We had a special bond, perhaps because of that time my toddler mouth upended his world.
| PAPPAW AND ME|
Since I was only eighteen months old when Pappaw decided to take me to the IBEW children's Christmas party, I don't actually remember the events that hold a prominent place within my memories. But Mama loved to tell the story, either because it was funny or because it was one of the few times her father had been one-upped.
Pappaw was a wonderful human being. He was usually quiet and reserved but was also quite brilliant, and probably knew more than anyone else in any room where he sat for any length of time. My Nanny, on the other hand, was loud and boisterous. She enjoyed life, rarely wondering what was coming next; she was alive in the moment. Every moment. Pappaw seemed to consider everything around him, past, present or future, whether plant, human . . . or fish. He loved to fish; it was his only outlet. Out on the water, in his little Chris-Craft boat, the whole world seemed to flatten, to silence. As long as there was sunshine overhead and fish underneath, the rest of the world just didn't seem to matter. His wasn't a luxury boat by any stretch of the imagination. It was small, could only hold Pappaw and about four grandkids. It was white with a red streak and, when it wasn't in the water, it was perched up on its trailer, out beside the garage, a trophy for everyone else to admire. I drove all over the world behind the wheel of that boat.
Never one to waste words, Pappaw could usually be found in one corner or another during family gatherings. He was always happy to talk to anyone who made the effort, but seemed just as content alone with his thoughts. All these years later I wish I would have asked him more about those thoughts. I would have liked to understand how that great mind worked. As it is, I mainly know about him through the filters of his children, or Nanny. One thing I do know about him, though, is he had a low tolerance for stupidity. Usually mild-mannered, his temper was quick to flare when he felt cornered - especially while in the car. His usually soft voice would take on a loud, sharp edge if he was stalled in traffic or, worse, cut off by another driver. And words that would normally not be associated with my genial grandfather would spew from his mouth. Then, after the storm had passed, Pappaw would settle back into himself.
In 1955, because of his temperament, everyone was surprised when he announced that he was taking me to the union Christmas party. Even though I was his only granddaughter, he had never been known to spend much alone time with me, and he wasn't a big party fan. But, for whatever reason, he was determined that he and I would attend the party - and he didn't need anyone else's help. Eager to make Pappaw proud, Mama and Nanny dressed me up like a little doll - ruffled dress, frilly underpants, lacy socks, and patent leather shoes. Who wouldn't be proud to call me his own? They both stood at the screen door, smiling and waving as Pappaw steered down the drive with me, hand on his shoulder, standing at his elbow. Back then there was no such thing as seatbelts - or car seats. When you were old enough, you'd just stand next to whatever adult was driving the car so you could see out the window. You couldn't see out of the window if you were sitting down.
Mama and Nanny had barely finished musing about the situation when the car whipped back into the driveway. Worried that something terrible had happened, Mama shouted, "Daddy, what's wrong? What happened?"
"Do you know what your daughter did?" he spat as he brushed past her, carrying me into the house. "We weren't ten blocks away from here when this IDIOT pulls out right in front of me! As I threw my arm across Stephie and slammed on the brakes, she hollers, 'You stupid sunnovab*tch!' Can you believe that, those words coming out of her pretty little mouth?" Pappaw was incensed. He could not wrap his head around the fact that his sweet little doll even knew the words, much less could use them in correct context.
"Really, Daddy?" Mama laughed - and this is where she always started guffawing, even years later, when telling the story - "You're just mad because she got them out before you did!" It was her version of, "She learned it from you, ok?"
There is no telling from whom I had learned to use the words. My grandfather used them when pushed, but my mother had a pretty salty mouth herself. She used profanity like exclamation points, a habit I unfortunately picked up. All these years later I wish I could remember that night so I could remember the look on the face of the man I was rarely able to disappoint. Not much ever surprised him, he was a practical man, a reasonable man, but I certainly had. I'll never know if it was because I was his first granddaughter, or because I always took the time to sit with him, or if it was the fact I had beat him to his own words all those years before, but we seemed to share a connection he didn't have with most people.
When Pappaw died at the age of ninety I hadn't seen him in a while, but when I viewed him at the funeral home not much had changed. On the outside he was the same man he had always been. He was the same man who sat quietly, smiling, through every major event in my life. In the quarter century since he retired, his routine had never changed. He still woke up early, still mowed his own grass, he still fished, still walked the three quarters of a mile to his mailbox every single day. But he had started having some health issues, which was rare for him even at his age. Exploratory surgery showed cancer had ravaged him inside. I am told that after he was made aware he simply said, "I've lived a good life," and closed his eyes.
A short time later, this practical and reasonable man who I loved, slipped quietly away.