I now have three men's short sleeved work shirts in my possession. One is blush pink with a white stripe and pearl buttons. One is salmon pink with a turquoise stripe, two front pockets, and a coffee stain on the left side. One is blue and white striped, with stains on the front and a hole in the shoulder.
Until today, these were my papaw's shirts. They always hung on wire hangers in the back room near the washer, rarely ever hung up in a closet and put away in a drawer, because they were always being worn & washed. Worn & washed again. When he wore them, either buttoned up properly, or all the way unbuttoned and tied in a knot at the belly, I always made sure to tell him how handsome he looked. Even tanner and more breathtakingly blue-eyed than usual! If you knew him, you know those eyes I'm talking about.
I guess now, they are my shirts. It's been 23 days without Bruce Harris on this earth, and I am at a loss as to what to do without that little man. I can see him now, strutting around the corner at the carport at his house, loafers crunching on the gravel, dark jeans rolled up, shirt unbuttoned, hair slicked back (he was a greaser until the day he died), cigarette hanging out of his mouth, whistling a little tune.
I have lost three of my four grandparents in just under five years. I haven't yet figured out how to face the rest of life without them.
“It happened so fast,” my college roommate, Mary, told me the other weekend, “I remember when we started college, I was so jealous of you for having four adorable grandparents that were all so close by!” I guess now, I'm jealous of college freshman me, too.
They were my people, my every day cheerleaders, confidantes, and supporters who had just as much of a hand in raising me as my parents did. They were on hand for after school pick-ups, Friday night sleepovers, and Saturday morning cartoons. Just a few minutes up or down the road, always ready and willing for a trip to town, a shared meal, a game of pretend, or just a great big hug.
Lester, my big Papaw Bear, with his imposing stature, and round belly that would enter a room before he did. He loved dead deer, his family, and good food more than anything in this world. Garden vegetables were always fresh, hunting trips were always the biggest deal, road atlases were the best reading material, trips were meant to be taken and enjoyed, and every meal was ended with “a little something sweet to taper off with.” I can hear his big belly laugh still five years later, if I think hard enough.
Mary Jo, my beautiful little Nanny. What I would give for one more plate of biscuits & gravy and one more honeybun cake. I didn't have time to get ready for her to leave me, maybe that's why it was so hard. From this woman I learned that style is all about wearing what makes you happy, and that you will never, ever go wrong with pink lipstick, a red leather handbag, and a floral print. I hope she smiles knowing that most of my outfit compliments come when I am wearing something of hers. One of my favorite pastimes was begging her to take her teeth out to talk or tell me a story. I would laugh like a fool. Or pinching up the skin on the back of her hands into ridges and watching it slowly flatten out while we would sit, and talk and she would play with my hair. To me, she will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.
Bruce, I still can't even believe you're gone, my sweet, sweet little Pappie. What a tremendous man you were. I miss your sweet little chuckle and your great big hugs. You were the best, hardest working man I'll ever know. This world is sadder and dimmer without you in it. I hope Nanny and Papaw Bear are at least giving you a little peace up there in heaven. I hope you're glad to be back with your Momma, I know you've missed her for a long time. And I really hope they have coffee, vienna sausages, and circus peanuts for you to snack on.
Grief is hard. It isn't steady, it isn't relenting, and it will sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Here lately, I am feeling unmoored without them. I am minus my anchors. I am missing those three places to come home to. It's like I am less and less of myself the longer they aren't here, because they were so much a part of me.
And I'm far from the only one that feels the loss of them. They were pillars of their community. Good, salt of the earth people who loved and were loved well.
But, oh, what a joy they were. A pure, marvelous joy. They truly were the brightest spots in my life, they were my best friends. It is easy to take comfort in knowing that as long as I am living, they are too.
I have in me Lester's voracious need to tell a good story and get a good laugh. I try to be more steady like him. He lived for the “in between” days because he was wise enough to know they made just as much, if not more, of an impact than the big ones. I'm trying my best to be like him.
I have Mary Jo's face. Or at least that's what everyone tells me, and oh, what a compliment that is.
Bruce, sometimes I think I am not very much like you. I am not calm, unassuming, quiet, or often kind, and I get upset much too easily. But if your life has taught me anything, it is the utmost importance of simply being a good human being. That's what people will remember when you're gone. Nothing else much matters. So, a good human being I will try to be.
Oh, what a grand time we had. I will always be wishing I could go back, always thanking God that the three of you were mine, and always carrying your hearts in my heart for as long as it beats.
Thanks for the shirts, little Pappie. I'll probably wear one tomorrow. All three of them have two front pockets, because I know one-pocket ones were useless to you. As you would say, “how in the world are you supposed to fit a pair of glasses and a pack of cigarettes in one little ole shirt pocket?!”