His presence was a constant. A consistent comfort. For 20+ years, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins gathered holiday after holiday in the same home, eating the same foods, doing the same things. We were, and are bound by the legacy of family that he and Memommy created together in their home.
He is missed dearly. By some, more than I can begin to understand. And by me, more than I can begin to express.
I remember that week in March so very vividly. Jason and I lived in Clinton, MS. Abbey was 2.5 and Maddie, 9 months. My mom called on Tuesday (I think, maybe Wednesday) and said, "we're finally getting some action taken on Granddaddy. They've taken him in to the hospital," she said, "and they're running tests". I knew he'd had a rough winter. Lots of respiratory infections. I didn't realize it was serious.
My mind flashed back to the last time I saw him. We visited my parents house in late January and Meems and Grands came for dinner. I remember hugging him as he walked out the door. He had on a navy blue cardigan. He picked up Abbey and swung her around and she laughed. Meems scolded him with a "Reg!" and his eyes twinkled. His eyes always twinkled. I think especially when she scolded. I don't mean to imply she did it a lot, but some. They just had that kind of relationship. A comfortable love intertwined with best friendship that only 50+ years of marriage can bring. And he liked to hear her scold, I'm convinced. Only because she cares so deeply/loves so deeply and that was only one of the ways in which it showed so clearly. We said goodbye. I hugged him and he said he was proud of us. He said that more times than I can count. And they left.
I am thankful that even though she does not remember, Grands got to know Abbey just a bit...
After my mom called, I struggled, I worried. My mind wandered to the "what if" and "surely not"s. I called her back. "Do we need to come up?" I asked while thinking, surely it can't be that serious! "Not yet," she said, "I'll let you know". From there, the sequence is a bit blurry, but suffice it to say that things went downhill fairly quickly and we piled our family of 4 into the car and made the very familiar 3 hour journey to Memphis sometime in the next 24-48 hours.
My childhood in Memphis centered around several key places. One- my house, obviously. We moved in in 1979. My parents still live there. The other- Grands and Meems house. They moved in sometime in the late 50s (right?). She still lives there. Of course there were other locations- my aunts, uncles and cousins were all nearby.
As I alluded to before, my childhood memories center around the beautiful consistency of family. Easter, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Backyard BBQ's, puzzle working, croquet games in the front yard, swinging games on the backyard swingset that Granddaddy built for my mom that still stands, fishing trips, COUNTLESS fishing trips, church events, family reunions and state parks in sweltering summer heat, laughing with all my normal cousins at our other ridiculously weird cousins, (joking of course,... maybe), babysitting, hours of babysitting. My income through junior high and high school came almost completely from babysitting cousins. My aunts and uncles were maybe a bit too trusting... I was the oldest cousin by 8 years which made me at times super cool, and at other times, oh so weird. It's probably actually a good thing for the purpose of this post that I live overseas and don't have access to the boxes upon boxes of old family pictures. The traditional picture of "Granddaddy and his retarded grandchildren" (please don't be offended, we came up with that name long before it was socially incorrect and if you saw any of the pictures I'm pretty sure you would wholeheartedly agree), anyway, there was at least one such picture taken at every social event.
All that to say, Granddaddy and Memommy had been fixtures in my life for as long as I can remember.
She made him a snail patch to go on his khaki pants so we could match...
If I had access to more family pictures I would show you,
(the backyard garden with him hard at work planting and harvesting)
(his pick up truck loaded with laughing cousins driving at full speed around the block, just for fun)
(fishing trips with meatloaf and ketchup sandwiches and Little Debbie Oatmeal pies)
(one of MANY dress fittings as Memommy made just about all of my dresses- Sunday, formal and otherwise- until I went to college and I would ALWAYS model for Grands)
Here is the whole motley crew the last Christmas that Jason and I were able to be with them. I was pregnant with Abbey and just didn't know it yet. I can't tell you how many family pictures have been taken on and around this couch over the years...
Like I said, vivid memories from that last week. I remember crowding around Memommy in the ICU waiting room listening to her tell stories, letting her cry, all wondering how things had happened so quickly. Grands was in an induced coma in ICU diagnosed with ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) and possibly other things, but that's what my nursing brain latched on to. My nursing brain also latched on to the fact that this was bad, very bad. Jason and I took turns pushing Abbey and Maddie around the hospital in our massive double stroller and buying them random treats to pass the time. The rest of us took turns visiting Grands, always with Meems. Going in, holding his hand, talking to him. He couldn't acknowledge that we all were there anymore than any of us could acknowledge what was happening. But of course we ALL were there. Of course we were. Just like we always had been. And of course he knew that we were. In my heart, I know he knew.
