My Pawpaw died on the Sunday before Memorial Day. That’s now two and a half weeks ago. I composed this eulogy in the days after learning about his death, but life has conspired against me getting it written and posted until now.
My Pawpaw had 26 grandchildren. Many of them hardly knew him. Some of them knew him more as a father than a grandfather. Even of the ones that knew him as a grandfather, I’ve known him the longest. This is my story of him. My story of Pawpaw.
When I was little, maybe pre-K or early elementary, Pawpaw ran the FBO (airport) in Flippin, Arkansas. It was the kind of lazy little place that didn’t get too much traffic, and if there was a little boy riding his bicycle across the runway, it wasn’t a big deal as long as the boy had the sense to watch for planes landing. I remember my dad and my uncles brush hogging a path through the field that separated Pawpaw’s house and the airport. I would ride my bicycle through the field and then all over the airport.
Pawpaw used to take me flying. One flight in particular stands out after all these years. Pawpaw had me sitting in the front with him, and he banked the plane way up onto a wing until my nose was pressed against the side window. It was terrifying. Then he brought us back level. Once I calmed down, he let me drive. What did I do? Bank the opposite direction until HE was pushed up against the window. He thought it was just as hilarious as I did, and after he made sure we weren’t going to stall, he let me keep flying.
Without exception, every single person that has ever offered me an opinion about Pawpaw has thought highly of him. My mother’s family attended my grandfather’s church in Northern Arkansas years before I was born. They love him to this day. When I was fifteen, I rode along when Pawpaw made a trip to Teterboro, New Jersey. The folks in the airport, hotel and restaurant greeted him enthusiastically, some of them by name. It was then that I realized that my Pawpaw had never met a stranger. I doubt he ever did.
While we were in Teterboro, Pawpaw took me across the Hudson River and into Manhattan for the first time. We walked around part of Manhattan, though all I really remember was seeing the Empire State Building and walking on the steps in front of Madison Square Garden. There was no particular reason to take me halfway across the country just to go for a walk in Manhattan, but Pawpaw thought I’d enjoy it. He was right.
Once in a while my dad would take us kids over to see Pawpaw and Grandma, even if there wasn’t any particular reason to visit. On those visits, you could catch Pawpaw watching television. When he was around, his TV only had two choices: The Weather Channel and Westerns. I never saw the man watch a movie that didn’t involve horses and dusty men with guns. I never did ask him to explain what it was about John Wayne and Gary Cooper that so enthralled him.
In high school I drove my dad’s old Toyota Tercel for a while. When I took it over, it needed new brakes. I changed the disk brakes in the front myself, but I didn’t know what to do about the drum brakes in the back. Dad sent me over to Pawpaw’s. I pulled the Tercel onto the hill that passed as Pawpaw’s driveway, set my emergency brake, and went inside. Pawpaw followed me back out, wearing jeans and a button up shirt. (This was as casual as I ever saw the man. I think he wore slacks and a button up shirt in the shower.)
We jacked up the car and took off the rear wheel. When we tried to unbolt the drum, we ran into problems. Even unbolted, it wouldn’t come off. After fifteen minutes of tedious work with a screwdriver, Pawpaw loosened it with an emergency release I hadn’t known existed. We got the brake changed with some more work, and Pawpaw suggested we test it before doing the other side. We hopped in the car, I took off the emergency brake and away we went. When we came back to park, he very politely suggested that I leave the e-brake off this time. We had the wheel off, the drum off, and the pad changed in about ten minutes. He never had a negative word to say about the extra work I had unwittingly caused us (him).
A couple years later I was at the end of high school, about to go to college. It was summer and I was broke. Pawpaw came by the house one afternoon and mentioned that he could use some help cleaning airplanes. I was interested in helping because, hey, airplanes, but then he mentioned it was the kind of thing that would pay, and if I did a good job, it could turn into something regular. I cleaned airplanes most every Saturday for four years. I didn’t always do a good job. Sometimes I was tired. Sometimes I was hungover. Sometimes I was lazy. Pawpaw never had a negative word to say. In retrospect, I don’t think he really needed the help. He could clean faster and better than I could. I think he just knew I could use the extra money and cleaning was a way he could help me out when I needed it.
I appreciated it back then because I did need the money. Those weekly trips to the airport kept gas in my car and food in my belly. I appreciate it now because of the thoughtfulness. He created a job out of thin air, just because he saw the need.
Since college I haven’t seen as much of Pawpaw. I’ve had my own family to raise, and I’ve had a falling out with my father. I’m indescribably sad that Pawpaw is gone so soon. The Pawpaw I saw at the visitation and at the funeral isn’t the man I choose to remember. The one I remember was vibrant. He never had a gray hair on his head (I’m told he had a little help on that front). He always had a ready smile, and a willingness to help. That’s my Pawpaw. That’s who I’ll remember.
Picker, grocer, preacher, pilot. Pawpaw.