Papa Jesse ~ Remembering Grandpa
This past Tuesday, we buried my Grandpa Jesse. He was 87. It marked the end of an era for me. The time when I could say, I still had living grandparents. I called him Papa for short. I will miss him.
When my sister and I were little, he used to tell us interesting stories about his childhood. He didn’t smile often, but when he did it was a ray of sunshine. He had a wonderful smile and a jolly laugh.
When he was growing up his family was poor. He was forever telling us, how he had to walk miles to school and most of the time he was either barefoot or was wearing shoes with holes in them. The detail he didn’t include, was that he had polio as a child. This caused one of his legs to be shorter than the other. (For the rest of his adult life, he had to wear a
built up shoe, a very heavy orthopedic shoe, to support his withered leg.) What a painful journey to school that must have been for him. I would marvel at the thought of being so poor, that you couldn’t afford a pair of shoes. It made my heart ache to think of my poor Papa having to go barefoot.
He liked to tell about how it was the children’s job to pick the cotton fields in those days. It would be considered child labor now. He told us about working in the scorching heat as a child. How the sharp bolls that hold the cotton on the plant could be very painful. Of how you had to pick very carefully or you would get stuck by the boll. He talked about dragging around that heavy bag through the hot fields as he filled it with cotton, accompanied often by his many sisters and little brother.
He reminded us of how privileged we were not to have to work in the fields…that we were allowed to run and play during the long summer months as children should do. He had a hard childhood, that always made me sad to think about. He was a hard worker though and even when he grew up and married, he always provided for his family.
His bout with polio as a child, left him crippled. One of his legs was withered and shorter than the other. I have heard tales about the iron lung, that he was put in. If you have never heard of the iron lung, you can read about it here History of the Iron Lung
I’m sure it would have been a very frightening experience for an adult to spend time in the iron lung…but can you imagine the trauma to a baby or a child? He was very traumatized from being kept separate and away from his mother, whom he adored. My heart hurts to think of this little boy shut away in an iron lung, without his mother there to comfort him. And the heartbreak that would have been his mother’s as well.
The first Iron Lung for polio patients.
He met my grandmother at the local soda fountain, where she worked. He said she was a pretty little thing. When she passed away in February of 2006, life was never the same for Jesse. It broke my heart.
Here were two people, that I looked upon much the same way as I do my own parents. It was to their house that I came after a long weary day at school. It was their fridge I raided when I was hungry. My sister and I stayed at their house all summer long, while my mother & father worked. My Grandmother ran a little daycare out of her home. So we were constantly surrounded by children and lots of them. It was such fun! Good days, surrounded by the love of grandparents and friends. Days and days of tree houses, swing sets, singing, laughing, games, coloring books, long naps, bike rides, Popsicles and stories. A charmed childhood… something my Grandpa never had…but he gave that to me. He and my darling little Grandmother.
Grandmother and Papa, to me they were always a pair. Wherever one was…the other was not too far behind. Sure, they argued at times…but I came to see it as the banter between old friends…who knew each others deepest secrets and still loved each other. They were special as special could be.
Papa’s favorite snack was a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream with a large helping of milk poured over top. He liked to smoosh it up…almost to the consistency of a milk shake. We often shared this yummy snack, when I spent the night at their house. Sometimes he would eat a snack of crackers and milk. Literally! He would smoosh up the saltine crackers in a bowl and pour milk over them, just like a bowl of cereal. I often wondered, if this was a hold over, from when he was poor and growing up. I suppose saltines would have been a cheap staple back in those days.
(I found this image on the net…as an old advertisement for milk crackers…perhaps this is where the idea started for that lovely old snack of milk and crackers)
Papa loved to make home made ice cream. He had one of those old fashioned ice cream freezers, with the churn handle. He would let us kids sit on top of it while he churned it. Such a fond memory for a little girl…helping Grandpa make ice cream. They had fabulous shade trees in their yard. A great place to eat a cool snack.
The BBQ pit, was another of Papa’s pride and joys. He loved to charcoal hamburgers. Some of my fondest memories are of watching him start the fire in the coals and then grilling those burgers. I would swing on the back yard swing set, while he cooked supper. The cool evening breeze, blowing my long hair, while I swung and Grandpa cooked. This is what memories are made of!
Papa loved plants. He worked for a flower nursery on the side with my Uncles. He was forever bringing home all manner of plants. Grandmother had the loveliest flowers in the neighborhood. She had Wandering Jews, Ferns, Pansies, Ficus Trees, Geraniums, Petunias…trays full of them! And at Christmas, there were always huge Poinsettias and Christmas Cactus. Papa used to pay me a quarter to water his plants. I thought I was doing something huge and helpful for him. He was just making me feel important. I realize that now.
He was gruff as Grandpa’s go… not soft and tender…I used to wish he had a softer side. But now, in retrospect, I am glad he was just the way he was. He taught us to respect our elders, to listen when older people spoke. I will be forever grateful for his positive influence on my life.
He loved to talk about the Bible. He loved to talk about Joseph in Genesis. He loved the 23rd Psalm. He was forever telling Bible stories, every time I turned around. Come to think of it…that is probably where I learned my earliest lessons about the Bible.
Papa loved God.
As grandparents go, I hit the jack pot. Mine were some of the best. I miss having a grandmother to call up and chat with about recipes, children and just life! I miss having a grandpa to hug and kiss on.
When someone would say “You look good Jesse!”, Grandpa would always say…”It’s never been a problem.” He had a way of making me laugh. When he laughed, his whole belly shook, just like Santa Clause. =) Thanks for the good memories Papa…I will always treasure our summers together. You were my Papa and my friend. Rest in Peace.