What I’ll RememberPosted: May 17, 2011
There’s very little from the past two months that I want to hang on to. But it wasn’t all bad. I’ve already documented some of the times I made my grandfather smile or laugh, as well as some of his more amusing and weird moments. I enjoyed spending time with my Aunt Margaret, who was his sister. I’ve always relished visits with her, but they’ve always been sporadic. Beforehand, circumstance and distance always seemed to get in the way. Well, we had plenty of time to catch up over the past two months. I enjoyed hearing her stories about our family, even it was the fourth or fifth time I’d heard them. I’d just smile and pretend it was a brand new anecdote whenever she’d start.
But there’s too much that hurts if I dwell on it, so I’ll try not to do that anymore. It will take me a while to bounce back from all of this, but I will. I have to. What I’ll try to focus on are the good memories of him, because there were so many of them. That’s one of the things that sustained me during this period. So I figured I’d share some of them with you.
I’ll always remember that shuffling, shambling walk of his after his back gave up on him. His body moved in ten different directions, which produced a cacophony of jingling coins, clattering keys, and creaking joints. But no matter how much he hurt, he always had a big, joyful grin whenever he saw me. He’d utter “Hey boy!” and give me a crushing bear hug. His north Louisiana hick accent made “boy” sound like “bwah.” I loved that smile and I loved that goofy accent.
When I was little, he and I always woke up before everyone else. We sat on the front porch of their old house on Barrister Street, where we drank black coffee, watched the morning dew glisten, and listened to the birds sing. Then we’d go inside and watch “The Three Stooges.” Our laughter always woke up the rest of the house. Every afternoon, he loaded my brother, sister, and me into a Radio Flyer wagon. He hauled us to the corner store and bought us Icees. I loved that red wagon.
Every Friday night, we went to the movies. He always got a big tub of popcorn and Raisinets and mixed them together. I sat in his lap while we shared our snack. Our faces and fingers would always be smeared and sticky with chocolate by the time the movie ended.
Every Saturday, we’d hit the local garage sales. My grandfather drove, my grandmother hollered directions to the next sale that had a particularly juicy ad in the paper. Hank Williams and Marty Robbins provided our soundtrack. My grandparents collected antiques. My grandfather and I collected old comic books and history books. We’d go home, break out the price guides, and figure out how impressive our haul was.
Every football season, we lived and died with LSU and the Saints. We did a lot more dying than living most years, but that was okay. We had each other to share the disappointment, and we always looked forward to next year. And “next year” finally happened. He stuck around long enough to see both of our teams become winners. No one wanted to strangle Nick Saban and Les Miles more than he did (but not nearly as much as he wanted to throttle Carl Smith for his “run & punt” offense during the Jim Mora era). And no one loved Drew Brees more. “Bwah, he’s better than Archie ever was,” he’d always say. “I can’t believe we got him.” And I’ll never forget when we held each other and cried when the Saints finally went to a Super Bowl and won it.
I’m really going to miss him this upcoming season. No more Sundays with a big box of Popeye’s when I’m home. No more excited phone calls after a big play when I’m out of town. I’ll never again hear him ask “Did you see that, bwah?!”
He was my biggest fan. He’d rave over my artwork. His office walls were covered with my drawings. He bought my first guitar. He let my bands use one of his school’s classrooms as a rehearsal space. He’d let us play so loud that the walls shook. He welcomed my friends over to his house, where we’d write songs and record demos. The bathroom tiles made for great plate reverb. And he gave us enough quilts that we could smother a mic’ed amplifier, crank it to 10, and record it without getting arrested for noise pollution. It didn’t matter if we playing country music or death metal; he’d always pop in with a big grin and say “Sounds good, bwahs!” And he was there for most of my concerts. He’d always be up front and slightly to my right. He videotaped us while he dodged mosh pitters and drunks. If the noise, heat, and my obnoxious stage banter ever annoyed him, he never told us.
I’m glad he was still alive and alert both times I came home from Iraq. I didn’t think I’d see him again when I took that job. But he was still kicking during last October’s R&R. I came home for good on February 14. His birthday was the 15th. He didn’t know I was coming home yet, so I gave him a good and proper surprise when I knocked on his door that morning. “Well, there you are, bwah!” He was so happy that I was back in one piece. I was so happy that he lasted another year.
More than anything, I’ll remember him being someone who would drop everything for someone in need. If someone was hurting or desperate, he could always be counted on for some money, some food, a bed to sleep in, a job reference, a phone call to a local politician or businessman, a receptive ear for counsel, or a shoulder to cry on. He gave freely to so many people for so many years, and he did it without expecting anything in return.
He gave me so much over the years. He meant the world to me. That’s why I couldn’t let him die alone or in pain. I made that vow to him when he got sick. I had the time and resources to fulfill that promise. I hope I did enough. I hope I made him proud. I just hope I get to see my Pawpaw again.