Five Fun Times with Papa

To close out unofficial Papa Week here a Kiki Writes About, I’m focusing on some of the good times. Papa was the funnest grandpa a couple of girls could have. There was always a good time to be had when Papa was involved. Maybe they weren’t grand or expensive or even a big deal, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

1. Going to the fairs. We went to the county fair and the Decatur Celebration every year. Papa and Grandma would take us and let us ride whatever rides we wanted to and buying us funnel cake and lemon shake-ups. Sometimes Papa would ride some of the rides with us. There might be albums of pictures from out times at the fairs.

2. Playing computer. While most older people shun technology, Papa was ahead of the game as president of the Decatur Computer Club. He got us our first computer (a Commodore 64) and taught us how to use it. Whenever we’d visit his house, we’d all get together in the bedroom to play computer games. Lode Runner, Family Feud, Concentration, Motor Mania, and the Olympics were some of our favorites. He, my sister, and I would crowd around the desk and crack each other up while we played.

3. Cooking. When Papa retired and Grandma moved her dog grooming business into the garage shop at the house, Papa took over the cooking duties. He had shelves full of cookbooks and he’d always have the two of us help him no matter what he was making. Even something as simple as pudding, he’d have his girls help him. I licked a lot of beaters in my childhood.

4. Going to the store. Yes, even something that mundane was fun with Papa. First of all, it was a quaint little corner store down the road from the house. Second of all, a trip to the store before lunch meant that Papa would buy you a Hostess fruit pie that you could eat for dessert. And, of course, it gave Papa an opportunity to show off his granddaughters.

5. Any car ride. Papa had a big old green boat car he called Nelly. It had afghans for seat covers and a woven leather steering wheel cover, all made by Grandma. It didn’t have much of a radio, so Papa would sing while he drove. Old songs, usually Hank Williams. I thought it was kind of cheesy at the time, but now I can’t hear “Hey, Good Lookin'” without thinking of him.

Writing–Writing in the Blood

I never thought about writing being a family trait. I thought I was the only one who felt the urge to tell fictional stories in the written down form. Don’t get me wrong; my family loves to tell slightly embellished tales of yore, but no one else ever wrote fiction.

Until Papa.

After Grandma died, Papa needed something to do to fill up some of his time. He’d always loved reading (I come from a reading family, truly) and had done a little writing when he was younger. So when after Grandma passed away, he had the time to try his hand at writing again. It became the way he spent his mornings.

He wrote a few short stories, but it didn’t take him long to discover the wondeful world of novel writing. He wrote a couple of them before he decided to try his hand at self-publishing. He didn’t want to be a best-selling author. He wasn’t looking for great success or great millions. He wrote a book and he wanted to see it in print. He wanted tangible evidence of time well-spent.

Papa wrote several other books and stories, but these he published as ebooks. He was always on the cutting edge of technology and liked the idea of ebooks (he bought a Kindle before I even considered one). He made a little money from his writing endeavors, but I think he was happier just knowing that his work was being read.

My cousin Nancy even arranged for him to do book signings of his the first book he self-published. It was a nice way for family to come out and brag on him and tell him how good his stories were.

In turn, Papa has always been my biggest fan when it came to my writing. He was thrilled when I got my first short story published. He posted my few writing victories on the family website and read every story I showed him, whether it was published or not.

Writing became just another way grandfather and granddaughter connected.

Now that he’s gone, I treasure that first self-published book that he wrote. Maybe it’s not that best written book ever put into print, but the story is Papa’s and it’s a tangible reminder of the bond the two of us shared.

A special thanks to my granddaughter, Christin Haws, whose own wonderful writings were the sparks that re-ignited my latent desire.

Goodbye, Papa

At 4AM the morning of Saturday, May 7th, my beloved grandpa passed away. As luck would have it, I woke up at 5:30 that morning thinking I had to go to work and the resulting confusion woke me up enough that I decided to go to the bathroom before trying to go back to sleep. It was no surprise to find my dad awake in the living room as I passed through. It was on my way back that he told me the news and I realized that my roommate Carrie was in the living room, too.

The first word out of my mouth was “Really?”

It wasn’t that this was completely unexpected. Papa had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure years before and had a pacemaker/defibrillator. He had a slow progressing form of leukemia that he chose not to treat. He was on oxygen. He needed a scooter/wheelchair to get around. His health had been slowly declining since my grandmother died, partly because he wasn’t taking as good of care of himself as he used to.

He’d also been in the hospital for the past few weeks. Once the current trouble with his heart was straightened out, they realized his kidneys were shutting down. There was nothing they could really do for him. The goal was to get him strong enough to go home with my great-aunt so she could take care of him the rest of the way.

Papa never made it out of the hospital.

Part of that was because Papa didn’t want to do the therapies they were asking him to do. And he was being downright hateful about it. He was being nasty to everyone and wasn’t cooperating and they finally decided to move him off of the therapy floor and onto the fourth floor before moving him to hospice care. Without doing the therapy, there was no way my aunt could take him home to take care of him.

They moved him to the fourth floor on Friday night. He was dead Saturday morning.

I didn’t go see him in the hospital. I don’t regret that. The last visit I had with Papa was a pleasant one. He was in a good mood, feeling pretty good that day. We enjoyed a nice day of family and laughter and conversation and food. The last time I saw my papa was definitely a high note.

I never wanted to see him in the hospital. It had been hard enough watching the active, jovial, fun person I’d grown up with fade into the unkempt shadow of his former self. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. A lot of the life went out of him when Grandma passed away.

And judging by the stories Dad brought home about Papa’s behavior, I definitely didn’t want that to be my last memory of him. He was acting like an ass and my papa was never an ogre in my life. He read me and my sister stories, played with us, took us to the fair. He wasn’t this hateful, nasty person he’d become in the hospital, barking orders at people, bitching and complaining about everything, ignoring family because he was mad. I’m glad I never saw that. That tyrant wasn’t my papa.

Papa was a sweet, kind man who would go out of his way to help a person. If he liked you, you were family. It was just like that. Even though he was the youngest of ten kids, he was head of our large clan. Everyone looked to Uncle Jimmie for guidance. He kept the family in touch with each other, first with a family newsletter and then with a website.

Papa was a smart man. He never graduated high school and got his GED later in life, but he loved to learn. He loved to read. He loved technology. While most grandpas shunned the idea of computers, my grandpa dove right in. He was president of the Decatur Computer Club and is responsible for teaching me and my sister how to use them. I was one of the first kids in my school on the Internet, thanks to him.

Papa was a great cook. He used to have a New Year’s Day celebration at his house. He’d cram a hundred people in that tiny place to serve biscuits and gravy, ham and beans, and all kinds of pie. He’d spend days cooking to get ready for it and then spend all day in the kitchen while other family members took turns doing the dishes. He liked doing it and he just had a knack for it. He had scores of recipe books and there wasn’t a meal he wouldn’t try if it appealed to him.

Papa was my biggest fan. He was my sister’s biggest fan, too. You couldn’t ask for a more supportive, involved grandpa. I think that’s what I’m going to miss most of all. He never seemed to have trouble saying that he was proud of us.

It’s a comfort to know that Papa is back where he wanted to be: with Grandma.

Well, it’s a comfort to me. It’s probably not a comfort to him right now. There’s no way she’s going to let that last bout of hatefulness slide. I’m sure she was waiting for him with flyswat in hand to give him what for.

But once she’s done scolding him, I know it’ll be happily ever after.

Rest in peace, Papa (as soon as Grandma let’s you).