Saturday, May 15, 2010
Old Spice and Peppermint Sticks
Tonight Chris and I were talking about how I shouldn't just continue my song list, the soundtrack of my life from earlier in this blog. And although there are many more songs I could list, he's right. I should take it in another direction if I'm going to inspire memories from myself. So I thought about smells, tastes, sounds, etc., and in doing so, I kept finding myself circling my Papa.
The smell of Old Spice is my Papa.
I loved going into the bathroom of their house after he'd showered, because it was warm and smelled heavily of Old Spice and shaving cream. To this day, the smell of Old Spice brings me instantly to tears.
Born in the early 20th Century and leaving us in 1999, Grady Melvin Little gave me a lot in the short nineteen years we shared time on this earth. I loved him dearly, but I wish I had gotten to know him better before he left. I wish I would have had the mind to sit down and ask him every question I've come up with since it stopped being a possibility.
The crunch of soft peppermint sticks is my Papa.
Whenever we visited Grandma and Papa for Christmas there was always a tin of those soft peppermint sticks around. That was the only place I ever saw them, so I believed he made them. I liked sucking them to brittle shells, then crushing them in my mouth, delighted by their willingness to be crushed.
My Papa used to work for the railroad in Alabama, and so for years lived in the type of housing that lines the tracks, out away from town. My mom told me stories of she and my grandmother waving down the train to hop a ride into town. He also served in the US Navy, and gave some years and some fingers for his country, and I'm sure much more.
Fireflies are my Papa, because every summer when we made the twelve hour drive to visit our grandparents, I knew there would be plenty of fireflies to chase and catch at dusk in the yard, and along the edge of the woods behind their pretty, yellow house.
His mother lived to be 102 years old, and he, himself, fought against death when he had a quadruple bypass and was given little chance to live much longer. First they said he'd never wake up, but he did. Then they said he'd never walk again, but he did. And then they said he would wear himself out quickly, but that he did not do. He hung around nine more years, and received the nickname of Lazarus at the hospital where he did all his defying.
My Papa loved baseball, and when I was young, self-conscious and quite sensitive, he told me I favored Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. I believe it was the same day when he made the comment that I was "gettin' big all over." Although my mom later explained that he only meant I was growing up, I took it to mean that between the two declarations he'd made, he'd told me I looked like a fat man. I remember crying over that, but I was never mad at him. My Papa was a very southern man, and had a way of speaking I sometimes couldn't understand, but loved to hear all the same.
The smell of loose tobacco and a freshly blown out match is my Papa.
He used to smoke cigarettes before I can remember, maybe before I was around, but quit those and took up smoking a pipe. When I got a whiff of that sweet smell and heard that familiar strike of a match, I raced into what was usually the kitchen to blow it out. I wasn't trying to blow it out to keep him from smoking, I wanted to blow it out after he'd used it in order to help. I liked seeing him smile.
For a while I was the youngest grandchild, and so he called me Grandbaby. I loved that, and so when my mother's younger sister had a baby, Brandon, I was concerned I'd lose my title. I didn't. Papa continued to call me his Grandbaby, even when it was no longer entirely true, and it always made me feel special to him. If memory serves me, while I was en route from Florida racing his clock to make it to his ICU room in Alabama in time to say goodbye, he asked where I was. His Grandbaby. I didn't make it in time, and was gutted because of it, but when my mom told me he'd asked about me, that he thought of me before he slipped away from us, it somehow soothed the pain of that goodbye. Because he knew how much I loved him, and he thought of me.
The moon is my Papa.
In the sixth grade my best friend and I decided to name the moon. We named him Melvin, and although Lizz and I are no longer close, and sometimes tripping over memories from our friendship makes me a little sad, Melvin will always remain a reason to smile. I don't recall knowing Melvin was Papa's middle name, but how interesting that that was the name I brought to the table, the name we chose. These days looking up at night and seeing the bright moon makes me think of Papa, too, and I like that. I'd like to think he's not far from where I'm looking then, and thinking of me, too.
I wonder if he knew how many things he was to me.