In 2010, I wrote a post on my blog about Papaw Chester. It was, in its own way, a love letter to him.
Now that might sound a little strange, considering I’m an outlaw in the family and don’t have the stores of memories that De and J, Dn, Dw, Dv and B have. I only really knew the Papaw aged 72-91.
But I was, and still am, amazed when people are adults and have living grandparents. My grandparents were all deceased by the time I was 18 so it was the most awesome thing to have a Papaw and be old enough to know how cool that actually is.
There are many things I think of when I think of Papaw Chester, but one of the first is Cheese Nips. He always kept a box of them close to his blue chair in the living room, and G and M, even if they’d eaten a 10-course meal prior to visiting Papaw, would ask for some.
Papaw Chester always shared his Cheese Nips. He also talked up their low sugar content. It is no great wonder that he lived a robust 91….almost 92…..years between low sugar Cheese Nips and regular sips of apple cider vinegar. He was a man who knew the value of taking care of something for a long, long time.
Dv says, “My first memories of Papaw are sitting on his living room floor with B playing with the same old toys that had belonged to Dn and Dw because he kept EVERYTHING.
Those toys that Papaw kept around the house were a lot like him. They were worn around the edges, perhaps, but still functional and still fun to spend time with. The pull-toy dog with the frayed ears comes to mind. M remembers playing with the old Fisher Price red barn and the cars. And that dusty, raggedy Garfield stuffed cat that sat on the back of the couch.
Dw says some of her best memories are when she and Dn, T and De used to camp with Papaw and Mamaw. She says, “I remember catching my first fish with Papaw in his john boat. He was so patient while fishing and with me and Dn fishing, too.” Mll says fishing is what comes to mind when she thinks of Papaw——his fishing hat and his rod rack in the living room and his “Wishin I was Fishin” t-shirt that I suspect he probably wore holes in.
Dn remembers Papaw and Mamaw coming over to the house in the spring and summer to work in the back garden. He says, “It seemed like they were over there every night gardening.” Dw says she watched and learned about gardening by watching Papaw.
I don’t think any one of us can think about Papaw without remembering him around dirt or plants. During the late summer of 2007, Papaw came to our house and helped me plant some flowers in my backyard. I was very pregnant with G and very much in the nesting stage. I think back to Papaw at 82 and me with my belly sticking out to kingdom come digging around in the flower beds to get it all in the ground. I’m sure we made quite a picture.
Dn says, “Anytime you needed something fixed, you’d call Papaw and he could pretty well fix it.” He showed Dn how to drill into mortar and helped him install lattice under the deck at our first house. I don’t think any of us will ever know exactly how many times he fixed the concrete on De's driveway.
Dv remembers fun times at Papaw’s house when she was a kid. She says “Sleepovers at his house were something we looked forward too- he ALWAYS gave us what we call "papaw size" servings of desert after dinner.”
Clearly, that hadn’t changed by the time I entered the family, and we had our regular dinners at Papaw’s house. He made brownies or chocolate cake or pineapple upside down cake or strawberry cake, and sometimes it felt like he made ALL those desserts and expected us to eat “Papaw size” slices of each. (I always found it remarkable the look he’d give anyone else in the family if they tried to give HIM a Papaw size piece of anything.)
Dv remembers how when we had meals at Papaw’s home he always tried to accommodate everyone’s preferences, and no matter how our family grew, he always made more room at the table.
M says when he thinks of Papaw he thinks about ice cream sandwiches. In addition to Cheese Nips, G and M could pretty well count on Papaw offering them a frozen treat when they visited.
Funny how we’ve circled back to food and Papaw.
When N thinks of Papaw, she thinks of going up into his attic to pilfer through his closets. She would dress up in old heels and fur coats that belonged to Mamaw Mll and parade back down so Papaw could see her fashion show. I think any of us who ventured upstairs at any point can’t get that ginormous owl lamp out of our heads.
We will all remember the smell of his wood burning stove in the winter and the warmth of his home, especially the excessive warmth of his home on Christmas Eve’s when we were packed to the gills and sitting on top of each other and wishing we had worn short sleeves.
When Dv thinks back to those childhood sleepovers, she says, “Papaw would pull out the fold out bed for Mamaw and we would help her put the sheets on. He never let us watch what we wanted, so usually it meant falling to sleep to an episode of Heehaw. He didn't say much, but when he spoke, you took it all in. He never raised his voice, but when he had something to say everyone listened. He left us with many lessons reflective of his approach to life. He taught us that people should talk less and listen more. I know that he had lots of opinions, but we didn't often hear them.”
Papaw seemed to be really good, at least in the years I knew him, at accepting his family warts and all. “They just can’t help it,” was a phrase I know he said about probably most of us at any given time. I suspect his wisdom helped him know the difference between what any of us could change and couldn’t change.
Like he never got angry when G said stuff like “Why don’t you have any teeth, Papaw?” Either he couldn’t hear G or he just simply thought it was funny, even if the rest of us were maybe a little mortified that it was rude.
Papaw never forgot his kids’, grandkids’ or great-grandkids’ birthdays. Dv says, “Every year I would get a card with a puppy or a kitten on the front of it. On the inside was always $30 and a simple message 'Love you, Papaw.' After I was in my twenties, I remember telling my dad that Papaw didn't have to do that for me anymore and he told me that Papaw still gave him a card with $30 in it for his birthday every year. He was sweet like that, always thinking of his family.”
After seeing some photos of Papaw with his great-grandkids on Facebook this week, a friend of mine remarked, “The love in his expression (with his great-grandkids) is heartwarming.” Dv says, “ I loved seeing how his eyes would light up when my kids would sit in his lap.” There are few things as wonderful as seeing the look of absolute joy on Papaw’s face whenever he had a great-grandchild in his arms.
I think Papaw must have changed a lot as he got older. Dv says, “As a child he always seemed so serious. He wasn't the cuddly type but he was always kind, and we knew he loved us without hugs and kisses.” I think something about having great grandkids around made him increasingly welcome hugs and cuddles.
Whenever any of us would leave Papaw and offer a hug, Papaw would follow up with a hand squeeze. A little extra touch to take with us on the road. For me, it was sometimes followed up with a “Bye, girl.” G says when he thinks of Papaw he thinks about fun and love and giving him hugs.
Papaw did many amazing things….from serving in World War II to building his own home….but I think he’d be pretty darned pleased to be remembered for fun and love and hugs. If anyone asked in that Papaw way if his life was “any count” we could answer with an absolute yes.