As he picked me up and slung me over his broad shoulders, he hauled me to the garage and told me to cover my eyes.
I did just that, peeking through the slits in my fingers that were big enough to keep a glimpse of the surprise ahead.
I stood next to my papaw on the cold concrete floor and he let me open my eyes to see the glorious two-story Barbie doll house.
Not just any Walmart, zip-tied-up-in-a-cardboard-box Barbie house, but a maroon, two-story, carpeted, furnished, handmade house.
He wheeled it into the living room, pulled out my box of Barbies and started playing with me, using fake high-pitched voices and intricate storylines for each doll we played with.
For his birthday that year, I (my mom) bought him a brunette Barbie doll with a bright green blow-up chair. Now, he’d have his own.
He would sit with legs criss-crossed next to me in his bright blue sweater and orange, checkered pants from high school and position his Barbie perfectly on her chair to watch the made-up television as I drove the Barbie car to the “mall.”
Occasionally, he’d mock my five-year-old expressions and tease me by sticking out his tongue until it made me too angry to play and I was forced to tattle.
Twelve years ago, my papaw died.
I don’t remember crying. My dad took us to lunch and told us we would be taking a long trip, but never said why. He gave us things to do and that was sufficient enough for us to be content in ignorance.
My parents told my brother and me at a playground in Arkansas. As a nine-year-old, I didn’t really understand the capacity of losing someone, so it didn’t take long for me to run for the sturdy wooden castle while the adults dealt with the “real stuff.”
I was sad, but it didn’t hit me at his funeral, and it didn’t hit me when we spread his ashes. It actually didn’t hit me for a long while.
It wasn’t until high school that my emotions caught up.
As I started achieving real things, I realized the person I wanted to celebrate with wasn’t by my side. The person who had a smile glued to his face and an aura of happiness wasn’t there to comfort me in the times I needed him the most.
One of his favorite things to do was bowl. Despite being a break from all the work he would do, he somehow managed to make it a career, too. He bowled quite a few perfect games and competed in tournaments often. His love for bowling became the family competition – a way to enjoy who he was and grow closer together.
He was a professor of child psychology, well-liked and complemented by his students. He had a passion for teaching others, both in academics and life-skills.
I remember going into his office and playing classroom while he watched me through his bulky, square glasses. Ironically, he’d be the student, learning from me how to draw trees and spell elementary words.
But since then, his legacy has taught me.
It’s so easy to go through the motions as we prepare for graduation. We’ll miss our friends, but Abilene? Not so much. It’s easy to have a bad attitude when a friend drops off or we get a bad grade on a test, and it’s easy to become weary of the Chapels we deem meaningless so often.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve tried to be, as much as possible, like my papaw – serving others selflessly and seeking to make connections in every way that I can. I’ve tried to be curious and interested in growth, but with the right balance of joy and intimate, strong relationships.
I’ll gladly admit that I fail. Often.
But having someone who inspires me in every possible way makes it that much easier to get back up. To remember all of the good someone had to offer, and strive to be so similar to them, gives grueling daily tasks so much more meaning.
Though he isn’t by my side physically, his lessons have made this journey all the more meaningful and worthwhile.
As I reach the final frame of my senior year, I often think about how much I wish my favorite person was here to cheer me on to victory.