4/20/17

Strange Creatures

My PawPaw is the white haired boy on the far right, sitting on the railing next to the post.

Stumbling a little, he was trying to walk to the house, my dad and uncle Dwight on either side ready to catch him if needed.

Kim's voice broke as she put her arm around my waist, "We're really gonna lose him aren't we?" And she began to cry. Putting my arm around her shoulder, I led us off from the crowd.

My dad's brother, his only sibling, my cousins, my siblings, parents, and grandparents were all gathered at an old country home that had been owned at one time by my grandfather's family. Because it was on land originally belonging to the Cherokee before they were forced out during the Trail of Tears in 1838 and 1839, the house had been restored in the 50's and made a part of a historical site, called New Echota, for the Cherokee. There's a picture from 1928 with my grandfather's family all gathered around the front porch of that house.

And the reason we were back now, in the fall of 2008, was because my grandfather was going to die. Recreating that picture from 1928 with all of us before my grandfather was gone was important to my grandmother.

His lifetime was spent in the sun, breaking his back as a poor southern boy, a young WWII infantryman, and a farmer until the day he could no longer climb into a tractor. Though an intelligent man, he lacked the desire to wear the chains of a 9-5. And so, built a life with his blood, sweat, and tears.

Dad had barely been able to get the words out of his mouth, "Your PawPaw's got skin cancer. Its gone too deep this time to do anything about. Doctor said he's got six months to a year left," before I was attacking him.

"How could you not make him go to the doctor?" I cried.

My grandmother tried interjecting, "Baby, we tried."

With his face red and his nose flared my dad fired back, "You try makin your PawPaw do somethin he doesn't want to!"

"He was tired of being cut on." My grandmother said, as if that should explain why the man outside feeding the cows was going to die.

I'd been so angry. So angry that no one had dragged that stubborn man to the doctor, kicking and screaming. I didn't care what he'd wanted.

But my grandmother didn't want to lose her husband of 62 years. Neither did my dad want to lose the man that'd raised him. They'd done all that they could.

Strange creatures, us humans. Lashing out in pain and inflicting pain, like it solves anything.

My grandfather was already struggling, a slacked face on one side, a hole forming in front of his left ear where they'd done radiation. It had taken away his ability to taste and he'd cursed the whole damned process, and was growing weaker everyday.

And as I watched him being helped by my dad and uncle, stumbling from the golf cart that had driven him out here to the house; that's when I realized it was over. The stable, unchanging foundation I'd found in my grandparents was crumbling. Because people die. Even when we don't want them to. And no matter how hard we fight it, we can't avoid change forever. This is life, not some storybook where everything turns out okay by the last chapter. Sometimes in life, the ending sucks.

My family posed for that picture. And it and the original picture from 1928 were framed in huge frames and gifted to my grandfather, his last Christmas present.

You should've seen his lopsided smile.

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