Saturday, May 27

Daddaw

His name was Daddaw. He wanted to be called Grandpa, but his eldest grandson was too verbally impaired to pronounce it correctly, so it came out Daddaw. The name stuck for the following three grandsons and several great grandchildren.

He was married to Pi. She received her moniker from the same dumb tot that murdered Daddaw's name. On a visit, she greeted her first grandson with "Good morning, sweetie pie!" After a day or two, dumb grandson said "Hi Pi!" The name stuck for the following three grandsons and several great grandchildren.


I am that dumb eldest grandson.

When not much more than a toddler, I found a piece of metal. Daddaw, being a carpenter and a handyman of all trades, made it inevitable that I would find just such a castoff. In my wee mind it looked like a camera. So I followed Daddaw around when he took pictures, making sure to line up the scene with my found metal "camera," imitating his every move. I remember a chuckle, an obvious approval of my advanced and keen ability to grasp composition and mastery of the environment.

As a little older, my brother and I were throwing rocks. We got bored throwing them at a fence, at a post, at another rock. We knew better than to throw them at birds or other creatures, so what better than each other? Whiz! went my rock past brother's head. Whiz! went brother's rock past mine. Until Daddaw's kindly voice, low and quiet like a seismic wave, intoned "Stop that. Or I'll string you up by your thumbs." So we stopped. Because we knew that if we didn't, we would soon be twisting in the wind, dried up skeletons long since picked by crows, a lesson to all boys, hanging by our dead opposable digits.

A summer later and I was on vacation. It was a treat to spend it with the grandparents, and we four brothers each took our turn, watching Daddaw make sawdust in his workshop. We learned how to water tomatoes, the best time to pick kumquats, and how to trim raspberry canes. As a voracious reader, I brought a book from the library. I don't remember much about it, other than it involved a young Chinese boy and his grandfather and the Asian hobby of keeping crickets in cages. At my broad hints and without complaint, Daddaw made me a cricket cage. He also caught the inhabitant, because I was afraid of bugs. When it didn't sing like was described in the book, I lost interest. Daddaw never said a word.

One summer, Daddaw took me swimming at the pool in the mobile home park where he and Pi lived. It was luxurious. It had a diving board, lounge chairs, and a changing room. Daddaw actually changed into his bathing suit with me on the redwood bench, proof that I was a growing up. As I paddled, peddled, and puddled in the pool, Daddaw sat in the sun. No book, no music, no swimming, no nothing. Decades later I found out he was afraid of water.

Eventually, I grew into the bones and muscles that would mark me as a man. Daddaw came to our garage one summer, and he and I made a workbench. It was hot, and his hands bruised easily, but we constructed it together. He used an old candle to wax the 5" screws I used to laboriously hand-crank the table top to the legs. When I asked where he learned this, he said simply "It's an old trick my Grandpappy taught me." Even though I had never heard of, much less seen a picture of Grandpappy, I knew some immeasurably valuable piece of family wisdom had just been given to me.

A year or so later we, my father, my brothers, Daddaw, and I, went on a fishing trip to Lake Insertname. Of course, as the teen-aged eldest brother and self-appointed heir to all things wonderful, the trophy of Mother Nature's annointed favorite would fall to me. After a day in a boat, sunburned and disillusioned, all of us, especially my puffed-up self, were left with nothing. On the way back to the dock, one fish was caught. By Daddaw. One single, perfect green and pink rainbow trout. Each scale was a shining nail into my ego, each speckled flash in the setting sun a reminder of Who Was King. Releasing the trout, Daddaw was splashed with pea-green water and the smell of mud, rot and life most real. "How did you catch it?" we asked. "I don't know," Daddaw said, washing his scarred hands in the lake water. "Just lucky, I guess." Chastised, we knew better.

He had always loved travel. Pi and Daddaw (they were invariably named together) had been everywhere, and he had the Kodachrome slides to prove it. On special occasions, Daddaw would pop "the corn," set up the screen, and carefully arrange the slide carousels. (We knew, and he knew we knew, that the carousels were collated with painstaking detail in advance, but none of us would acknowledge the secret.) Where we sat was up to us. Pi, by default, always got the most comfortable seat. The rest of us unfolded card table chairs, crowded the couch, or stretched on the floor. For the next few hours we were transported to Alaska, or Utah, or Israel, all narrated by Daddaw's soft monotone. We could recite the words. The "eskimo gal" he thought was the cat's pajamas, the uncoordinated farce of Pi riding a camel on her birthday, the 1960's theories of geologic strata creating the colors of mesas near Mexican Hat. In those slide shows I learned how much his heart loved the desert.

