Another July 4th
July 4, 2004, didn’t start like other Independence Days. The phone rang around 7am, and I didn’t have to look at caller ID to know it was my mom. Nor did I need to answer the phone to know what news she’d share; the ringing alone was enough to tell me.
My grandfather had been hospitalized for several days—his time had finally come. The maternal side of my family had lost its patriarch.
At age 21, I’d already experienced the deaths of my three other grandparents. But somehow, this was harder to absorb. Perhaps it was the chickens…
Though we lived in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, a family down the street harbored illegal chickens. And roosters—one of which mysteriously ended up in our basement window well the following Christmas day. The feathered “fish out of water” clucked and crowed at all hours of the day, and they made their presence known on the morning of the Fourth as I sat on the front porch, grieving. It’s amazing how something as mundane as chickens can bring back such a flood of memories.
When I was a little girl, my grandparents had chickens on the farm. I loved getting up early to accompany Papaw to the chicken house and help him spread feed and collect eggs. One half of the little red shanty was the chicken coop, while the other side was storage. The feed was kept in a huge barrel container and smelled of dried corn and grains. I loved running my hands through the mix!
When we came back inside Mamaw fried the eggs, which we enjoyed with buttered toast and cold milk served up in pastel-colored plastic cups that looked perpetually dirty from the hard water.
The best visits were when all of my aunts/uncles and cousins came, too—I’ll never know how we all fit in that little trailer. I was the middle cousin, “Papaw’s girl”; Dusty was three years older than me, Michael was three years younger. We played together outside with reckless abandon. There was a long, old platform trailer that made a nice (if only imagined) respite from the scratchy farm grass, chiggers, and ticks.
The majority of the farm was wooded with pin oak trees, but one big field captivated my imagination. My mom and I slept in the room with a little window that overlooked the far field. Papaw used to tell me that he went out into the clearing late at night to smoke a peace pipe with Indians. Naturally, I believed him. The sound of the box fan, the softness of the bed and the “Magic Paintbrush” bedtime story always lulled me to sleep before I could glimpse the meeting for myself.
Some of the wonder disappeared when I was six years old. The farm got a new double-wide trailer with plenty of room for all of us; with more of the comforts of home, it felt a little less novel. Then, sadly, Mamaw went to be with Jesus before she had much time to really enjoy it. She was just five days short of her 56th birthday.
Now nine years removed from Papaw’s passing, the pain inevitably hits at some point each Fourth of July. While grateful for the time we had, I still miss him terribly.
I’m proud of his military service. I’m blessed by the five wonderful lives that he and my grandmother brought into the world (the first of which was my mom). Above all, I’m still tickled pink when I think of Papaw singing his silly little song—too dum, too dum, too dum day—and dancing his little scarecrow jig. My mom discovered this Burl Ives song a few months ago that must’ve been his inspiration: Lolly-Too-Dum.
Love you, Papaw! Hug Mamaw for me, and hope you’re enjoying the gooseberry pie in Heaven.