A week or so ago, I decided to try out a new toothpaste just before bed. As I opened the cap, a somewhat familiar scent came rolling out of the tube. I didn’t think much about it until I pressed my toothbrush onto my tongue. The vivid taste of that toothpaste made past memories rush through my mind. And all at once, it hit me! The smell wasn’t so unfamiliar anymore. All of a sudden, I could see myself sneaking my Papaw’s breath mints off of his coffee table. I smirked as I remembered how he would let me pop more than one out of the roll before he acted like he noticed! I would swish the mints around in my mouth and savor the taste as we watched Sanford and Son, The Adam’s Family, and the Braves together.
You see, most days the big yellow bus dropped me off at his house when I was in elementary school. And, until I tasted that toothpaste just a few nights ago, I didn’t realize how much I still miss him. I miss him calling me Bubba and singing “Oh My Darling” over and over again. He passed away when I was just 22 years old. It was almost a year after my wedding, and his death was the first painful event in my adult life. I rejoiced that he was no longer suffering, but I wanted to spend more time with him.
Instead of letting wonderful memories heal my hurt the past ten years, I added to the pain by getting hung up on things that don’t really matter. I have been selfish. Over the last decade, I now know that I wasted so much time focusing on the few things that I thought he should have done for me while he was still here. I have focused on him not coming to my wedding. I have focused on him not rescuing me when my washer was flooding my laundry room floor. I have focused on him not calling to check on me like I thought he should. I have focused on the fact that I wanted him to quit smoking, but he wouldn’t. I have focused on how I never got to hear him tell me that he loved me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love him while he was here. Because I did. I made sure he knew that I loved him not long after I found out he had lung cancer. I wanted him to hear me say that I loved him before he was gone. The two times that I told him he couldn’t say it back. The second time I told him, right before his surgery, I reassured myself that it was okay that he hadn’t bounced those three words back. I just wanted him to know that I loved him. I went further by showing him that he was special when I bought him an angel coin while he was recovering in the hospital. It hung above his bed and was placed in my hand the day he went to heaven. He entered the pearly white gates from his hospital bed.
I cried like a baby the night he died. I cried like a baby several days after. I cried like a baby when more angel coins fell from heaven and landed at his back door. I even took flowers to his grave not long after. I promised to remember him when I named my future children. But, then I did what I always seem to do. I became numb. I became numb to what it was like when he was here. I became numb to the childhood memories that we had shared. That is until I tasted that toothpaste, and I was forced to see him again!
I went to bed that night with a new outlook of my memories of him. Since that night, I have let the memories take over my thoughts. And suddenly, I no longer focus on the few negative thoughts that I had created in my mind. Can you forgive someone after they are already in heaven? I am living proof that you can! But, this past week has taught me that after all these years, maybe he didn’t even need to be forgiven.
The truth about my Papaw has come to life this week as I have remembered how he loved to eat a slice of apple butter bread with milk splattered over it. (So do I!) I have been able to see him in his trucker’s cap and big round sunglasses trying to teach me how to mow the lawn with that silver Sears mower. I have vividly seen him smiling as he shook his head because I failed miserably! (At the tender age of 10 years old, I was not cut out to be a lawnmower driver.) So, I have once again felt the rake enter my hand as he put me to work raking apples instead. Since the negative is gone, I have allowed myself to breathe in the sweet smell of those overly ripe apples! How I wish I could smell those same apples again. I have stretched out the mirror so he could clean the chimney. A task that I haven’t minded reliving because I got to spend time with him again.
Since I have let all of the negative go, I have once again felt the pounding in my nose as my sister whacked me with a tennis racket one hot summer day while he was watching us many years ago. And, I can still see his face as screaming sisters came running at him. He just shook his head, made sure I was going to live, and let us go about our way. He did not fuss nor yell that day. He chose to love us just the way we were! He loved us in the good times and bad. Yes! He loved us in the good times and bad.
This week has taught me that his love shone through every day that he was with us. Now I know how much he loved me even though he never spoke those three words that I expected to hear so often. He showed me that he loved me every time he dropped by and picked me up from school so I wouldn’t get sick on the bus. He showed me that he loved me when he let me make huge bird nests out of all the grass that he had just raked. He showed me that he loved me when he would skip one of his favorite shows so I could watch Saved By the Bell. He showed me that he loved me when he listened to every word as I complained about how some people could be so rude when I worked at that grocery store in college. He showed me that he loved me by listening and not saying much at all! I don’t think he ever uttered a rude word to me. Can my children say the same thing about me? My husband? My sister? My family? My friends? Unfortunately, no!
By embracing his love this week and digging deeper into the person he really was, I have also realized that he not only loved me but he also taught me so many life lessons! Why has it taken me so many years to realize this? He has taught me that it is not strange if you only go to Walmart when you actually need something. He has taught me that the older the truck the better. He has taught me that home cooked meals are what it is all about. He has taught me that blue socks match whatever you are wearing. He has taught me that there is no place like home and family is all that matters. And, as I watched the water rushing from that old washer one more time this week, he has taught me that I don’t always have to have a knight in shining armor! Over thirteen years ago, he was trying to teach me that it is okay to learn to do things on my own.
This week I have learned that my Papaw didn’t need to be changed. I was the one who needed to remember how I once loved him for who he was. I needed to love him like I did before he went to see Jesus. I was the one who needed to learn that life is not always about me. I have realized that my Papaw was perfect just the way he was, and he had enough love to go around. Just because he didn’t say those three words like I wished he would have, it doesn’t mean that his love wasn’t there. It was! I am so glad that my heart is now healed. I am so glad that I can feel his love again. It feels good to be able to smile as I see him looking down from heaven. It will be just a little time until we meet again. I know he has a special room for my family in his mansion! And, I know it will be a celebration like no other when my little girl gets to meet the one I named her after.
Proverbs 25:11 – A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.