My job is putting it on paper before he’s gone
Right now, I’m listening to a man cleanse his soul and prepare for death.
My maternal grandfather, my Papa is the sweetest man I’ve ever known. He’s seen it all – tragedy beyond my capacity to write here, hard times, good times, scraping and trying to survive. He’s come through it all with a genuine love for people of all kinds and receives such love and respect in return.
A few weeks ago, he gave me a handful of cassette tapes and asked me to transcribe them. So every night, I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop, headphones and an old cassette player. Play, stop, rewind. Type. Repeat.
But there’s more than a mechanical process going on here. Right now, I’m the sole spectator to a person trying to come up with a way to summarize their life. What an awesome task. On tape, he keeps reminding me that he’s preparing to die. He is cleansing his mind of all the wonderful stories he wants remembered. He has become the keeper of the tales that sum up his family and he wants the world to know they existed, that they loved, and who they were so that in the future, my family can understand who we are.
It’s a special time for me, almost holy. It’s just me and my Papa, with his voice in my ear, telling me the stories of his life. There are occasional sermonettes (my Papa is after all, a minister), but even those are woven into phrases that leave me awestruck. What if I had been forced to live the way my Papa and his 15 brothers and sisters during the worst of the Great Depression? Would I have emerged a person like my Papa?
In my Papa’s words: “Well anyway, you can say whatever you want to say, but I’m somewhere around 84 or 85. God only knows the real truth about it. But that’s not all that important. God has allowed me to live in this beautiful wonderful world these many years and the best is yet to come. Oh, I may be checking out of this old place almost anytime. Not many people live as long as I have lived. Especially to see and know some of the things that I’ve seen.”
An outlook on life from a person who’s seen a lot.