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For Pa...

A story for a man that I didn't get to say goodbye to.

It had snowed that morning or maybe late the night before and I was riding shotgun, the closer we got the more I began to fidget in my nervousness. I wanted to make a good impression with the folks that would be my new family, and my guy had already mentioned there were a lot of them. Like a LOT, as he emphasized “lot” by making big eyes with a nod. He was teasing and also preparing me for the crowd.

All year I had heard fond stories about memorable moments or the cravings of a favorite dish that would only be available at this very occasion. I'm not too good at hiding my anxiety and I believe he was sensing this as he reminded me to not worry, he wouldn’t remember everyone’s name and some he had only met once or twice, maybe years ago, if that.

Prickly cacti orange bloom
Prickly cacti orange bloom

I appreciated his ability to throw encouragement to me and with a wink, his eyes were back on the road, even if his mind was still on the breakfast spread that was awaiting us. We made it to the Grands, parked and headed up to the house as we heard a kiddo holler our names in excitement. We located the origin of the sound, but before we knew exactly whose voice it was, we had to dodge snowballs that were already on their way to us. Not only had the young man gotten the drop on us, but he was standing on top of a suburban, in cowboy boots! Before we had a chance to return fire, a “Grandpa” voice called our attention away, abruptly and authoritatively, it boomed from the front door.

He had seen our shenanigans and suggested the young man think twice about standing atop someone’s vehicle, and didn’t have to mention an alternative, but it landed as if he had. The young one didn’t bother climbing down, rather jumped before Pa even finished his sentence, landing in the fresh soft snow, and just as quickly he was on to his next adventure. I smile thinking about it again, even years later.

With the distance between us closing in, I noticed that he was more amused than irritated and may have even chuckled at the kiddos orneriness. Although he was a man with a presence about him, which did not go unnoticed, I know the the first thing I saw were his brilliant blue eyes. The voice that called us to attention was that sorta serious but with the undertone of just teasin' that tends to be a southern "grandpa" kind of thing. Have no doubt that experience and grit was there too and more of that could come forward if it was called for. The menfolk hugged and I observed the generations of love embrace each other and give genuine welcomes.

Then it was my turn to be introduced to Pa. The bar to measure up a grandfather was pretty high because of the two I had in my life already. One of which I may have associated John Wayne a little too much, but as a kiddo, that's how I saw him. As I stood there shaking Pa’s hand, I felt like I was standing there with my grandpa once again.

His dazzling blue eyes smiled at me and mirrored his welcoming grin, as he greeted me with sincerity. I was taken back for a moment because this was an element I had not factored in, the likeness. In a moment I felt like I was standing in front of my long passed, but never far from my heart Grandfather. I’m sure I was rather awkward in that moment, not saying a word, standing there, shaking his hand, just blinking. Whether he knew I was stuck like a record skipping or just wanted to get back to his breakfast, I don’t know, but he said come on in here and gave me the biggest hug! A Grandpa hug! And I almost cried. Almost.

He escorted us inside, took our jackets, and handed us stickum name tags and a marker. Yep, there were that many people there! There wasn’t a soul that didn’t greet me without a welcome, eat some more, glad you are here, can I get you anything, and genuine interest as they made space for us. It was a lot to take in when you are used to being around only a handful of people that includes ALL of your kin. I glanced around recognizing the various conversations going on, and noticed that the common element was that everyone was completely happy. You could see it in the entire house and feel it all around.

I may not have caught everyone’s names but each person is memorable in that moment, with their own place on my heart for as long as I live. It wasn’t because we all got to hear, or should I say see, his cousin act out the flaming broom incident, minus an actual flaming broom, of course. Pa laughed so hard, with all of him, the belly laughter, even had to wipe tears from his eyes. In that very moment everything was just right. You know the feeling that just warms you from the inside out? Ya, that was what it was.

I remember thinking this is what the best movies try to recreate.

And there it was, naturally.

And they shared it with me.

It was real life and it was beautiful.

I will forever see Pa and his adoring bride, young in love, sitting with my bonus parents in the making, tapping his foot and singing along to Don Williams.

I am grateful for all these moments and so many more.

For blue eyes that shine.

For a smile that says everything is going to be ok.

For genuine love that doesn't quit.

For flaming brooms...

And for a hug that makes you feel like you are home.

Until we meet again, with a bushel and a peck…


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