Daddaw was a quiet man, so the first great-grandson, my first child, came with few words from him. The event didn't need any, for Daddaw's eyes said more than any orator could. And for the first time, I read words he had written.

The second great-grandson bore Daddaw's name. Still few words, but his smile said more than Mona Lisa's.

The third great grandchild, a girl, brought misty eyes and no words at all, just quiet emotion. The memories of his first daughter, my children's grandmother, were written in every line of his face.

Others followed, but that is a story for another father to tell.

Pi slipped into senility. After 70 years of marriage, and for some reason we never understood, she talked about her beaus before she and Daddaw married. One of them, she said, had died recently. I smirked "Hey, Daddaw! Now you can make your move!" The silence that followed made me uncomfortable, but the low rumbling hawhawhaw let me know I had finally earned my place as a man.


Then Pi died.

In the visits that followed, Daddaw talked to me. Not as a grandson. Not as his daughter's child. He talked to me as one good man talks to another. We would be quiet, standing together, watching the geese and trees and pond at my mother's farm where he spent some of his last days. One day, without preamble, he said his favorite bird was the mourning dove. When I asked why, he said because he had always liked the sad song they sang at twilight. More, he did not say, but I knew there was more. I didn't ask, but stood by his side.

The last time I saw Daddaw he was in his bed. I had never, in my entire life, seen him other than upright, defying age and gravity and inconvenience and pain. When he spoke, it wasn't to me, but the window of his small bedroom. He was, simultaneously, bewildered and focused. He said he loved me. I hugged him and said take care old man i love you too. He chuckled and fell asleep. I knew he would die soon, but I wasn't sad. He was old. He had lived better than I could hope to. He had loved. Loved his wife, his family, his work, his world.

The quiet strong soul that was Daddaw slipped away shortly thereafter.


On a sunny weekend morning a few months ago, I was touring our little backyard gardens with my wife and visiting sister-in-law. We admired the spring flowers, the windchimes, the hummingbird feeders, the cacti.


"Oh, look!" said sister-in-law.

Perched on an iron hook, from which suspended a feeder of sunflower seed, was one perfect, sleek, beautiful mourning dove, eyeing us with no fear, fluffing his feathers, the golden morning sun glinting off his cheek patches.

This backyard, the province of a dumb eldest grandson, lives in the middle of the desert.

In this backyard are rocks thrown by my sons, for which I have yelled at them to stop. In this backyard crickets sing on warm summer nights. In this backyard is an above ground pool where my children have honed their swimming skills. In this backyard my wife and children and I have planned and built and painted projects of wood and brick and dirt. In this backyard are tomatoes that have grown green and red and sticky and warm and delicious.


In this backyard Daddaw says Hello.

7 comments:

jazz bird said...

What a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing this slice of family history. You painted the picture well.

Bebti said...

Perfect.

Erica said...

A very moving, deeply touching post. It hits very close to home for me right now. Everyone should be so fortunate to have a Daddaw.

Thank you for sharing.

Cowboy said...

I don't think I can word it any better than Jazz Bird, Bebti and Erica... what a marvelous post!

It reminds me of the quiet wisdom of my own grandfathers, one having passed 21 years ago, the other in his twilight years now.

There are such treasures to be had in our parents and grandparents... such wisdom, insight, knowledge and experience.

I love watching my grandpa glow when he'll tell stories from when he was younger... It's with a degree of difficulty that I watch him get older, and subsequently, my own father as well. Not too many years from now, both will be gone, and I will be the old, quiet one, basking in the company of my grandkids and great grandkids... hopefully learning as much from them as they do from me.

Thank you for a wonderfully thought-provoking post.

Shari said...

I love that feeling of being surrounded by the important people that have passed.

Every time I see a red-winged blackbird I know Grandma is right there with me.

Mom said...

Beautifully remembered and told. There was only one Dadaw...and every day I see something that reminds me of him. An especially colorful sunset, a flock of Canadian Geese honking their way overhead, a redwood tree. On a trip to the Oregon Coast recently I saw him everywhere.
At Pi's funeral I saw him dressed in a suit and tie and walking for the first time with a cane. He looked so dapper and handsome I said "Dadaw...you look like a gentleman!" He replied quietly "I am a gentleman."

His Daughter

tiff said...

It's.....better than perfect. Wow.

Thank you.