Papa

My grandfather, Bill Perkins (my last living grandparent), passed away just before 9 o’clock this morning. He was 84 years old. He had been hospitalized for several days, and his kidneys were basically poisoning him. He had become totally non-responsive. A brain scan last week showed no activity, and the decision was made to remove all life support. What was supposed to be about a half-hour of remaining life was somehow, inexplicably drawn out over several days as we waited for him take his last breath. And then, this morning, with no fanfare, pain, or suffering, he simply stopped breathing.

I have seen several friends this past year post blogs following the deaths of their loved ones describing the strong bonds they shared with them. It has been truly heartwarming to read of the strength of character these people possessed, how they touched the lives of those around them, and how they will be remembered in only the most positive light.

Alas, this will not be one of those blogs.

We grandchildren all called my grandfather “Papa,” although I’m still not sure where that name came from. I only heard my mom and her brother and sister call him “Daddy” for as long as I can remember. It would not surprise me at all to learn it was a name he gave to himself at some point. Regardless of where it came from, it fit.

My grandfather was generous to a fault. Want to know how I, at one time in my youth, owned nearly every “Star Wars” action figure ever made? Overnight trips to Papa and Granny’s house in Mayfield. If I wasn’t getting some kind of toy, I was usually coming home with a pocket full of change or a few dollars in cash.

I was the only grandchild for seven years before my brother and three more cousins came along. I thought he was doing it just for me; turns out, he was that way with everyone. In fact, later on in his life, he would incur large amounts of debt giving away nearly every penny he had to people who didn’t deserve it, weren’t grateful for it, and damn sure never paid it back. He was taken advantage of, but he also never complained about it. He just kept finding a way to come up with more to give away, even if it was to his own detriment.

Much of the kidney problems Papa had later in his life were the result of numerous years of heavy drinking. There’s a funny story about me as a kid accompanying him into Party Mart in Paducah. He would go in to buy bottles of liquor, but he would always let me come in with him and get a Coke. I thought for years that Party Mart was just a place where you could buy drinks like Cokes and Pepsis. Of course, I also used to think a bank in Mayfield was a bubble gum factory because I got a piece of gum there once. I either had a very vivid imagination or I was a very stupid kid.

Many people in today’s PC world would look down on my grandfather because he smoked cigars and, later on, chewed tobacco. I’d like to be able to show people not only the physical but also the emotional damage caused by his drinking and ask them if banning tobacco everywhere on Earth while selling Jack Daniels without hesitation to alcoholics is really the most humane thing we can do for people today.

My grandmother (Granny) lived much longer than doctors said she should have as well, fighting a lengthy bout with cancer. Papa was her primary caregiver in the years before she died. I admired him for that. After she died, he began dating and going to dances at the American Legion building, something I don’t ever remember him doing with my grandmother. I did not admire him for that.

It was no secret that my grandfather wanted to see more of my children outside of just holiday gatherings. The reason it was not a secret is because he would go on ad nauseum about this desire every time we would see him. There were few ailments, prejudices, or perceived slights my grandfather had that we didn’t know about. He cursed freely, whether children were in the room or not. He still used words like “nigger” when talking about black people he used to work with. He has repeatedly told my mother that my dad – who has reduced mental capacity because of a stroke he suffered a few years ago – was perfectly fine and healthy and able to understand everything he said to him.

My children did not see much of my grandfather outside of the holidays.

If all this seems like I am trying to smear the memory of my grandfather or say that I didn’t love him, I can assuredly say that I am not and I most certainly did. The lack of his presence will leave a gaping hole in the lives of every member of my family. As I said at the beginning of this post, he was my last living grandparent. He was my Papa.

And as I think about my time with him and look back over everything I’ve written here, I see more of him in myself than I’d like to admit. I’m not an alcoholic, but I have addictions I can’t seem to shake. I give people the benefit of the doubt too much. My feelings bruise very easily. The only real difference is that I try to hide all of these features under a facade I think everyone would rather see. Papa had no such disguise. He was what he was, and everyone around him was going to know it.

I was very surprised in the weeks leading up to Papa’s death to hear my mother tell me every time she would go to visit him he would be watching Gaither Homecoming concerts on television. I remember him singing hymns when I was little, but I guess the years that ensued sort of washed that memory away. It made me remember that as bad as things may seem on the outside, the love of Christ still has the ability to grip us on the inside and never let us go, no matter how our behavior might try and shake him loose.

Of course, Papa never like Guy Penrod much. I think he called him a “long-haired hippy.”

Rest in peace, Papa. I’m sure Heaven is a much livelier place tonight…

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