In one of my earliest memories, I remember “running loops” at my grandparents’ house. I don’t know what we called it back then, but that’s what my boys call it now, so I’ll stick with that name. Their house was one of those floor plans where the kitchen, dining room, den, and foyer were all connected, essentially creating a big circle in which all the grandkids would chase one another. When the whole extended family was together, you could barely run loops without knocking over the Christmas tree or the folding tables set up to accommodate all of us, but we ran loops anyway.
I was probably 4. I remember that everyone was there, the cousins and aunts and uncles, and that there was a ballgame on, but that describes a lot of our family get-togethers, so I have no idea which holiday we were celebrating at the time. But I remember running from the kitchen, rounding the corner into the den, and getting ready to bolt through the space between the couch and the arm of the recliner. But just then, an arm shot out from the brown recliner, barricading my escape route, and I crashed into it at full speed.
I didn’t even have to look up to know who was tickling me. One of the risks of running loops was knowing you had to make it past PawPaw’s Chair, and you never knew when you might make it through and when you might get stopped by The Arm. His arms caught me that time, and probably another 1000 times after that over the years, until one day when all the cousins were too big to run loops anymore. Funny how that happens.
Pawpaw’s Chair is one of those sacred things, an endearing constant in my treasure trove of childhood memories. And the Valentines Day cards I used to get from him every year, still stashed away in a box in my parent’s attic in Mississippi. Or visiting him at the beekeeper booth at the state fair. The vacations he took with us. Taking me and my sisters to pick out a Christmas tree. Seeing him smile proudly at almost every performance, play, awards day, and event I can remember. And all the times he showed up in full bee-keeper regalia to do a science presentation to my elementary school classes on bees and honey. I was always so proud to claim him as mine.
And oh, how he loved his grandkids. And we knew it. He loved Nate too, although it took some time for him to get used to the idea that the 17-year-old out-of-towner who kept showing up on the weekends to see his granddaughter might actually be “the one.” I remember the day he went from being skeptic to supporter. Nate was in town visiting one weekend, and I decided to take him to visit my grandparents church, which I loved. Pawpaw’s car ended up with a flat tire, and Nate happily crawled on the ground in his sunday best to fix it in the blistering Mississippi summer heat. Pawpaw slapped him on the back, shook his hand, and said, “Thank you, son. I’m not sure if I could have gotten back up if I’d had to get down there like that.” Later he told me, grinning, “I guess that boy’s alright.” They were buddies after that. He told me several times in the years since how proud he was that I “picked a good’un.”
But that’s how Pawpaw was. He was interested in and loved the things we loved. He was one of my biggest supporters in missions and one of my biggest fans in life.
My sweet Pawpaw died late on August 23, and I spent much of that night crying on Nate’s shoulder. Nate booked my ticket home, I threw some clothes in a bag, and I hopped on a plane less than 18 hours later. I knew from when we lost my great-grandmother last year that I don’t grieve well from afar. I needed to hug my grandmother. I needed to tell my mom and my aunts that I love them while they grieved the loss of their daddy. I needed to stand with my sisters and cousins and reminisce about our sweet grandfather, remembering together the trips and the nicknames and the love. I was only there for 48 hours before I was back on a Peru-bound plane again, but it was worth it; I needed to say goodbye.
The service was beautiful, and a beautiful, gospel-centered tribute to a godly man.
I miss you already, Pawpaw. I am so thankful that Luís shares the spanish version of your name (Lewis), and that he and his brothers will grow up hearing stories about beach trips, bees, perfectly smoked ham, your secret-recipe seasoning that I have carted all over the world with me, the nicknames that always seemed to stick, the Donald-duck voice, your chair, and running loops at the risk of The Arm.
I love you, and I will see you again.