My father figure was my grandfather (Papaw), my mom’s dad. He seldom spoke and was hardly idle. Born in 1918, he grew up through the depression era and in a segregated South. A WWII veteran with medals; actually behind enemy lines as part of his actions. He helped raise children not his own alongside his own, went to church every Sunday and worked hard all his life. He helped people and was loved by his siblings, children and grandchildren alike.
I think that I spent more time with my grandparents than any of the other grandchildren, and I know I spent more time with my Papaw than I did my own father. It was a place of refuge, as time at home with anyone but my mom was uncomfortable at best. I respected him and loved him because he earned and deserved that.
He knew all you needed to in the country. Planting and tending to gardens. The processing and preserving of foods. Mechanical maintenance, home repair, and surely more than I am aware of. You could learn from him just by observing, and you wanted to earn his approval.
On September 12, 1986, two days before my 14th birthday, I had been riding my dirt bike like most every day I stayed down with my Mamaw and Papaw. It was time to head back and far out I cut across a creek I usually didn’t. The bike got water in it and shut down on me, so I walked home.
Papaw didn’t hear the bike when I got back so asked where it was. I said it shut down but since it was getting dark out I would go back the next day to get it. He just said ‘get in the truck and let’s get it.’ I tried to get him to wait, but with him you just went to it.
We drove way out to a place close and he told me to push it around to a different place where he would come around to pick me up. I got there and waited a bit, but he never came. I walked back around to where we had driven to, but he wasn’t to be seen or heard where the truck was. I hollered and hit the horn, but could not get an answer. It was a fair distance home, but I ran and ran all the way.
When I came up in the yard I saw my Mamaw standing in the doorway looking for us as it was almost full dark out. She opened the door and asked what happened as I was running around the house to get the tractor because it had lights and it was rough country back there.
Mamaw called a neighbour to drive his 4x4 back with me to cover more space and have more light.
I went back to where the truck was and made noise and drove all the roads back in there. This was just private farmland with connecting dirt paths really. No people and far from anything. Hundreds of acres of darkness. Many more people showed up to search, including cousins and my uncle.
Someone found him lying maybe 25 feet from the truck in high weeds and grass. They must have had to have walked right over him to have even seen him.
I was told that he had a massive heart attack and died instantly. I didn’t see him and was told that he was found and followed so many other vehicles out in a slow procession. I don’t really recall anyone speaking to me, but I remember the faces looking at me.
My mom and everyone were already there or showed up shortly to console one another and try to sort out what happened. I remember their faces looking at me.
My sibling did not interact with me much growing up. He was called home from the army base in Panama for the funeral. For some reason I felt he would be mad so when he was due I stood outside alone in the dark waiting on him. I wanted to tell him I was sorry for causing this. When he did pull up he just got out and walked past me, never saying a word. To this day he has never said a thing one way or the other.
I remember standing beside my mom at the casket in the funeral home. She was telling me how he loved me as we looked at him together. I left a ring I had with him to be buried together.
They buried him on an off day so it wouldn’t be on my birthday.
I was once told that the two grave plots for my Papaw and Mamaw were chosen by me. I had been taken out there as a toddler and left to toddle until I fell. Where I first fell was where they chose to be buried.
For years after I would go out day and late night to sit or lie down beside him to say I was sorry and I miss him, how lost I am.
Before my Mamaw remarried and moved away I asked her to promise me that she too would be laid beside him. She did and was reunited with him since I have been here, still lost.
No-one has ever said that what happened was my fault, but no one can say it wasn’t because of me. When he left, our family fell away from each other. Nothing we did was remotely the same after this.
None of them have anything more than the most basic perfunctory hello for me, and that is through my mom. My behaviour since that night is a big reason why. Even reaching out to show them all that the person that put me here lied hasn’t been enough.
I want them all to know that I am sorry, that I suffer because of that night, and that even though they don’t blame me I still punish myself for it.
No sympathy or redemption is expected because I don’t deserve it. I hope you all can one day believe that I wish I could have been better to you and for you. I love and miss the family dearly. I remember all your faces.
Papaw dying was my first conscious trauma. They convinced my Mamaw to get up at trial to tell this story because they knew I wouldn’t hold up under that. I broke there hearing her apologise before she recounted it. I remember faces, jury and audience alike, looking at me.
People say that who I am needs to be known. I am not sure of that, but then I am not a good judge of that.
In here I don’t have their faces looking at me.