My grandpa passed away while I was in college. I still vividly remember my dad’s shaky voice when he called to tell me, unable to get the sentence out. It’s the first time I’d ever heard him cry.
I’d just visited my grandpa the week or so before and it was one of, if not THE only time I’d been able to see him alone. He had seven children with my grandmother and I’m the youngest of the first cousins by 5 years, the oldest being 13/14 years older than I am… so I often thought of myself as the tag-a-long grandchild. You wouldn’t think a man with so much to do and so many people to think about would have the energy, there couldn’t be new jokes or interests… if you’ve seen one kid fall off the swing, you’ve seen them all. But that wasn’t him, that wasn’t how my grandparents were and all of my memories from childhood are wrapped up in and rooted with them. I can still smell their house, I can still feel the sun on my skin and how it just felt differently there than at home.
Watching Paw Paw tend his chickens and feed the sheep, and giggling at how they would reach up and nibble at the fig tree that hung half into their fence are some of my fondest memories. He never said “not now” when I asked to help him. He was never too tired to show me how to carefully hold the bottle to feed the babies. He played The Wheel of Fortune ridiculously loud and loved putting spirits in his morning coffee. He used to smoke cigars but stopped when he learned it made my grandmother sick. They wrote love notes to one another until they died… don’t we all want such a simple but full love like that after seven kids?
These are things I knew, things I hold onto still and play over in my mind regularly to be sure I never forget how special he was to me and what a presence he was to anyone he met. These are things I admire so much that it hurts. His accomplishments are beautiful and inspiring and he, unfortunately, missed out on so many of mine.
The irony of us moving to Lafayette was not lost. I’d spent most of my life driving to and from just to be involved in my family’s lives and to just be present for my grandparents who did not travel much in their later life. But, when I finally felt like I had a life, a story worth sharing with HIM… he was gone. So, much of my life now, is spent doing things in hopes that whatever recliner he’s lounging on in Heaven, he sometimes turns the channel to see what I’m up to.
I started seeing ladybugs once I’d gotten in the thick of writing my first novel We All Fall Down. I don’t know why I immediately thought of him and it may be completely manufactured in my mind, but I imagined they were from him. It had gotten to a point that I’d see them so much and in the most random places I was convinced he was sending me little messages of love and support from… elsewhere.
Moving back to Houston was jarring, if you hadn’t noticed. Luckily, in the last week or two, I’ve felt so at peace and at HOME here. I’m well into my next novel, the weather is amazing and allowing us a lot of outdoor playtime and aside from a little missing of Louisiana friends, the kids are adjusting so well. I really could not be happier with how things are progressing.
Relieved to say the least.
Today, we spent the morning and afternoon eating at one of my favorite places and going to the Children’s Museum and Discovery Green with our friends and had a blast! We got home and while I was getting dinner ready, I just got an itch to go look at this tree in our backyard. We’d tried to look up what it was, Chris thinking some kind of Oak… but the leaves are just bursting each day that it’s almost comical! This thing is READY!
So, I posted a photo on my Instagram story saying how I had no idea what the hell it was, but it was sprouting like crazy! And a friend from college mentioned it might be a fig, joking that Italian people all have fig trees!
(Learn something new everyday!) But little did she know, that this fig tree was just another little piece to the puzzle that completed this process for me.
Since my Paw Paw passed, I make a fig cake every year with preserves from my aunt’s friend’s store. I like to do things to keep my grandparents memory strong and I like to share these things with my own children. My grandparents didn’t have much and I can’t remember one gift (if any) I was given from them… but I can still picture the face he makes when he laughed and I can still hear the hollow sound the floor made in front of their one bathroom. I can hear the hum of the window unit during summertime and the BAAAA!!!!! of the sheep outside our room every morning. I remember the grocery trip he asked me to take him on alone, telling me a story along the way and buying just one beer after introducing me to everyone he knew as we strolled the aisles. I remember getting him a CD with big band music he’d told me about and how he closed his eyes to recall his own youth and shared a memory of a double date with his brother. I could almost see that young man in front of me as he spoke. I remember driving up when I heard he’d passed and the second I entered the house, it was different already.
I played the CD and sat and listened to it until it finished and I cried right there in the dimly lit kitchen, that tiny house that was once filled with so many people was empty and suddenly felt massive… I missed him already.
And I remember the nibbled figs.