[T]he man in this picture is my mama’s daddy. The boy beside him called him Pappaw.
The boy grew up to be me.
The man didn’t have much longer to live, which brings me to my wish.
I wish I could talk to my grandfathers again.
I was 7 in the summer of 1993, when Pappaw died.
Mama told me he went to be with Jesus, and I cried.
I’m not much of a crier now, but I guess tears come natural when you’re 7 and you find out the man who helped you reel in the biggest fish you’d ever seen went to be with Jesus.
It was the first brush with death I remember, though I didn’t comprehend or understand it.
I just knew Pappaw was gone.
He’s been gone more than 25 years, and I’ve grown to realize how fast 25 years goes.
Cancer killed Pappaw before I knew cancer existed.
It killed him before I knew a granddaddy is a luxury.
I wasn’t old enough to know I should thank him because he introduced me to Dr. Pepper, Werther’s Original, cream cheese on crackers and The Oak Ridge Boys.
He died before I found out about how he grew up, how he met Mammaw, how he became the carpenter who built my firetruck bed or what it was like to raise three daughters.
I never got to ask him what it meant to him to be part of the greatest generation, and he never told me what it meant to him to be part of the crew aboard a World War II submarine when it sank Japan’s Shinano.
I did get the chance to ask Daddy’s daddy, who I called Pawpaw, to tell me his story.
The conversation happened in the middle of a game of dominoes Nana and I played.
Pawpaw could only watch, because Pawpaw was a domino wizard who won often and easy.
He was usually relegated to his recliner so he wouldn’t block the game and end it before it got good.
After I promised Pawpaw I wouldn’t print his story in the newspaper I worked for, he agreed to answer my questions.
I kept my promise, but I regret it because the story he lived sounded like it could have been a movie.
We talked about why he joined the military, and how Korea made him get right with God.
We talked about how there was no black or white in battle, and there was no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.
We talked about his close calls, the death he saw and how war changed his life.
Pawpaw choked up when he talked about letters he got from Nana while he was overseas, and how he married her when he made it home.
They raised four children on a chicken farm, and took a busload of family on a vacation to Pennsylvania.
Pawpaw worked hard, and he loved his family.
He was never without what he called a “Wal-Mart dollar” for his grandchildren and he was always prepared.
Sometimes, I wonder if people sense death.
Pawpaw talked about it for a few years before his heart gave out on a July day five years ago.
The last time I saw him, we were parked in the middle of a road between two chicken houses.
Pawpaw was in his truck. I was in mine. He flagged me down to say hey, and I asked him why there was a van parked in his driveway.
He answered and we started to drive away.
I hollered and told him to go first.
If I’d known I’d never talk to him again, I would have chosen better words.
A few months before Pawpaw died, someone encouraged me to talk to him about his life and his story.
I’m glad I did.
My grandfathers were good men.
I’m grateful for the memories I made with them. I’m grateful for the time I had with them.
I wish I had more.