Monday, March 14, 2005

Monday Musings

The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

I know I have posted this before, but Joe's (both Joe's) talking about his Grandpa has made me want to share this with those of you who may not have read it in the past.
I've been thinking about my PawPaw a lot lately. All night last night, and all day today I have been thinking about him. I searched the remote corners of mind, making sure I would find just the right words to describe this giant of a man. Not that he was a big man, he wasn't, not in stature anyway. To see him on the street you would have seen an ordinary Southern gentleman of his time. He wore the required straw hat, and had his ever present walking cane. He was thin and about average in height. He worked hard most of his life, in the fields. Picking cotton, peas, corn, or whatever the crop was at the time. He and my Grandmother had 9 children, 8 of which they raised to adulthood.
I can remember hearing my Mother and her sisters talk about picking cotton till they were too tired to eat supper. Pawpaw was a hard worker. Mawmaw was on the lazy side, and many times the older girls had to get up in the mornings and fix breakfast before going out to the fields (or to school in the winter). Of course looking back, I would render a guess that what they thought was laziness was probably exhaustion. The woman had NINE children, I can't imagine having that many little ones.

By the time I came into their lives, they had moved from the country into town. Pawpaw ran a boarding house for a man from down around Talladega. He took his "super" responsibilities very seriously. When a tenant had a problem , he'd gather up his tools , which he carried in this long wooden box with a handle on it, and off he'd go.. Pawpaw could fix anything. From a stopped up toilet, to an old gas stove that wouldn't light. He was not only as jack of all trades he was a Master of all trades. At least to me anyway. The thing that he was best at fixing was a little girls skinned knees or or broken dolls. My earliest memories of life are of sitting on Pawpaw's lap, with him brushing my hair with one of those round brushes that old men used to have handy. I can remember him saying what beautiful silky hair I had. He called me his precious angel.
Now this might not sound like anything out of the ordinary, unless you know the rest of the story. You see, I was born in the late 50's. To an unwed Mother. My Mother had married young, borne two childern, then divorced. I guess she was what would have been called a bit of a 'hussy' in those days. After her divorce she just 'went wild' as Pawpaw would say. She hooked up with a fella who owned a used car lot and they had a 'rounder of a time'. Until my Mother came up pregnant. The problem was this fella already had a wife and 3 children. And he wasn't going to be leaving her, since HER family had all the money. My Mother's 'situation' had to have been a 'great embarrassment' to my grandparents. Pawpaw was a well known and respected gentleman around town, and it could not have been easy for him. It must have taken all the strenght of character he had to swallow his pride and carry on, business as usual. To be honest, I don't think anyone dared to say anything to him. He was a fiercely proud man, with a short temper. My Mother stayed down in Clay county with Mawmaw's sister until after I was born. You would think she would have come back to town with some humility and common sense. Not so. Instead she returned pretty much to the same 'traipsing ways' she'd had before. In back of the big boarding house that Pawpaw ran, was a small cinder block duplex. Each side had two bedrooms, a livingroom and a kitchen. Mama moved into one of those apartments. While she worked Mawmaw and my aunts babysat us. She worked hard all week as a waitress, but on Saturday night she 'hit the honkey tonks'. Mama was a party girl. Much to Pawpaw's disgust. But he never let his disgust and disappointment with my Mother, impact on his love for me.

I can remember following him around while he took care of his 'sponsibilties'. Back in those days little girls were suppose to wear dresses, but Pawpaw said that wasn't going to work for me. I might have been an angel, but I was a tom-boy from the start. He had Mawmaw take some of my brothers old cast off pants, cut them off and hem them for me. Mawmaw said it was 'scandalous'. He'd just look at her and shake his head. I am sure he was thinking , in this family, scandalous is the norm.
In the afternoons we'd sit on the front porch. Him in his rocking chair and me at his feet. Sometimes in the summer time, he gather up his walking stick, take me by the hand and we'd walk down the street to the drug store and get my favorite treat...ice cream sherbet, in a cone. There would always be a great discussion as to what flavor. Orange, was ,mmm,mmm good and pineapple was yummy, but by far my favorite was lemon. It was so creamy and sweet with just a bit of tart. Of course back then I didn't know that. I just knew it was the best. We'd sit out front with the other old men, and I'd have my sherbet while he and his buddies pondered matters of great importance. After I finished, he'd spit clean me (yes, men do it too!). Then we'd make our way back home. Of course Mawmaw would have a fit. "You are going to ruin that child's supper" she'd say. He ignored her protest. At night , I'd get my bath, then he would come out and get me, and we'd go sit on the back porch and he would tell me stories. I'd fall asleep on his lap. I don't know how that wonderful man, with his legs crippled by arthritis carried me, but he did. Every night he'd tuck me in. Is it any wonder that no man has ever been able to compare to him?
We lived in that little apartment until I was about 4 years old. My Mother met her an Army man. She grabbed onto him and hung on for dear life. When she married him, and moved us to North Carolina, it broke my Pawpaw's heart, and mine too. I can still see him sitting on the door step with tears streaming down his face as the car pulled out of the yard.
After that we saw him once or twice a year, at Christmas or durning the summer. The longest trip he ever made was the trip he made to Lakeland , Florida to see us when I was 11. We went to Cyprus Gardens, and he held my hand all that day as we walked around. I know it had to be hard on him, but he did it for me. He thought is was amazing seeing those young women in their swimsuits skiing on the water that way.
In late January of the following year we got the call...."Come home right away." Pawpaw had suffered a stroke and was in a coma. He never woke up. Mama and Mawmaw, didn't want me to go to the hospital, and see him like that, but I persisted. Finally late the day after we got there, my Aunt Faye took me to the hospital. I crawled up on the bed beside him and cried till I had no tears left in me. I lay there until the nurse came in and told my aunt, I'd have to move. He slipped away sometime in the early morning hours of that night. January 31st. My birthday.
I will always believe he held on just long enough for his' precious angel' to come and say "Goodbye".
He was the Greatest Man I ever knew.
I love you Pawpaw.

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