I wrote a whole two-part post about Dad for last Father’s Day. I never followed up and told y’all Dad’s reaction to the piece. I was afraid he’d think it was a little too emotional…but he said it was the nicest Father’s Day present I ever gave him. I’m glad he liked it. It’s still one of my favorite posts.
There are a lot of stories I can tell you about Dad and me, but I thought that for Father’s Day this year (I know I’m a few days late), I’d tell y’all something about Papaw, since I really haven’t written about him so far.
First off, “Papaw” was Dad’s dad. Mom’s dad, who died when I was 6, was “granddad”. Since he died when I was so young, I never really got to know him. Papaw as another story. He played a big role in my life up until he died. I was 14 when he passed, and I still miss him.
Papaw was country through and through. He taught me to fish, shoot, hunt…and play poker. He gave me a few lessons in driving a truck, too, although it was really Dad who taught me to drive. Still, Papaw got me behind the wheel of his truck when I was only 13. That wasn’t the only thing he taught me that I wasn’t legally supposed to do.
When I say he taught me to play poker, I don’t mean that he just taught me that a flush beats a straight. Once I had the basics down, he let me “sit in” for a while at a poker game with some of his buddies. We played for pennies, since Papaw insisted that I play with my own real money so I’d learn what the game was really like. I was only 12, so y’all can probably imagine how cool I felt to be playing a real game of poker with grown men who were smoking cigars. I even won a few hands and came out like a dollar ahead when we were done. Before you start thinking it, I should tell you that Papaw insisted that they didn’t let me win.
I know it’s totally politically incorrect today in a lot of places, but Papaw really liked guns. He even named Dad Wesson because he liked Smith & Wessons. He had a big collection and taught me to shoot when I was 11. He also taught me to be responsible and respectful around guns, so y’all shouldn’t imagine me running around unsupervised with guns. But Papaw definitely made sure that his grandson was a good shot. (I still am.)
Papaw didn’t just like guns for their own sake. He hunted and took me along more than just a few times, but I gotta admit that, despite my name, hunting’s not my favorite thing. (Papaw’s name was Hunter too; he lived up to it better than I have lol.) One of the times Papaw got me out in a duck blind, I was dang proud of myself when I shot dinner for the first time and we brought it back for Meemaw to cook. Still, duck blinds were a little cold and wet for a boy who liked getting sweaty playing baseball on hot summer days lol. We went out deer hunting too. I liked that more, but the problem with shooting a deer is what do you do with the animal once you’ve shot it? Yeah, Papaw had antlers up on the wall in the house, but he was also very strict about eating what you shoot or catch. So every time Papaw shot a deer, Meemaw got stuck with a shitload of venison in her deep freeze. When Papaw grilled, it was usually venison burgers. They’re good, don’t get me wrong…but a venison burger is nothing close to a beef Block Burger.
(One year, Meemaw got Dad to take a whole mess of frozen venison off her hands. He tried to make venison Block burgers. I’m sure you can make good venison chili (it sounds good)…but Dad found out the hard way that a beef chili recipe doesn’t work with venison lol.)
As for fishing, Papaw loved it…and so did I. I had my own rod and tackle box at the farm, and Papaw really made me into a dang good fisherman. To give me a chance to show off what he taught me, he entered me in a couple junior contests. I even won one of those. It’s one of my favorite trophies.
Dad and me have gone on fishing trips of our own since Papaw died, and, it’s funny, but sometimes I’m the expert and Dad turns to me when he forgets how to tie a knot or something. There’s an easy way to explain the difference between fishing with Papaw and fishing with Dad. With Papaw, you were out to catch supper; Dad’s a catch and release man. That means you don’t have to scale and gut the fish you catch when you’re out with Dad, although scaling and gutting is something Papaw made sure I learned pretty early. Part of making a real fisherman out of me was making sure I wasn’t gonna be squeamish around fish guts.
So, one weekend back when I was 14, Papaw drove to Maryville to take me back to the farm for a couple days. He did that every now and then, just him and me. He’d come and get me after practice on Friday and would drive me back after supper on Sunday. We always got back later than Dad wanted, especially if I had homework. Papaw wasn’t one to worry if I had an assignment due on Monday lol.
So on the Saturday he took me out fishing. We did pretty well before lunch, and caught plenty of catfish for dinner – Meemaw’s fried catfish with hushpuppies was beyond awesome, and it always tasted better when you caught the fish yourself. Papaw would always have a beer with the lunch Meemaw packed for us; this time, though, he took two beers out of the cooler, flipped them open…and handed me one. Like most grandfathers, Papaw gave me a sip from his beer a few times when I was younger, but this was different…it looked like he was giving me a whole bottle for myself.
“Yeah. It’s high time you learned how to drink a beer. Just don’t tell your Meemaw – and especially your daddy – that I gave you one. Go ahead, boy…just drink it slow.”
I figured, okay, why not…my grandfather said I could…and so I did. I can’t say I loved the flavor at first, but I did like it. At that age, when you drink something from the bottle, you expect it to be sweet like some kind of coke. So beer was a surprise. But not a bad one.
That wasn’t the only surprise Papaw had for me that afternoon. Once he handed me the beer, he took out his cigar case. It was pretty usual for him to smoke a cigar when we went out fishing, but, this time, he took a cigar, showed me where to cut it, and handed it to me. Of course I inhaled when he was helping me light it, and he got a laugh out of that, but eventually I got it lit.
Of course he told me not to tell Meemaw or Dad about that either.
So there I was, at 14, out fishing with my papaw, and having my first beer and my first cigar with him. Yeah, it felt pretty dang awesome and grown-up and man to man. And, yeah, it was also pretty cool that we had our own secret from Meemaw and Dad. (I didn’t tell Dad about it until after I was 21 and we were having a legal beer together. I reckoned it was a little late then for him to get angry at Papaw lol.) I don’t remember how the alcohol in the beer affected me…except that I fell asleep in the car on the way home.
Before some of you get all judgy and say Papaw shouldn’t have given an under-age boy alcohol and tobacco, I need to tell y’all that he made it super clear that it wasn’t supposed to become a habit with me. He just wanted to know that, when the time came when I was old enough, I’d know what to do. Exactly like the way he taught me to be responsible around and with guns.
So Papaw and me kept our secret, although Papaw didn’t have too long to keep it. That was our last fishing trip; he died a few months after that. Later on, I found out that the adults all knew he was sick, but Papaw didn’t want the kids to know. Y’all can’t imagine how much it means to me knowing that one of the things he wanted to do before he died was make sure I could drink a beer and smoke a cigar.
I don’t think Papaw and Dad ever got together and decided who would be in charge of teaching me what things. I reckon it just kind of divided up naturally since they were so different. Although Papaw always wanted to see my trophies and would listen to me talk on and on about baseball, baseball was Dad’s and my thing. Just like shooting and poker and fishing were Papaw’s and my things. It worked out real well, and, yeah, I know how lucky I am to have had not just an awesome Dad, but an awesome granddaddy too. Every time Keaton hands me one of his Short Story cigars, I always think of that first cigar with Papaw.
I hope he knows (wherever he is) that he taught his grandson right.