I think the shop was Pappaw’s “cave.” I remember him in his later years just going out to the shop to sit by an old heater and shell pecans.
I’d sit there with him and help, but it wasn’t like we couldn’t do it in the house. It was his escape, it was his way of being alone, his way of doing his own thing.
Doing Nothing Never Felt So Good
One of the things I wrote to my grandmother back in 2009 was about the time I spent the night with them during over Christmas in 2006.
I can’t even begin to put into words how special it was for me to be able to spend time with Pappaw just doing “nothing.”
It felt like I was a little kid again and it meant so much to be to be able to stay there, even if for only one night.
I remember my grandmother telling Pappaw to let me sleep in that morning. But I know Pappaw was excited to have his “buddy” with him to go pick up Uncle Elzo and have breakfast at Griffins, a local store in Ripley, Mississippi.
It didn’t bother me at all to get up early because I knew that as I had grown older and wiser, that there weren’t a lot of those opportunities left for me so I soaked up every minute. I didn’t have any plans other than to just be Pappaw’s sidekick, just like old times.
Everything we did that day stands out in my mind and makes me smile. Everything from sitting at Uncle Elzo’s watching the gospel station before the sun came up, to eating breakfast, to stopping at the parts store with no intention of buying anything (Pappaw did that often), to going to the bank so Pappaw could get out some “spending money,” to picking up some drinks to run down to my uncle Anthony’s crew and hearing Pappaw say that he had to get a “Dr. Pecker” because he knew someone there liked it. That day was something that I know meant a lot to Pappaw but it meant the world to me.
It was the time that I decided to no longer call Dr. Pepper anything other than Dr. Pecker.
Dad would tell me that he’d repeat himself and tell the same stories. I just smiled and laughed because I always remembered him telling some of the same stories over and over as I grew up. To me that was just Pappaw.
I never told him that I’d heard a story before or didn’t understand what he was talking about because I could tell how excited he was to be telling me everything.
I remember one time he was just talking away to an ex of mine and I could tell by the look on her face that she didn’t know what he was talking about. I chimed in to help her understand but he didn’t miss a beat and kept talking.
Tammy has said that she’s never met anyone like him because he loved everybody. She loved the energy he had and that he would get in the floor to play with Rece, Junior, and Parker. She knew that he was someone special.
The indented section is what Tammy wrote to my grandmother in 2009…
Even though I only knew Pappaw for a few years, I always felt like I knew him my entire life. He always made me and my children feel like we were a part of his family.
Not just in a welcoming way because we were in his house and we were with his grandson, but in a way that is hard to describe. A way that is rare and hard to find anymore.
A way that made my heart feel warm and willing to jump out of my body and hug him as if he was my Pappaw from when I was 2 years old.
I honestly can say that I have never met a friendlier man in my life. He was so engaging and enthusiastic, I wanted to hear his stories even if I had heard them before. I wanted to hear him giggle when he told stories or played with the little ones.
As I try and sum up how wonderful I felt this man was in just a few words, my eyes continue to water because it’s impossible for me to do this quickly and in a paragraph or two. He was someone you just had to meet in order to know how special he was and could make anyone feel.
I thank God today for the opportunity to not only meet Bobby, which in itself was a blessing. But to be able to spend time with him while he was teaching us to fish, while he showed us how Butch could catch fish in the pond, while he pointed out to me the turtles in the water, while he laughed with all of us around the dinner table, while he described his property in great detail from when he was a little boy to all the different changes that had happened since, while he taught me and others about tricky puzzles he had and how to beat them.
God, I thank you for the opportunity to learn about life by just watching this special man love everyone and everything life offered him.
This Time Like You Mean It
The last time we were down there with the kids was for Thanksgiving in 2007 and Pappaw did something that I know Jake will never forget. Pappaw was teaching Jake how to defend himself.
He told Jake to act like he was coming at Pappaw with a knife. Jake didn’t really know what to do but apparently his first attempt wasn’t “strong enough” for Pappaw and he told him to “come at me again, like you mean it.”
So Jake did and Pappaw caught his arm and twisted him around.
Pappaw: See, that’s how you defend yourself if someone’s coming at you with a knife. You do it like that and you’ll break their arm.
