Last Thursday I buried my 91 year old grandfather. he and Mamaw had celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary a week earlier. SEVENTY ONE YEARS!!!. when you consider that today, it is normal to be married and divorced 2 or 3 times before you are 50 the fact that they stayed together for nearly 3/4 of a century says something remarkable.
I was lucky. I grew up knowing 3 out of 4 grandparents. I even had a close relationship with all of them. but even so, even with the daily updates that got passed around among the cousins and the siblings on Facebook and via text message on his continued downward spiral, it was not easy getting the call at 630 Monday morning as my father and I pulled out of my driveway about to head down to OH to what turned out to be saying our goodbyes.
Papaw was larger than life. cantankerous, ornery and always ready to pick on ya. and we ate it up. he was one of those people that shunned organized religion and refused to go to Church. and yet he was a better Christian than 90% of those folks that proclaim themselves to be one. he was ALWAYS helping out others, even as he himself started requiring assistance.
as we sat around the house trying to figure out what to add to the coffin, we got to thinking about what made him Papaw to us.
first thing: the crossword puzzle for the day he died. he did it every morning, even as he got too old to see the small print. he just made somebody else read the clues to him. and argued with ya until you conceded he was right. then was the Cincinnati Reds pennant. we learned VERY early on that when the Red's played, you stayed OUT of his line of sight on the TV and you damn well better NOT be interrupting him for anything less than dinner. or Euchre.
speaking of Euchre. he played that game ALL.THE.TIME. if you could keep up with him, you were golden. we also found out, as we went through his deck of cards, that we had all been playing by Darby rules all our lives. which looked NOTHING like the official rules.
In one hand we placed a stogie as he had taken to smoking them more and more after he gave up the pipe, which was in the other hand. the cherry tobacco from his pipe is the one smell I remember most as a little kid at Papaw's house.
He was wearing his Fire Department Chief's uniform and his Masonic apron and his VFW cover, representing all the service to others he performed all his life. if we could have found a pair of dolphins, that would have gone in too, to represent his days in the Navy during WW2 on submarines.
Throughout the week, there was much inappropriate humor from a cousin or two, our way of dealing. Darby-isms were quoted ad infintum. ones like... "take all you want, but eat all you take" and " three full bites before you say you don't like something". gasps of horror at the frying pan with only a bare film of grease in the bottom as opposed to an inch thick. Made the eggs taste better, he said.
and then Wednesday came. and we had to face the coffin. at least he looked like Papaw,and not pissed at the world like my mother did at hers. Only then did I start crying uncontrollably. but it was quick, and we got ourselves under control, mostly. my Brother and my cousin, the other two Firefighters, debated the relative merits of a windbreaker as Dress uniform.
Thursday was a bitch. another trip to the church for a private viewing and ceremony, this time from the VFW Honor Guard. and then off to the cemetery. which is located directly behind the house. all day Wednesday we watched them dig the whole and erect the tent. well, those of us who could stand to look out the back door. now the Church was maybe 3 blocks away too so the whole transit time was 5 minutes.. and that included everybody climbing in, buckling up then getting in line behind the hearse.
at the entrance to the ceremony, the four of us in the car completely broke down. Crossed Ladder Trucks with flag displayed. didn't stop there either. we were Saluted by sideboys on our way in to the tent. then the FD issued a Last call over the radio. yeah, Joe( the cousin, )and Brian (the brother) gave up any pretense of manly control at that point. Me? I had managed to get semi calm. and then came Taps and the 21 Gun salute. Last time I heard that? my mother's funeral 12 years ago. NOT the most pleasant of memories, you know?
Then it was over and we went back to the Church where the Ladies Aux fed us. and we reminisced some more. Friday night, the cousins that were left.. me, Laura and Joe(well he doesn't count, he's local) went and hoisted a beer in Darby's name at the Hofbrau down by the Levee on the OH River. He would have approved.