Today, July 31, is my dad's birthday. He would have been 82 today.
About twenty-three years ago, my OBGYN said that my daughter would be born on July 26. My dad said his grandchild would be born on July 31, his birthday. So he quit smoking in preparation for the birth of his grandchild. In those days he kept a supply of lollipops to replace the cigarette packs. When he was notified on July 23rd that his grandchild would make her appearance the morning of July 24 he ran to get his paper bag of lollipops so he could be there in time to greet her.
As it ended up, their birthdays were a week apart on the same day, rather like Christmas Eve (December 24) and New Years' Eve (December 31) in July. That's the way they were together. When Adrianne was little they were partners in crime. Sunday's after church was Swing in the Park Day. He was determined to get her to the park and put her in the toddler swings for a picture-perfect swing day.
One day when she was about two years old, she didn't know I was within earshot as I let them both out of the car at the park to run across the sand to the toddler swings. "Come on Paw Paw! Run! Hurry!" she ordered.
"Okay," he chuckled. "I'm coming!"
"Pick me up, Paw Paw! Put me in the swing! Push me! Higher! Higher, Paw Paw!" the orders flew from the pint-size task master.
By that time I'd walked up to the swings and stopped my dad from pushing her long enough for me to tell her about not ordering Paw Paw around but thanking him for playing with her on the playground. This is not the same man that raised me, I thought. He's completely lost his mind allowing this little thing of a child to have him under some kind of lunatical spell. He would have never taken that from the four of us when we were kids!
When I'd go to work, my mom would rush from her job to pick her up from the baby sitter. My dad would then rush home from his job at the university so he could be there to play with her, ply her with unhealthy snacks and take her shopping. I'd call home every evening to check on them. One day my dad announced, "We're having fun over here! I brought home some chocolate chip cookies and the baby has the bag and she's eating cookie after cookie after cookie! She really likes them!"
Wait, these are the people who allowed us only two cookies at a time two hours after lunch or dinner. Now it's okay to fed my child, who had never had stronger than toddler cookies before in her life, chocolate chip cookie after chocolate chip cookie.
"STOP HER!" I yelled over the phone.
We lived in Florida for three years and my daughter thought every UPS man in our apartment complex had a "Paw Paw box" for her. Usually, she was right. My dad packed toys and treats in a box every month and shipped them to her.
When she stayed with Grandmama and Paw Paw over the summers, they were both late for school each morning. He would schedule his classes for late mornings and not take her to Kindercare until 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning so they could watch cartoons together and then have breakfast at McDonald's together. By the time we moved back to Louisiana Adrianne was to start Kindergarten and I was to start teaching a preschool class for children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities. Paw Paw happily took her to school for her first day and announced that he had volunteered to be room mom. Before the end of the Kindergarten year, every child in Mrs. B.Collins' class called him Paw Paw.
Paw Paw's lollipop days lasted for only the first two weeks of Adrianne's infancy and were intermittent through her younger life. So by the time she was six she was hiding Paw Paw's cigarettes and lighter. He'd had at least one stroke before she was born and anther near the end of one of our visits from Florida. Later, she would help pick up things he'd dropped, button tiny buttons and lace or Velcro his shoes because the strokes and the cigarettes had numbed his fingertips making these tasks very difficult.
By the time she was seven other grandchildren started appearing by way of my sisters. Fourteen-month-old Jenna joined the family when Adrianne was seven when Carol adopted her. Juan was born a year later in 1994 and his brother Brian was born in 1999. I recall one of my nephews asking my dad why he had a car if he couldn't drive it. My dad called on Adrianne to prove that once he was able to drive and that he and Adrianne used to have such adventures.
Juan had dubbed him Poppy after the Spanish paw paws who claimed him on his many field trips with his nurse in Florida. Thus to the younger set of grand kids my dad was Poppy. They would have to ask Adrianne about what Poppy's office was like when he was working and what exactly went on up there. Did Poppy really teach people at the university and were his students really teachers?
After his last stroke, Poppy's swallowing difficulties returned and he had to have a second feeding tube placed in his stomach. This one was fed by a machine that dosed Ensure at even increments 24/7. My mother had a hospital style bed moved into the bedroom as he was known to roll out onto the floor as he attempted to get up to go places on his own. Adrianne moved into my parents' home and learned to operate the feeding machine and the bed so she could help take care of her Poppy. Often she could hear that thing beep from another room when no one else did. It had a beep as a warning for when the tube was kinked or when the feeder was empty.
When he'd done all his exercises he could sometimes have a little pudding and ice chips. Only Adrianne could get the ice chips njust right, the way he liked them.
He seemed to know it would not be long before he'd go home, because he would have long talks with Adrianne about when he was a little boy and stories about the family of fifteen in the picture on the wall of his bedroom. He was one of the youngest boys in the photo at about four or five years old and he sat in a small chair at his father's knee. He and uncle Nick, who was at the far left of the picture had been in a fight on the day of that family portrait, so Grandpa Ed had separated them. My dad was the last of them to go home on Sunday, October 21, 2007.
As our family moved into action to get all of the arrangements made for my dad's home-going celebration, Adrianne quietly asked if she could say something in tribute. "Of course, baby!" my mother said as she gave her a big hug. My daughter is very shy and out of place in crowds and with all eyes on her, so for her to want to--volunteer to speak in front of an audience is a major step and a demonstration of her love for her PawPaw.
And her tribute was lovely. She spoke of their adventures, the Paw Paw boxes, his jokes, his stories of a little boy growing up in the 1930's with 13 brothers and sisters. She spoke of the things she learned from him--especially the love of reading. She spoke of how everyone on campus seemed to know him when she accompanied him to the university and how half her teachers seemed to know him as he was their teacher. Lastly she spoke of how she'd miss her partner in crime.
Today, my mother and I were driving around getting last minute things done for our sessions for tomorrow's Back to School with Jesus workshop. Right in the middle of our hustle and bustle down Airline Highway she thinks aloud, "Today is his birthday. I need to take new flowers to the cemetery office."
I could almost hear him say, "What's the salary for all this work at the church?"