My Papaw’s Boots
Every Saturday night we stayed with them, there was a ritual at my grandparent’s house. My mamaw would prepare a meal, and before my sister and I sat down to eat, my papaw would come into the house, fall into a chair, and rest. Sometimes we would give him Pepsi and milk, sometimes we might get him a glass of water, other times he might request a cup of coffee that was left in the percolator coffee machine from that morning. Before you go back and read that sentence, I did say Pepsi and milk.
As he drank what we had furnished, he would sigh a big sigh, and motion to my sister or me in a way that asked with fatigue, “can you take off my boots?”. This was a pleasure he had only when we were there. It was a gift that we could give him and we did it with love and admiration for the man that he was. He worked more than full time at the Alcoa plant during the week and he raised cattle as a side hustle. He loved his farm and his family. While I would like to imagine those times were simpler for him, my guess is that the troubles I experience providing for a family are similar to the cares and concerns he had.
Those boots saw so much. They held the feet that supported the man that worked to help others, guide those around him, and care for things more deeply than most. He loved his wife and kids, he loved his grandchildren, and he loved everyone he met. He loved everyone he met before he met them. He wanted to meet them and he did it with a genuine concern. Sometimes my work calls me to the county where my father was raised, and though he has been dead for years, there are still people that tell stories about how “Mixer”, as my grandfather was called, helped them along the way.
When he died, it was on a farm. Aside from my knowing he was alone when he passed, I am comforted by that. He loved doing what he did. When I think back on all of the times I spent with him, I do not regret one thing. Even the time I spent away from him when I could have enjoyed his company was just a part of growing up. On occasion, on very hard days, my son will remove my shoes. I realize what a gift it was when I gave it to my grandfather. There is something about caring for others in this way, and there is something about receiving this care from others in this way, that make for grateful hearts.
And after all of this was done, and the meals were consumed, there was “Hee Haw”, molasses popcorn balls in the summer, sweet potatoes baked by wood fire coals in the winter, and falling into bed after being loved up one side and down the other, by two of the people I now most admire. I never knew them to speak of money, outside of the times they were passing a coin or bill my way. I never knew what troubles they faced because we were the only thing that mattered when we were there. Every now and then, I would hear of them going down to some church, but I never attended a service with them.
That is until the final service given for my grandfather in the chapel of a funeral home. I did not want to go. I did not want him to go. This was the first time I had become up close and personal with death. It baffled my mind. I did not have many questions, but I also did not have much comfort in the words of the preacher, who I suspected was using my grandfather’s death as a promotional event for his church. What I have come to know now is that death is an odd thing. It is a real thing. We mourn and grieve and hope for better situations for our loved ones that pass, but really, who knows? People become a part of us that is gone with death.
I might add also, that I suspect that I know a little. My suspicion is that there is life in this world and others, and though I have not been to heaven, I might have seen a little bit of heaven in this life. Things are a mystery and I am content in keeping them that way. For those that must know things, there are multitudes of religions. For those that need answers, there is plenty of dogma. For those that are afraid to be alone, there are organizations and groups. I have redbirds. I have possibility. I have love. These are enough for now.
My grandfather spent time on earth just a little before me. In some ways I feel closer to him now than when I was a child. His lessons, his spirit, and the love of a good sweet potato live in me somehow. I think of him when I am compelled to know a person. I think of him when the weight of my shoes burdens the soles of my feet. If I am half the man he was, or if I leave half the smiles he created, I will have done what I came to do. He was proud of me, but no more proud than I was of him. These are the things that matter these days. These ideas are what we carry forward from one age to the next.