As I ran down the hill out of control with the throttle stuck on the four-wheeler, all I can remember is yelling for my PawPaw…
I spent every summer of my childhood with my grandparents, helping my grandfather on his dairy farm. Everything I know about trucks and tractors and four-wheelers, I learned from him. I idolized my grandfather for most of my life. As a boy, I followed him everywhere and mimicked his every move even down to the way he smoked his cigars. Today, cigars are one of life’s pleasures that I enjoy most (and it’s all PawPaw’s fault, Mom). It makes me feel close to him and brings back memories of our days spent together on the farm.
Cigars are about the only thing we share when it comes to the way we make a living though. PawPaw was a “man’s man.” He worked with his hands every day of his life. I don’t remember a day when he wasn’t covered in sweat from harvesting crops of pecans and managing his massive crew on the dairy farm (which was one of the largest milk producers in Alabama at the time). I would try day after day to wake up before him, but PawPaw was always out the door before the sun came up. He’d get the farm going and pick me back up in his old blue Ford stepside truck after breakfast to help him the rest of the day.
Everything I know about hard work and the importance of a strong work ethic is a result of watching my grandfather on that farm. With only an 8th grade education, his determination to create a good life for his family always inspired me. I used to tell him that all I wanted to do was drive a tractor and be dairy farmer one day just like him. He always responded, “Son, I don’t want you working with your back. You need to work with your mind.”
Well, years later, I’ve been able to create a career where I don’t work with my hands in the same way my grandfather did. I do get to use my mind instead of my back to make a living for the most part. For 42 years, I’ve had the words of this man I adored so much ringing in my ear. I hope it makes him proud even though he’s clueless about exactly what it is that I do. When I tell him I work in publishing and produce web content, he tells me that I need a “real job” and that Facebook is “of the devil.” J
Over the last few years as I’ve watched this beast of a man’s body become feeble and his mind grow weary, I have become more aware that life is really but a vapor. I’ve watched my grandfather’s steps become stumbles and his biceps, which once carried 100lb bags of grain under each arm, dwindle to little more than skin and bone.
But this past week, I watched my hero walk out his front door with a walker and, with every bit of strength he could muster, begin the 200-yard trek to my house. A little concerned, I walked over and asked where he was headed.
“I want to walk over to your house.”
With me on one side and my grandmother holding him up on the other, I said, “Okay, let’s go.”
Stopping every 20 feet or so to let him catch his breath, I could see that same determination in his face that was there when he used to stare down massive bulls to corral them to the barn.
We slowly made it to my front yard when he asked for the lawn mower. Now, he’s not been on that lawn mower in five or six years, and he’s not walked 200 yards in three of four years. But, on this afternoon, he was reliving his glory days. On this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of the man from my youth who had the determination to outrun the four-wheeler the day the throttle stuck, snatching me to safety just before it crashed into the fence.
I picked him up and settled him onto the mower seat, adjusted the controls in his hands, and said,” Okay, let’s go for a ride.” As he drove back over to his house with my hand on his back to steady him along, I like to think that my hand gave him the same sense of security his has given me for 42 years—the same hand that rescued me from an out-of-control ATV as a boy. Throughout my life, PawPaw’s hand has always been there to help guide me. Now it’s my turn.