My Papa was a great man. He was certainly a hero of mine. Papa was resilient both in mind and body. He was stubborn and strong-willed and it served him well. He was known as "Red" most all of his life due to the red hair that he carried up until the day he died. Growing up, I was always "Skeet" or "Skeeter Man." As a kid, some of my first memories took place in the house pictured in the above photo. My family lived with Papa and Ma Ma when I was just a few years old. Papa and I were inseparable. He had a way of loving you and reassuring you like no one else could. As the years went by and I grew up, Papa got where he tried not to call me "Skeet" in public because he said I was a grown man. When I found out, I quickly let him know that I would always be "Skeet" and "Skeeter Man" to him and that it would never change.
Growing up with Papa produced quiet a few memories as well as the many times my sister and I would spend the night with him as kids. As a toddler, you might would say I learned to be potty trained at Papa's house. The unfortunate thing is that as a toddler, I for some reason thought the space under the dining room table was the potty. Papa would notice things had got quiet and he would start looking for me. When he couldn't find me, he'd yell out, "Oh no man!" Then he'd make his way to the dining room where I would politely be sitting under the table having done "my duty."
Of course, I won't forget, and neither did Papa mind you, about killing Papa's peach tree in his backyard. I'm not sure where I came up with the idea of rice pudding, but apparently it does exist. However, I'm sure no one made it quite like me. On one unknown day in particular, I decided to make Papa a special surprise to show him how much I loved him. So I took an old cooking pan and went outside to begin my fabulous creation. My version of rice pudding included filling a pan with dirt and then going and picking as many peaches off Papa's trees as possible. I'd lay them on the dirt and then come and proudly present my version of rice pudding to Papa for his pleasure. I guess I enjoyed making that rice pudding because I kept picking off those peaches until the tree stopped making them altogether. No more rice pudding for Papa . . . I don't think the tree ever started producing again to this day. My Mama told me last night as we stood there looking at Papa in the hospital room that just a few days before he died, he was telling her about how he loved and remembered those days that, "Skeeter man would make me rice pudding . . ."
When we stayed with Papa, we always had to go to the grocery store. He didn't keep enough junk . . . I mean, food, at the house for kids. So when it was time to spend the night, we'd all load up in his truck and head to the grocery store. The usual receipt would include all things nutritious . . . well maybe not nutritious, but definitely good! We'd get Oreo's and Chips Ahoy cookies along with potato chips, Doritos, and chocolate candy. Sometimes gummy worms and gummy bears made the buggy along with Reese's Cups and M&M's. We'd get so much food it would take my sister and I a week to eat it all and we were only staying one night. It may not have been healthy, but I believe Papa enjoyed going. We'd keep piling the junk in the buggy and he'd keep saying, as only he could, "Whoooa man. You can't eat all that." Then he'd just laugh and we'd move on to the next aisle of treasures.
Papa was a talented man. He excelled at whatever he attempted. He was a logger and he dabbled in some guitar playing in his younger days. He also sold insurance for awhile. He wasn't always such a lovable, godly man though. Meeting Hilda Grace Dickens changed that though. Their love story led Papa to church where he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and he served him from that day forward. I loved hearing the stories of how the Spirit would fall on Papa in his younger days. If it did, he just might make a few laps around the church before you could blink. He fell in love with Jesus and he held onto his faith. When a tree fell on him and broke about every bone in his body and damaged organs, he kept going strong. Through multiple heart attacks and heart problems, he kept going strong. He suffered a stroke just a few months back and even though he wasn't supposed to drive, Papa meant he was going to be able to drive at least one more time. With my Mama in his truck with him, he was able to drive to the pharmacy and back on Tuesday. The way Mama described him, he was like a kid at Christmas. His life was full of beautiful moments and painful tragedy. His beautiful wife who I knew as Ma Ma passed away some 27 years ago when I was four years old. I know he loved her dearly and missed her so much as he would talk about her from time to time when I would sit in the living room with him in the middle of the day as a kid and even as an adult.
