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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Writer's Workshop: Papa

This week, I am (very loosely) following the prompt: 4.) Something your grandfather told you.

Papa's 90th Birthday Party

My grandfather, Papa, was born and raised in North Carolina. I'm not exactly sure how he ended up in Rhode Island, but he was in the Navy and later worked for them as a civilian, so I suppose that had something to do with it. He loved RI, especially the city of Cranston, where he settled, but he always had a place in his heart for things Southern, especially the food. My parents divorced when I was two, and Papa took care of me during the day when Mom went back to work. He was retired at this point, and loved kids (especially babies), so I think he probably enjoyed it. He called me his "Little Rebel" because I loved Southern cooking as much as he did. (I totally would have been on the Union side, but that's another story. In fact, we had ancestors on both sides. All brother vs. brother and such.) Grits, biscuits, fried chicken, you name it. He loved all his grandchildren, and we all loved him, but I like to think we had our own little special bond. (Shh.)

I don't remember Papa ever complimenting me on things like clothes or looks, but he would tell me more important things, like how smart I was. (My grandmother, Nana, also encouraged me in this way, telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. She always wanted to be a journalist, but her father wouldn't let her. He told her she had to do a "woman's job," and so she became a secretary instead. She would have been a great journalist.)

Papa taught me how to write my letters, then would spell out any word I asked as I sat at the table and wrote. I could read basic text by the time I was four, and was reading Readers' Digest when I was six. I used to love that magazine. I'm no genius, but I had a lot of support from my grandparents. I blame my Political Science degree on them, because Papa and I watched a lot of news and C-SPAN together. And they definitely influenced my love of history. Papa was a part of history, as a WWII veteran and a Pearl Harbor survivor.

Papa was always hilarious, and it's sad that the only funny thing I can remember him saying, verbatim, is "I reckon these candles are fixin' to light up again!" the year we put trick candles on his birthday cake. (Maybe you had to be there, it was funny.) And he sang something like, "You get no bread with no meatballs." I still don't understand what that meant, but all the grandkids remember it and crack up when someone sings it.

I remember one day when I was pregnant, my Papa looked especially tired. He had been talking a lot about being ready to go from this world, and asked me when my baby was going to come. I told him just after Christmas. After Joshua was born, I waited a couple of weeks and then brought him over to Papa's apartment. We had a good afternoon together, but Papa wasn't looking good. I was going to take a photo of him and Joshua together, but I decided to wait until next time. Unfortunately, next time never came and I will always regret that. My Papa died about a week later. While I was watching President Obama's first Inauguration, my Papa had a stroke and a heart attack, and died in the hospital a few days later. Fortunately, I was able to be by his side for those few days. I just wish I had been able to take care of him as well as he took care of me.

Since Joshua has started talking, he's been saying certain words with a Southern accent. He loves country music and Cracker Barrel. He never knew Papa, but he has some Papa in him (he even loves babies, too). Papa would have loved him. But I like to think that Papa is here, watching over us, enjoying his Little Rebels.

I think the most important things he said to me were words of encouragement, especially regarding education. I was always striving to make him proud. I often wonder today, while I am thinking that I should be doing so much more with my life, if I am making him proud. I certainly hope so.

Mama’s Losin’ It