Monday, April 9, 2012

Before It Slips Away

You and Mawmaw
It seems odd to me that I hardly ever write of you, odd that I think of you almost every day and yet do not wrap my words around you and the memories I have of you. Why would that be? Why would you whom I love and miss so much almost never find your way into my words?
You're Pawpaw. I think of you often. I talk of you often. You're the man who gave me my love of cats. You're the man who paid me a dollar to scratch your back. You're the man who sailed the ocean and fed hungry sailors. You're the man who could talk for hours about nothing and about everything.
You defined my childhood; in many ways, you define my now.
The memories I have of you I keep close to my heart, cherishing each one, replaying them in my mind over and over, grasping constantly for the little pieces that might be slipping away. And yet, I write none of them down. Me: the writer of words, the recorder of thoughts and dreams and yesterdays.
Mawmaw spoke of you last night. Equal parts sadness and sweetness evident in her voice, tears and the ghost of you reflected in her eyes. She spoke, and I drank it all in, eager to hear stories I'd heard a thousand times before, eager to see you again through her words. And I did see you again.
Just as her story ended, she said something that pierced my heart and made me deeply ashamed.
"I wish I could write it all down. It could almost be a book."
I don't have many talents. I'm not particularly athletic or crafty. My cooking is mediocre at best. I don't paint or take photographs. But I do write. I write because I love to. I write because I'm driven to. I wish I could share my writing with you now. You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that.
Over the years, I’ve wished many things that involve you.
I wish you could have been there to see my horses, to see me and Danny sail over fences, to see Suzy looking so fine all prettied up for a show.
I wish you could have been there when I graduated high school and college…even though I felt you there in each moment.
I wish you could have met Jeremy. You would love Jeremy. He’s honorable and kind and so smart. A lot like you. He’s quiet though; you would’ve enjoyed ribbing him and uncovering that quiet exterior. You two could have talked on the porch for hours.
But I don’t have to wish one day that I had written your’s and Mawmaw’s stories down. I won’t wish that someday. Mawmaw may not be able to write it all down, but I can.
The story she told last night was about your time in the Veteran’s Hospital, back when you fought your battle against tuberculosis. For two years, you were away from Mawmaw and your children, my mother included, fighting to get well. For two years, Mawmaw visited you every weekend, wearing gloves and a mask and unable to even be near you or touch you.
It’s unfathomable to think of you, strong, virile, full of life, reduced to a bed and a hospital for two years of your life. But you were. You lost a lung, lost much of your physicality during those two years. Mawmaw says when they first took you into the hospital that you were so strong needles would break in the muscles on your arms. And when you left, for a long time you couldn’t even get a job because of your limitations and others’ fear that you could still be contagious.
It’s just like you to bounce back. It’s just like you to fight against all odds to rebuild your life and your family and do whatever was necessary to provide for them. And you did bounce back. You went on to live a full and happy life, with three children, six grandchildren, and Pawpaw, now you have five great grandchildren.
But that’s a story for another day, and I promise, Pawpaw, to write it all down.
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