We have been out of town for an unplanned trip to Florida. My grandfather, who we called Pau-Pau passed away after a bad fall that broke his hip. Although he was ninety-six years old, I was not ready for him to die. He played a major role in my life and in the life of my little (or big, depending on your perspective) family.
My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, and my mother moved our family to the town where my grandparents (Gran and Pau-Pau) lived. Being a single mother to four growing children required a lot of help, and Gran and Pau-Pau stepped in and rose to the occasion. Pau-Pau dutifully picked us up from school for orthodontist appointments, attended school functions, and took us out for Sunday lunch at the Sizzler more times than I can count. He spent many hours landscaping my mom's front yard, which still bears the fruit of his labor.
I spent many hours at Gran and Pau-Pau's dining room table pouring out my teen-age and young adult troubles. They were always willing to listen, and gave me very sound advice about boys, college, jobs and countless other decisions I made. To a great extent, Pau-Pau filled in the gap left by my father and he made an enormous impact on my life. He was an instrument of God's grace to me during a very difficult period of my life.
I was the traveler in my family and I spent a lot of time in the car with Gran and Pau-Pau going back and forth the their house in the mountains. They would patiently put up with my musical choices and endless opinionated chatter. The fun thing about talking with Gran and Pau-Pau was that they were quick to share their thoughts as well- there was no trying to guess what they thought because they always had an opinion and always shared it!
Pau-Pau married into our family when I was five. He lost his first wife to illness and my Gran's first husband, (and my mother and aunt's father) died many years earlier, so Pau-Pau was formally our step-grandfather. But there was no mention of 'step' in our family. Although my mother and aunt honor their father's memory, and miss him very much, Pau-Pau always referred to them as his daughters and treated them as well as any natural father would.
My first memory of Pau-Pau was when I was four years old. My mother was expecting my younger brother and there was a large family baby shower being held for her. Pau-Pau was given the task of keeping a very animated four-year-old occupied for the duration of the party. Poor man! I still remember him taking me to Fort Desoto and showing me the conquistador armor.
Pau-Pau was a private man, but when questioned about his life, he would freely tell stories of growing up in Pennsylvania, attending Penn State in the early 1930's, and of his experience working as a botanical genetisist who developed new strands of corn. He was very bright and seemed to know a little about everything and a lot about a lot of things.
When Pau-Pau would get riled up, he would animately wave his hands in the air- which was funny as long as he wasn't riled up at you! He had strong opinions and could get very excited when he expressed them. As I got older, I got a kick out of our lengthy conversations about the happenings in the news and politics- Pau-Paul always had an opinion and as he got warmed up, his arms would start to rise and his hands would start to waive.
When I was younger, I just assumed that when an older person died, the grief was not as deep because death is an expected part of old age. Now that I have lost older people who were very dear to me, I realize that older people are just as much a part of our lives as younger people, so when they die the void is just as real. I will miss Pau-Pau very much this Christmas.
I will also miss him every time an issue of National Geographic comes to my house (he subscribed to them for me a my Christmas gift over the past few years), every time I visit the North Carolina mountains, and every time I visit my hometown which contains so many memories of him sacrificially serving my family.
My oldest son is named after Pau-Pau, who never had any children of his own. I will teach him many lessons I learned from Pau-Pau- about hard work and loving other people, about being a faithful husband and caring father and grandfather.