Jake didn’t tell me about that until we were back home and I was just laughing and smiling the whole time he was reliving the story. I told Jake that I was jealous because Pappaw never taught me how to defend myself so he better remember it, just in case.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Even Tammy picked up on some of Pappaw’s “sayings.” Although she didn’t nail the saying 100%, she knew WHEN to say it.
Several months ago she let out a, “SCAT CAT! Getcho tail out…” when I sneezed. She couldn’t remember the “my gravy” part but at least she knew when to say it.
Other Pappaw-isms that I’m sure all of the grandkids know…
Play-pretty: I bet you a play-pretty (toy) that…
Dacha-dacha-do: Sound made when anyone would goose Pappaw in the ribs.
SCAT CAT! Getcho tail out my gravy!: Said after someone sneezed.
Was that Thunder? Did you hear that thunder?: Said after someone passed gas.
I used to run just like a deer, but now I ain’t got no landing gear: A song Pappaw came up with later in life. He’d often teach the younger grandkids to sing it with him.
Hot Pepper: A game played by clapping someone else’s hands together hard and fast (hot pepper) until they said Cold Pepper which meant slowed down the clapping. The game would continue switching from hot to cold until someone gave up.
Greased Lightning: Used to describe how fast a can of Coke rolled up to the front of Dad’s van when we were driving to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Museum when I was around 6 years old.
You don’t mean it: Said when Pappaw couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
The stories, those I could sit and talk about for days.
I had to have been really young but I remember Pappaw walking through JC Penney’s talking to the female mannequins that would have my sister and I laughing hysterically.
Pappaw: Hey baby. Looking good, how’s about a date?
All of the trips to the Bonanza Steak House when my grandparents were in town. When Bonanza went down he switched to Barnhill’s and/or Golden Corral. He loved to eat, something else I must have “inherited” from him.
I remember going to Poncho’s (Mexican restaurant) for one of Goob’s birthdays and we ordered fried ice cream. Years later Pappaw would still talk about that fried ice cream because he couldn’t believe they could actually FRY ice cream.
I remember interviewing him about WWII for a project in high school but didn’t really understand everything he went through until much later.
I remember all of his dogs, Sampson, Hero, Snowman, Bubba, Butch, Bubba II all following him around and waiting on him by the stairs leading into the house.
I remember him wanting to hear me play the piano, no matter what song I was playing.
I remember using the back of his pickup trucks as my wrestling rings.
I’m not even scratching the surface or mentioning all of the tractor rides, the trips to the co-op, going fishing, etc.
All I know is that I loved each and every second he shared with me.
Not Washing This Gray Away
One thing that I started saying a few years ago, due to the fact that I was starting to get a little sprinkling, was that I’m never going to color my gray hairs.
I’d tell people that my grandfather was white-headed early on in his life and if it was good enough for him then it’s good enough for me. I know this is weird, but there are times I wish I had more gray hairs. hahaha…
I’m sad that Pappaw isn’t around to help Parker, Rece, and Junior grow up with the same experiences that I did. It’s up to Goob, Coley and myself to make sure we share the lessons we learned and our stories with future generations.
He Lived a Life That’s Full
I was floored at how many people showed up to pay their respects at Pappaw’s funeral. People were lined up outside of the funeral home just to tell him goodbye. Some people waited in line for an hour or more.
I don’t know that I’d have that many people show up for me in three lifetimes.
Being part of Pappaw’s “inner-circle” I didn’t really see just how far his love and respect went. I guess that’s not something a child would notice or understand.
But seeing it as an adult definitely helped to put life in perspective.
I had already started to turn my life around back in 2006, but seeing how much Pappaw meant to so many people helped show me that I’ve still got a long way to go.
Gone But Never Forgotten
His body isn’t here anymore but he will ALWAYS be with each of me.
All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see him sticking out his hand to shake mine. I can feel his hand, calloused from years of work, reach around and clasp mine. I can feel him pull me close and wrap his arms around me, patting me on the back as he gives me a hug.
I miss him so much but I know that he’s much happier and in no pain.
Tears have been streaming down my face this morning. I’ve broken down crying to the point that I had to stop writing so many times that I’ve lost count.
Pappaw, I miss you so much it hurts but I know it’s only because you meant so much to me. Thank you for being you. I love you.