Wednesday, August 26, 2009

J.R. Simpson

I don't think I've ever written about my grandfather before, which is odd to me. I do believe he is the only man in my life that hasn't disappointed or hurt me. And, that is really saying something.

My grandfather was never known as my "grandfather." That's far too formal a title for him. He was simply known as "Papaw" to the grandkids. I know I have idealized and perfect memories of him, but that is what grandchildren do if the relationship is a good one. Ours wasn't was incredible, much to my good fortune.

In a nutshell, I believe it is from him that I get my 'no-nonsense' attitude, outspoken and fiery temper from. He was every man's man and every woman's protector without smothering the hell out of them in the process. If I step into my grandmother's shoes, I know his temper was difficult to deal with. But, I never saw that side of him except for 3 times. But, that is for other stories in the future.

His memory sometimes wraps around my brain and reminds me of the extraordinary childhood and partial teenage hood I shared with him. He was a sublime storyteller, fisherman, Mr Fix it whether dealing with his hands or his heart and a superb grandparent. Not to slight my grandmother...she was as well. This corporate sounding grandfather gave me many memories including some very tall tales that I sometimes didn't figure out until days, months or even years later.

For example: He was a close friend of Harry Houdini. Did you know that? He had a way of telling a story that made me believe this until long after he passed away. I'm sure he was delighted to see my realization years later!

He was a Renaissance man that never ceased to amaze me. He created inventions but never patented them. He made these tools to ease his work, not necessarily to become a rich man.

The memories I remember to this day are many, but a few that I will share with you are:

First and foremost, he was a fisherman. He often caught Bass, Catfish, Brim and Perch. He cleaned the fish as skillfully as any surgeon performed surgery. He was poetry in motion.

He was a sailor in the Navy. It was during those times at port when he and some of his Naval buddies got a tattoo. Who knew that years later, a granddaughter would gaze at his left arm with the elaborate staff and snake tattoo for hours and wonder about his adventures on the sea.

He always wanted to travel to the Amazon and then to Australia.

The Amazon River

He used a brush with shaving soap a big mug for shaving, and wore Old Spice aftershave.

He knew how badly I hated school as a kid and would sometimes pick me up during the middle of day and take me to Jefferson City, an outdoor strip mall in Port Arthur, Texas where we ate at Luby's Cafeteria and browse records at the record store. Sometimes we went to the hardware store. It didn't matter to me, I wasn't in school and we never told my mother. He always delivered me a few blocks from home so I could walk home at the same time I did every day. No suspicion and he would drive on to my house and act as if he hadn't seen me all day. My mother didn't find this out until I was well into my 30's.

He was a fabulous dancer and particularly Cajun dancing. His partner of choice was my older sister. They danced, kicked their legs, did the Cajun holler (Ahhhh-Yeeeeeee!) and glided across the floor as if they were dancing on glass. I could watch them for hours.

He was a heavy smoker which required him to switch to pipe smoking via order from his doctors. His uniform after the Navy became tan, short sleeved shirts (regardless of weather) with a chest pocket that held his hard case glasses. He also wore before it was popular, denim painter's pants. Why? there was a pocket for everything.

He rarely bought anything for himself, but he bought a beautiful table that had a picture of a parrot under the glass made with butterfly wings. There was also a small lamp that went with it and it stood in his living room for as long as I can remember. I remember looking at that table and thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He also bought a porcupine quill box and kept his pictures of his travels in there. It even included photos from the Philippines as well as pictures from the war. He never told us why, but he instructed us to never open that box. One look from J.R. and you did exactly as he said. He noticed me one day admiring the table and told me that it was mine when he and my grandmother passed. I was thrilled.

My Treasured "Butterfly Table"

And so, to avoid the family squabbling, years before my grandmother's death, she gave me the prized table and I was elated. Is it worth much? In dollars and cents, I have no idea. In memories and enjoyment? It's priceless.

The day neither began nor ended unless Fishing preceded both.

Sometimes when I pass by a lake...if I squint really hard, I can see him casting his line.

More Musings Later-

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