Most of my family is still right there in Memphis, TN (or at least within a day's drive), reliably consistent. My first exposure to life outside of Memphis, outside of the US for that matter, came, ironically from Granddaddy. When I was in early elementary (there were 2 trips, and I get the timing confused), he went along with hundreds of other volunteers from TN to Upper Volta, West Africa (now Burkina Faso) to work with Baptist missionaries Larry and Cheryl Cox. Incredibly gifted with his hands, he headed up construction projects on their mission compound among other things. Even at that young age, I was absolutely fascinated by the trips. Memommy went with him the second time and upon their return, I made myself a little cardboard box and wrote "My Africa Box" on the outside. I put postcards, coins and various other random things that they brought me from the trip. Those trips wakened a yearning in my heart to experience life outside the familiar boundaries of Memphis, TN. And only God could know that some 15 years later, I would meet and fall in love with Larry and Cheryl's son, Jason. He had known Uncle Reg and Aunt Annette for many years, and they would soon become Memommy and Grandaddy to him as well.
Sometimes I wonder if my family- my whole family- realizes what a huge part of my story they are. Sometimes I even feel guilty for leaving Memphis behind, taking my kids so very far away and, in a sense, depriving them of the opportunity to know as well as I do, these precious grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. And then I think of Granddaddy and Memommy and how they weren't afraid to go in the first place. Yes, their going was temporary, but their faith to go in the first place and the family legacy that they have left behind somehow makes the going so much easier for me. Because upon returning, I can rely on the consistency that is my Memphis family. The sights, the smells, unchanging. Walking in the entryway to my Memommy's home, I smell the faint scent that speaks to my soul of Grands. I see his fishing hats, the furniture his hands constructed, the pool table my uncles used to chase me around, the sewing machine that under Memommy's skillful hand fashioned dress after dress after dress, and I know I'm home. And you know what the cool thing is? My kids know they're home too. The faces and sights that are so beloved to me are becoming just as precious to them when we visit, despite the many miles that separate us.
There are certain moments in life, wonderful and not so wonderful, that are forever ingrained in our minds. I walked through the cafeteria of Baptist hospital at Sunday lunch. Of course it was not where I imagined being on that beautiful spring day, St. Patrick's Day, 2002. Just a month, or even a week earlier, I wouldn't have believed that our family would be gathered together, watching as Granddaddy slipped away. But even in those difficult moments, we go through the motions of the necessary. My 2 toddlers needed lunch, despite the fact that no one else felt like eating, so I walked through the cafeteria fixing plates of nuggets, fries and other not so healthy options- just so they would eat something.. In the back of my nursing mind, I heard the hospital alarms that sound when a code takes place. Someone slipping away from this life. I heard the sounds but it didn't register. That would not be us. We were not at that point yet. Then I looked across the cafeteria and saw my dad and uncle approaching. My dad was pale and there was a tear. "You need to come upstairs" he said.
And I knew.
I knew I would not see the sparkle in his eye again when he pretended to fall out of his chair, or "accidently" drink buttermilk instead of regular milk. I knew I would not hear his contagious chuckle or watch those hands, scarred with "little nicks" reel in another fish. I knew I wouldn't see his face light up with the smile that had greeted loved ones for 80+ years. I knew that our Grands was gone from this earth. And my heart hurt. Oh how it hurt!
We left the hospital because that's what you do next. You don't want to say goodbye, but you must. You move on. You put one foot in front of the other and you do the next thing because what else can you do? The next week came and went. A blur of condolences, hugs, tears. We said our earthly goodbyes in the best way we knew how. We hold on to our hope in Jesus and the assurance that we will one day be reunited with our loved ones. With our Grands. And it does help. Praise God that we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve.
We grieve and then we choose to live. And live fully. Because we know that that is what our loved ones would want. I know that is what my Granddaddy would want. And when I think on his death, the swiftness, the shock, I hurt, yes. We all do. But I am also thankful because I know that he did not suffer much. He would not have wanted to be fussed over, we all know that for sure. So we pick up the pieces and we live. Slowly at first, for some more than others. Because the hurt is deep. We cry but we also laugh. We remember together and our love as a family deepens.
We endure the first family holiday and he is not there. And it hurts. There is a hole. Of course there is.
We welcome new family members as cousins marry and babies are born. We miss him. But we are thankful for the time we all still have on this earth.
My girls learn to fish and bait their own hooks. I cry a silent tear and wonder if he sees.
My little farm girls spend countless hours in their Papa's garden picking tomatoes, peas, okra and squash. And my heart smiles. I wish he were here.
Of course we all wish he were here. He's not, though, and we are. And I think he would want us to remember that and live fully. So we play together and we laugh.
Cousins hear stories of their Granddaddy, and we all rejoice in the love they are still able to share with their Memommy.
So even though we are more miles apart than I care to remember most days, I cherish these precious ones, my family, and I rejoice in the legacy of Reginald James Patterson, our gentle giant.
He taught us what it is to love and our Memommy continues to faithfully speak that love into our lives.
Together, they taught me what it means to go, and faithfully trust in those I leave behind to hold the ropes in prayer and welcome us back with open arms whenever we are able to come.