I attended my Papaw's funeral. This was the first time in my life that death really touched me. My Papaw passed away on March 31, 1980. I remember every moment of that day. He had been in the hospital, being a self absorbed 11th grader, I had no idea they had sent him home to die. That his heart, at the very young age of 60 just didn't have that many more beats left. I got up that Sunday morning, got dressed for church. I had on a blue shirt with trim that matched my red skirt. I walked across the road to my grandparents house to see if they were ready and my Mamaw told me that they weren't going to church Papaw didn't feel like it but she'd run me up there. Mamaw didn't want me to miss church but I said, "No that's ok, I have a term paper to work on. It was a paper on the treatment of the mentally ill in the 1800s. Yes, 11th grade, bizarre subject matter, that's just how I roll. I did write another paper that same year on Eliabeth Barret and Robert Browning and I used Virginia Woolf's book Flush as a source. Anyway, I walked back across the road, I went into my bedroom, turned up the stereo, Jackson Browne's The Pretender, and started sorting 3x5 index cards. The phone rang, I ignored it. The phone kept ringing, no one answered it. Then I get up answer the phone and it's my Mamaw yelling that Brooks is dying. I run for my dad. We both fly across the road, my dad does CPR until the ambulance arrives but it was too late. For 29 years I've wondered if I had answered the phone on the first ring as I normally would have, would anything had been different. I know it wouldn't have but what if....
By the time the ambulance arrived the whole neighborhood and most of the church was on my grandparents' carport. I remember sitting and sobbing, I remember someone(I think it was Donna Graves) telling me he was with God and I remember looking at her and telling her, "I can't listen to that right now, all I know is he's not here so I don't really care about God right now."
There are people that are such a powerful force in our lives that when they are no longer there it leaves a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. That was my papaw. He was bigger than life. You know how AIG is too big to fail, I always thought my Papaw was too big to die. How could the world keep turning if he wasn't here? How would the Bartlett Masonic Lodge continue on with him gone? How would my family hold it together with him no longer there to keep everyone together? He was the one person on the face of the earth my dad would listen to.
My Papaw would have been amused that his funeral was held on April Fool's Day. No one loved a prank better than him. He was wicked. I don't know anyone that ever had a bad word to say about Brooks Gibson. That Randy Travis song "He Walked on Water" that suits my papaw.
He was always there for me and my brother. When my parents bought the house across the road from my grandparents my mother told us we couldn't spend all our time over there and we had to be invited. My little brother would go out to edge of the driveway, wave at my Papaw sitting on the carport and yell over to Papaw, "Hey Papaw do this" and he'd wave his arms like Papaw would if he was motioning for him to come over. Papaw would wave, James would squeal and run in the house and say "Momma, Papaw did this" and he'd wave his arm, "can I go see him?" This happened every single day of my brother's life. We spent a lot of time sitting on that carport with Papaw and Mamaw. We ate popcorn and dranks cokes in the bottle. We sat on the picnic table covered in newspapers and ate watermelon with juice dripping down our arms. We sat and watched my papaw build bicycles for us and every other kid in Ellendale.
In the summer I would put on my bathing suit, slather on the Johnson's baby oil, take a stack of Harlequins, my radio and go "lay out" on my grandparents lounge chair. No sooner did I get all situated when Papaw would come out of the house and say, "Missy, get Buddy(my little brother who was also James, and oh yeah, Little James) and let's go to Baskin Robbins." Papaw always got French Vanilla.
March 31st is always a rough day for me, but April 1st. I remember the funeral like it was five minutes ago. I wore a blue skirt, a blue and white polkadot shirt, it was my favorite outfit. I remember just sitting and crying and my uncle hugging me close. I remember there were so many flowers. I mean wall to wall. I remember that Papaw was buried in his favorite blue leisure suit.
My papaw was a great story teller. He would sit for hours telling family stories, stories that would have us laughing so hard.
I wanted all my friends to meet my papaw. How many teenagers drag their friends to their grandparents house because they think their grandparents are the coolest people on the planet? Well this one did.
I wish my husband and kids could have known him. They would have thought he rocked. My oldest son has his eyes. My papaw had these blue eyes that just glowed and Ryne's eyes are the same.
Brooks Gibson was one of the most important people in my life, and even now 29 years later when I have a tough decision to make or I behave badly, I ask myself what would Papaw think of you?
You would think 29 years would soften the feeling of loss and emptiness but it doesn't. I'm not home to put flowers on his grave, so I'm writing my memories here.