This blog is meant to be a literary discourse between my cousin, Preston, and me. We’ve let it drop off a bit since July when we started a radio show called Write On SC. Then, in August, Preston went to grad school at the University of Miami and has gotten busy with real literary discourse, not just the stuff we prattle about.
But a week ago we lost our Papa. He was 91 and eight months – that extra time matters for old people like it does for babies – and he’d been broken hearted since November 12thwhen his eldest son, our Uncle Howard, died.
Papa was a good man. Our Nana, who passed in 2014, used to say she thought he’d been a slave in a former life. He worked that hard without expecting pay, compliment, or reward. He was a servant to his family, to his community, and to his God.
In the service this past Friday, the minister said Papa was a humble man who put duty first. His phrase was, “Do what you have to do,” with the unspoken admonishment, “before what you want to do.”
He had a sense of right, a moral compass that championed hard work and faithfulness. He was a dedicated cheerleader for all of his children and grandchildren, even if he didn’t fully support the work we were doing.
I remember him at a regatta at Clemson when I was on the crew team not fully understanding the sport but knowing it was important to attend and smile and cheer and encourage. He listened to me talk about everything from graduate school to entrepreneurship to the latest venture, the radio show.
His advice was consistent: work hard.
Not “work hard until…” or “work hard and …” just “Work hard.”
He was not a man of art. I can’t remember him watching any shows or going to any theatre performances or movies or even concerts. He wasn’t much of a reader though I remember my mom giving him biographies on everyone from Harry Truman to Bobby Bowden. I never knew if he had a favorite song or a favorite band or musician. If you asked him, he’d just shrug.
He danced. He and Nana frequently went to the Shrine Club for dancing and drinking. He loved to have a good time. He loved Clemson football and attended ball games religiously for decades. He threw a helluva tailgate.
Papa didn’t play games. Nana loved cards and was a member of two bridge clubs. But Papa couldn’t waste his time on that. He never golfed, either. He used to say he wouldn’t waste time chasing a ball around someone else’s lawn when he could be working in his own.
He kept the most glorious garden. It had cucumbers and squash and eggplant and tomatoes and he was like Farmer MacGregor when we were children – we were terrified when an errant ball tumbled into the garden.
There are so many things Preston and I will take with us through the remainder of our lives that our Papa taught us. Sitting on his couch, listening to his stories, hearing the deep tone of his voice when he was instructing us or the high chuckle he’d let loose when he was teasing us.
He had joy in his life and in his heart. And though he’d gone through tragedies and experienced loss, he believed the life he was leading was predestined by God and in God’s hands. He put himself to service as he was called to do and he remained steadfast until he died.
That faithfulness, I hope, is one we can explore here. As partners in literature and intellectual exploration, perhaps A Book of One’s Own can become an exploration of how life matures in art, how art preserves life, and how we, as artists, can experience art through grief and healing.
It’s a new journey now we’ve lost our Papa. Let us begin.