Happy Birthday Papaw.
If I put the big, brown, corduroy pillow on the floor behind Papaw’s chair, I had my own snug little room. I could hear everything the grownups were saying, but was not in the way or as likely to be sent to bed, a great terror when one is a boy. Granny would have served a wonderful dinner, but we generally did not snack on the living room carpet. However, there was always a candy dish with pink lozenges, root bear barrels, or other Granny-type candies. These could be grabbed and taken behind Papaw’s chair. You could get a lot of goodness sucking on even one root beer barrel. Papaw was a great story teller with a large stock of tales from years in the church and at the plant. Dad claimed that by the end of Papaw’s life, he could tell those stories better than Papaw, but I doubt this claim. Papaw Reynolds did voices that were a key part of the retelling.
The country, back when Papaw was little, was full of lessons: if you visit the Reynolds farm with two horses and demand one horse be given two ears of corn and the other one. . .then when asked which horse gets one and which gets two, the answer: “It doesn’t matter.” is quite mad. It also will make you part of the oral tradition.
When I say how happy I was there, stretched out, eating candies, listening to the family oral tradition, this will be hard for many younger than I am to believe, really believe. They have tried it and found it wanting.
The pleasure of the family circle, the stories, the listening to a master story teller is not immediate. I know that if my bedtime had been extended that being outside chasing fireflies would have been more immediate fun. What kid would not have chosen television if given the choice?
I was not given such choices and that made all the difference. Being a boy, dodging bedtime behind Papaw’s chair, taught me the joy I would rediscover with hearing Homer: the slow unwinding of an evening in words. One has to learn to stop, slow down, and listen. One has to learn to hear the subtle difference in each retelling of the classic stories. A boy does not immediately love hearing Dad and Papaw argue some bit of theology or discuss church issues, yet given no other choice but bed, one learns.
I learned to hear. Priceless lesson: the point of the story is often the telling and the family ways.
Papaw taught me to work hard, keeping a sense of humor. Papaw told about his father, a most excellent minister, and his stories and so I learned the family ways. We should side with the Union against the Confederacy. We should love God more than hunting. We should not be narrow in our own faith. We could dare to dream of two hundred at an Easter service and see God make it so. Family came first, so if one had to sell what one had to tend to the children, one did so. What else is there to do?
Papaw’s stories taught me a decent skepticism about big business, but a gratitude for honest work. Papaw’s stories told me that I could find myself in the context of a loving family. This family was not perfect, the discussions ranged over problems too, but a boy was best served by being true to his roots when he could. There was so much to learn there. Papaw would make a star for me using a compass, a trick he learned at his school up Goose Creek. Papaw could show you how to make a sinker (for fishing!) out of lead molds in the basement. Papaw built the house, helped build a church, did his duty to the end.
Papaw gained comfort from Jesus at the end of his life in ways still too personal to share. Jesus was there.
These were stories he told and then we told. We will meet, but we miss him. There is nothing I would not give to get the brown, corduroy pillow, some candy from the dish, and listen to stories behind his chair.
This will come. Nothing good is ever lost. No tale told well is ever forgotten. This will all be revived, unbroken, kept in safety for all time.
Happy Birthday Papaw.