He'll Always Be Papa

This is who my grandfather is and who he will always be for me.

He inches slyly toward me, hiding something in his hand. I am sitting on the floor of the living room, leaning against a recliner. Bending slightly at the hips and knees, he lowers himself enough to slip me a $100 bill. Then he smiles.

“We bought Kenny and Amber school clothes,” my grandfather mentions, explaining why he and my grandmother are giving me money. They always like to give their grandchildren money and other gifts to show their love.

“Papa,” as I’ve always called him, has always been around for me. Going to my school events. Cheering me on at football games. Helping with bills, now that I’m a college student and in need of constant cash flow.

Two years ago, I realized that he won’t always be around to do these things. I got a call, letting me know that he had been hospitalized with a heart attack. After losing my other grandfather a year earlier, I knew I needed to spend more time seeing him. I decided to do so even if my grandparents told me to stay at school that week because I had tests.

I have never celebrated Grandparents’ Day until this year. It is the first Sunday after Labor Day. Governor Arch Moore of West Virginia initiated the holiday in 1973. This year I called my grandparents and wished them a happy Grandparents’ Day. However, I called them on the wrong day, not realizing the actual date of the holiday. They were happy nonetheless.

Papa built most of the house he and my grandmother live in. It is on a dirt road that they have lived on for 35 years. The locals call the area Frazierville because most of the residents fall under the long line of Fraziers living on the 3-mile stretch of road. My grandfather is a Frazier.

The house, originally a four-room shack, had holes in the wall and lacked parts of its roof. My grandmother refused to live in it when Papa first bought it. He wasn’t about to let $1,000 go to waste, though. He set out to work on the house and eventually made it livable. Now, years later, he is still working on it. Together they have turned it into one of the only places that I still consider home.

Not making it past elementary school, he spent his life building projects with wood. He’s built cabinets, tables, bookshelves, doll cabinets, chest-of-drawers. Many that sit in my bedroom now, Christmas gifts that I begged him to build. Chest-of-drawers I’ve had since I was a child. A bookshelf overflowing with books.

I spend every Thanksgiving in the home that Papa built. I’ve watched countless football games with Papa, sitting next to him arguing over the Iron Bowl. He wears his Crimson Tide hat at all times. We’d argue even with the game still months away. I usually sit with something Granny has cooked, he with a coffee mug and a cigarette rolled with Prince Albert. We don’t talk much, except about football.

The first time I connected with Papa, saw that he cared deeply about me and would always take care of me, was my first year attending Auburn University. “If you need anything, just let me know,” he said. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It was in his voice and without the urging of Granny. He knew that I was not going to be around every week to watch football and argue over the Auburn and Alabama matchup.

Three years later, I realized the same thing he did when I left for college. He wouldn’t always be around. For him, there were no more school events, no more football games. For me, there was a chance of no more Papa.

I don’t let that inevitability change our days together. Although his health seems okay now, I still see him every chance I get. I still enjoy our talks about football and the occasional game we get to see. I take pleasure in now having my own bedroom when I visit, a recent addition to his house.

To him, I’ll always be that kid wanting to stay the night at Granny’s and Papa’s.

To me, he’ll always be that man with his coffee mug and Prince Albert. He’ll always be a diehard Alabama fan with a grandson attending Auburn. He’ll always be cheering me on at school events. He’ll always be Papa.