Archive for December, 2009

remembering Papa

me & Papa

Pronounced PAH-paw, this is the name I gave my grandfather on my mother’s side, being the first grandchild. My younger cousins haven’t kept the distinctly southern pronunciation, clipping it to a quick PAH-puh. Drawls be gone, I guess.

My Papa struggled to breath in his last years, first fighting pulmonary fibrosis and then lung cancer in his last few months, even though he had given up smoking 30 years prior.  He bravely completed almost 3 months of radiation and chemo therapy in an effort to extend his life-expectancy beyond the doctor’s predictions.  The treatment was harder on him than he expected, and it did not stop the cancer from spreading.  He passed on December 5th, less than 12 hours after I arrived at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to give him my love and support.

I remember that whenever I called Grammie & Papa on the phone, if he answered, he almost always passed the phone to Grammie.  In his later years the sustained conversations left him uncomfortably short of breath.  But he never failed to contribute to the conversation – I could hear him in the background, responding now and again to the side of the conversation he did hear, which Grammie would then repeat back into the phone for me.  Funny, but it worked.

Grammie & Papa

Grammie & Papa

Grammie  & Papa have lived down on the Gulf Coast just south of Tallahassee for 20+ (or is 30+?) years, and I have many fond memories of time spent there with them: fishing and hauling in crab traps off the docks my Papa built (and rebuilt after every storm that washed it away); Papa cooking oyster stew or frying up whatever we caught worth eating (or trying to eat, like the stingray we were epicurious about); mountains of Papa’s homegrown tomatoes on the table, for afternoon snacks or the obligatory side on a dinner plate with beans and cornbread; his encouragement to take the john boat or canoe out on adventures in the bay with my brothers, cousins, and aunt, plundering oyster bars, exploring the estuaries, and scouting for alligators; hearing stories about bears, eagles, hawks, jaguarundi, alligators, and other critters prowling about; walks on the beach, gathering shells and sand dollars; staying in their trailer on St. George Island, aptly dubbed the “Sea Shanty,” with friends and family while we bummed around on the beach for days on spring or summer breaks; fiesty debates and witty repartees with my Papa, over this, that, or the other (the man was always ready to engage in the sport of rhetorical discourse).

I had the benefit of spending much of my childhood with both sets of my grandparents, and I’ve maintained close relationships with them over the years.  Unique among my peers, I am 37 and have just lost my first grandparent.  I know that I am lucky to  have known them so well, and to have such a wealth of memories from the time spent with them.

Amo & I had been planning to visit Grammie and Papa over the 2009 winter break, rather than doing my typical family visit to Atlanta.  Amo hadn’t met these grandparents yet, nor the Brown side of my family that resides in Florida, so we thought it was high time.  We had a road trip planned, with dogs in tow.  Plans changed rather quickly, and I made a solo trip on short notice.

The upside is that I got there in time to hold Papa’s hand, tell him how much he means to me, and remind him how special our time together has been.  And it was really a Brown family reunion – I got to see my uncle Mark for the first time in 20 or so years, and meet my second cousin Elizabeth (Bonnie’s daughter) for the first time.  I even spent more time with my brothers than I think I normally get to on a routine annual visit (go figure).

We may all get together again in June, on Father’s day weekend (and his birthday weekend), to spread Papa’s ashes in north Georgia, up around Chattahoochee National Forest and  Vogel State Park, the family vacation spot he was so fond of.



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