Eighty 

I remember being a little girl and seeing my Papaw standing at the edge of his garden and looking out across it. That particular time was early evening. His feet were planted firmly, his mouth set, and the look of a man who knows his land settled on his face. There was power there and pride. He put his heart into his garden and took pride in that it would help to feed his family.

When he turned to look at me, he smiled and said, “Come on, gal. Let’s get pickin’.” I would hold out the hem of my oversized t-shirt and use it as a tote as I trailed behind him holding the fruits of his labor. When it was full and too heavy, I waddled back to the house to turn what we’d collected over to Mamaw.

Then, when the work was done, we’d sit in the swing and sing. Sometimes I sang along, others I just listened. His voice carried tones of the old south and emotions set to melody. He sang of pain and love and told stories in song. Some of the old and some of the new and some he probably came up with as he went along. His voice was country with soul and blues and something particular to him.

I remember riding along with him on the lawn mower and “helping” him push the tiller to turn the soil. I wore his too big gloves and dropped seeds and made every step he made. I listened to tales of him growing up. I wish desperately I could remember more.

He kissed booboos and dried tears. We giggled and smuggled candy and watched many a-sunset. He would twirl me around until I couldn’t stand and laughed at all the silly things I did.

At his funeral, I listened to one of his closest friends tell of a day in 1956 when some rowdy boys visited Weathersby Baptist Church because they heard the girls there were pretty. Mamaw was one of those girls. She’s told me before how she and my Paw met at a peanut boil at church. Brother Johnny said that on the day he recalled that Paw answered alter call and accepted his Lord at the front of the very church where he met my Mamaw, and the very church where we were currently having his funeral.

He said that out of that group of boys and the pretty girls at Weathersby, my Paw was the only one to find his girl and get married.

My grandmother used to talk about how they were married in a house with cracks so wide in the floorboards that you could see chickens walking beneath them during their wedding.

My grandparents were always simple people. They worked, loved, and lived in a simple, old fashioned way as husband and wife for 61 years. I’ve tried to imagine 61 years worth of living much less marriage. I’ve watched my grandmother, my Mamaw struggle with his death. I watched her before he passed sit beside him and hold his hand. She would rearrange his blanket and hang her head.

Today, he would have been 80. We’ve lived a few weeks without him. His void is definitely felt. However, I find peace in knowing that he is breathing fully on his own again and walking wherever he wishes to go. He has left the struggles of this world and his earthly body. His sun has set.