The past couple of years have been a difficult time with the loss of too many relatives and friends, losses that seem almost too much to bear. As we start a new year, I find myself dwelling on memories of people I have known.
What we remember of a person isn’t the person. Our memories are 2D, but a person is 3D. It takes all the memories of all the people who knew this person and still that’s not the person. The person, the actual 3D person, is what dies. That whole person. That’s what we lose and that’s what we miss, that 3D person that we only knew in 2D. Everyone who knew that person in life misses a different person than we miss…but that’s what’s gone…that multi-dimensional person.
That’s why we tell stories. We try to round out the person that has gone, but all we ever do is make an imperfect copy to remember.
In this blog I’ve been telling stories of people I’ve never known. Still, I feel some connection because they are my people, the people who have become me, the people who have given me depth, make me 3D. I try to imagine how it must have been for them, how they felt as they tried to make it through their world.
This year I will continue to tell these stories, but I want to also share the people I have known. I’m aware that “young” people become frustrated with “old” people who are always telling stories of the past, but I’d like to remind those “young” people that we have more past than we have future. As their future is important to them, our past is important to us. No, strike that…our past IS us. It is what makes us who we are…it is our third dimension.
So today, instead of telling you more about my pioneer ancestors (don’t worry, they’ll be back), I want to tell you about my paternal grandfather. I called him Papaw.
These are my memories of him. There are others who can add to this picture, give depth to the man he was, but there can never get a true three-dimensional image of him because that would take the man himself standing in front of me.
I was little, he was big, well over 6’6”, he was thin and sinewy, and as I knew him, always old. I see him wearing overalls and a blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Always the sleeves rolled up. Never down and buttoned. I know he dressed up. I have pictures of him in a suit, but that’s not how I remember him. Always in overalls and a work shirt.
He had a machine shop a few hundred yards from his house and I remember him there. When I remember him there are two images…on summer nights, after supper, he and my grandmother (Mamaw), sat in their metal lawn chairs on the back porch looking out over their property. The chairs were rocking chairs and while Mamaw rocked, Papaw sat leaning way back on the rockers of his chair, fly swatter in hand. With his long arms hanging down he could almost touch the porch floor. They sat from supper through twilight to darkness, and the murmur of their voices, the certainty that they were there, was the music of my childhood.
The other picture of him I have from my childhood is in their old house before they remodeled it, in a room that was all things. It contained the old iron, coal-burning stove, chairs pulled up in a circle around that stove, a table where we ate, a “daybed,” and a “sideboard.” Those are the names of the furniture I remember. This was the room where we spent our time, the living room.
On that sideboard, the top of which I was too short to see, were many wondrous things, tobacco pouches, small coins, safety pins, any small thing a person might need…and cough drops. My grandfather favored the Luden brand black lozenges. When he took one from the box, I wanted one too. I would call forth what I believed was a very convincing cough. Papaw always seriously offered me one from his box, but I learned early on that those black ones were horrible tasting. I pouted, shook my head, coughed again for good measure as he put the black box back and started to walk away. But then he would pick up another box, one that held red lozenges. I couldn’t read but I could recognize the box. He would ask me to be sure that was the one I wanted…not this one, holding up the black box? I pointed to the red and he shook one out in my little hand.
His profession was machinist and his shop was a wondrous place with tools that whirled and turned and drilled. I loved it. The shop smelled of oil and hot metal and work. Papaw would put on a big, black mask with a little window and make sparks fly like Fourth of July sparklers and when he took off the mask, two pieces of metal had become one forever.
There were bins of ball bearings and stacks of sheets of metal. He had one machine that cut screw threads into rods, shedding razor thin coils of metal shavings onto the floor.
The shop was a dangerous place for a child who walked barefoot through her young world. I knew the dangers from a very young age. I knew that by simply appearing in the doorway to his shop I could make him stop what he was doing and rush to pick me up and deposit me on the tall stool by his desk. The scolding I got for coming into the shop with no shoes was painless…the candy he handed me to make up for his scolds was priceless.
Other people knew other sides to the man who was my papaw. He was a son, husband, father, uncle, grandfather to more than just me. Some of you reading this knew many different dimensions of the man called Papaw, Shorty, Nick, Mr. Nicholas.
I really know very little of the man, but I never doubt he is in me.