Papa always stayed involved in our lives. During my childhood years, he would make that Saturday drive over to our house to see us even at times when it was obvious he wasn't feeling well. I enjoyed the summer months, because with us out of school, Papa might just come see us at anytime. And usually when he came we'd talk about some usual subjects. We would talk about how good or bad the Braves were doing. We'd try and figure out if the Falcons were ever going to get it together. He'd talk about the nurses and other ladies who flirted with him . . . (Papa was a charmer!) We'd talk about the Lord and he would tell us about the latest sermon he heard on TV. His health did prevent him from being in church as much as he would want to in his later years, but he made sure he had church by watching preaching on TV. I remember hearing him talk many times about John Hagee. He liked to hear what you might would call "in your face" preaching. He'd often joke that he didn't know how Bro. Hagee kept a congregation as straight forward as he was, but Papa liked it and obviously Bro. Hagee's church in San Antonio has done just fine. Papa liked preaching that told the truth. He was a very honest and straight forward man and he would do what he felt was right no matter what anyone else thought. I'd like to think I have that in me. I remember when Papa found out I was called to preach. He told he always knew I'd do something special for the Lord and upon taking the church in Perry he'd ask about me and the church whenever we talked. The hard part of moving off for ministry is that you realize just how many moments you missed with the ones you love the most and it always did me good for my Mama to tell me Papa was asking about me.
I guess I could write on and on about this great man that I love some deeply. I always knew this day would come obviously, but I wasn't prepared to hear those words on that Saturday evening around 10:30 PM. Papa seemed like he was invincible at times. Nothing could knock him down. And yet I knew, one day, whether it was a heart attack, a stroke, or some other ailment, something would eventually take place and finally mark the end of his life on this earth and set him free to be with Jesus and Ma Ma and all those who went on before. I know he wouldn't come back for nothing in this world. His vision is perfect today. His body has been made whole. He's able to run and leap and jump all over heaven. The streets of gold are a little bit brighter today with him there. I know he probably ran for Jesus first. He loved the Lord with his whole heart. I wouldn't be surprised if his second find however was Ma Ma and the rest of his family afterwards. Life won't be the same anymore. This Christmas will be bitter sweet because the tradition will now be broken. Every year as long as I can remember, we have always gathered at Papa's house for Christmas Eve dinner. Who knew that this last Christmas would be the last time we would all be together again . . . I'm thankful that my Rylee Bug got to meet her great grandfather, "Papa Red." I only wish she could have known him like I did. I wish everyone could have known him like I did. I'm a better man for having him in my life and as I type, I find myself conflicted. I hope my life will continue to make him proud and that I can be half the man he was. And yet I feel as if my heart has been ripped out of my chest and smashed into 30 million pieces. I know time heals all things and I know I will see Papa again soon and in that I'll hold strong.
Paul said in Hebrews that we have a great cloud of witnesses watching us and cheering us on as we run this race for Christ and do battle for the right. Heaven gained another witness and I only hope that I keep a smile on his face as I know he watches over me and my whole family.
Papa, I love you more than I could ever say. Things will never be the same and there's a void in my heart that will never be completely filled until I see you again. You are my inspiration and a rock of strength for me. The example you set for all of us in how to walk upright before the Lord and treat your fellow man has influenced me and touched more people than probably any of us will ever know. You stood for truth and you never let life, circumstances, or hardships deter you from doing what you believed was right. You were a prince among paupers and a saint among sinners. You were a bright spot in a dark world and a light for Christ to your family and all you came in contact with. I miss you so much and I don't even want to think about the reality that I can't come and see you or talk to you anytime I get ready. It hurts so bad, but I know you're more alive today than you ever have been. I love you Papa. You'll never be forgotten and I'll do my best to make you proud and cause your memory and character to live on in my life everyday.
I'll see you soon. Tell Ma Ma I love her and tell Jesus thanks for letting me have you in my life . . .