Friday, October 21, 2011

A Lifelong Journey

While driving down highway 69 to Dallas on Wednesday night, I started thinking about all the times my family has driven down that same highway over the years.

Back-and-forth between Carthage and Dallas, getting off the highway at Big Cabin, passing through Muskogee, across the dozens of bridges at Lake Eufaula, topping the hill at McAlester to see city's the twinkling lights stretching out for miles, past the razor-wire-surrounded-prison-on-the-hill, and that enormous star at the 'Welcome to Texas' center at the state line.

For those of us who are used to two lane highways in the country, the trip from the state line through Dallas is a spectacle because there is something to look at in every direction, especially when you literally drive right through DFW airport.

The Dallas skyline is amazing at night. How many of us have 'ooh-ed' and 'aw-ed' as we drove passed neon-lit sky scrapers? Or during the day, exclaimed, 'Six FLAGS!!'

I started wondering how many times my Papaw, my dad, my Memaw, my aunts and uncles have traveled that same road over a lifetime. How many people in my family have gotten tickets, or crawled along in two-lane construction gridlock for miles and miles? Why were they making that long trip, to spend the summer together? for a graduation? a birthday? a reunion? a business trip? a funeral? a wedding? The journey itself is a metaphor for a life, with all the pot-holes, and speed traps, and road-trip games, and pit stops, and memories. Whether we realize it or not, my family will always be bound by that familiar path.

Passing by the lake at Eufaula, I got a sick pit in my stomach. This wasn't a fun road trip to Papaw's farm.

This was a farewell journey.

I had been suppressing my grief, and I was in denial until it hit me. Something about the combination of the sun setting, seeing the moonlight reflecting on the surface of the lake, and the sound of the music playing on the radio, the sadness overwhelmed me, with a million memories and the swift realization that never again would it be the same sort of trip.

We weren't driving merrily through Oklahoma to visit with family over Thanksgiving supper or chat about the weather. We weren't about to drive up to the farm, and see Papaw sitting in his recliner, petting Shadow, doing a word puzzle, trolling around on the golf cart or dolling out candy from his candy jar.  This wasn't a vacation and my visions of Papaw in his element, loving life, are just memories now.

Papaw had a larger-than life-personality. He had the sort of personality that left you always wanting more, with his quick wit and sharp memory, he always had a funny story or a saying. The kind of story that made everyone who met him, want to sit and listen.

Some of his stories were so outrageous, and ornery, like the one about the time he was speeding towards Missouri on highway 69, in an El Camino and got stopped by a Hi-Po. He had just passed a couple of big rigs and after he got his ticket, the cop took off south, so papa hit the gas and flew past the big rigs again, exclaiming over the CB, 'I stopped back there and got my speeding permit, now I can really fly!", knowing full well that the officer could hear him bragging.

Papaw wasn't afraid to speak his mind. He would tell you what he thought about you, in a very serious-but-joking-but-completely honest sort of way. He never filtered his comments with a fear of hurting your feelings, which taught all of us to have a thicker skin, and believe in what we were doing or saying so that we could back it up. He was a tough guy, and he expected some toughness out of us, no wussies allowed.

Some would probably say 'Doc' was a bit of a legend.

To others, with his giving spirit and his generous heart, he was a hero.

After the tornado, I got a phone call that he and Memaw had a bunch of furniture for my mom's new place just as soon as we got her settled in somewhere, they would load it into a trailer and bring it up for her. Just like that. Just because it was the right thing to do, no matter that he was undergoing chemo treatments for cancer. A 14-hour round trip was all in a day's work.
 Today, at the family viewing....I really wanted to say something to my family. I wanted to give a little speech, encouraging words, and tell my family what I was thinking. From the second that I knew what I was going to say, I started to shake with nerves and I couldn't get up the courage to say what I really wanted to say.

But I would like to share it now.

Papaw is a hero and a legend. And the incredible thing about heroes and legends, is that they live forever. Through our stories, and our memories, we can pass on all the things Papaw taught us about life and about doing the right thing and standing up for what you believe in, no matter what.

My Papaw had an extraordinary personality, lived life to it's fullest and loved his family BIG. I will never forget his laugh, his voice, and his giving heart. His suffering has ended, and he had a good long life. It is with a heavy heart and tremendous sadness that I will join with my family in Texas to honor his memory and his love, and say farewell. Never forgotten, June 9, 1934~October 19, 2011

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