A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. — John 13:34
My grandfather, who I called PawPaw, passed away last Thursday. He was my mom’s dad and, since my dad’s dad died when I was 3, the only granddad that I really remember. So many of my childhood memories include him and my grandmother, Nana. We spent Thanksgiving Day at their house or with them in the mountains. We spent every Christmas at their house. Most Sundays we’d end up at their house without even trying.
One of my favorite weeks of the summer was the week that I got to spend at their house. The whole week, Sunday to Saturday! Most years, my cousin Tony would be there too. PawPaw went to work early, so Nana would see him off and then cook us breakfast. Biscuits, gravy, eggs, gravy, sausage, gravy. It was the best! Later in the week, when she was out of eggs and flour, she would take us to Uncle Mort’s Restaurant in Jasper to show us the George Lindsey and Polly Holiday signed photographs and expose us to redeye gravy. I liked her gravy better. I liked the whole breakfast that she cooked better, but seeing a signed photograph of Goober and Flo was pretty fun.
Every day of the week we had to be home by 3:00 and we had to behave because, if we did those two things, PawPaw might take us fishing.
If Nana said that we had behaved – or even if we hadn’t and Nana needed a break – PawPaw would load me and Tony and about 6 fishing rods in a red VW Beetle and away we would go. Some days we’d end up at the Black Warrior River, some days we’d end up at the deep part of a creek, but he and Tony always caught a fish. I usually didn’t catch any fish, but I got pretty good at tying new hooks on my line after my previous one got caught on a rock, or a sunken log, or a tree branch 20 feet up a tree.
We were in that red VW, fishing hooks dangling too close to our eyes and ears probably, in search of water one day when ‘Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On’ came on the radio. PawPaw just laughed and laughed at the lyrics. “Those must be some more blue jeans”, he cackled. I don’t know if we caught any fish, or even found water, but we laughed all afternoon about that woman and her blue jeans causing a traffic jam.
Besides fishing and biscuits & gravy, other staples of an overnight trip to Nana and PawPaw’s were ice cream and The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday night. One of my favorite treats was banana ice cream with Frosted Flakes. Some times Nana would even let us have it for breakfast, because it was cereal and milk, and banana is a fruit. It’s a healthy bowl of goodness, really.
After dinner one Friday evening, we realized that there was no banana ice cream in the freezer, so PawPaw and I went to the store to get some. We were in a hurry, so PawPaw and I split up – him to the cereal aisle and me to the freezer aisle – then we met back up at the cashier. We were standing in line, waiting our turn, when the lady in the checkout lane beside our lane lost her mind. I mean lost her mind. Lost it.
I turned around to see a lady with hair dark as night, dressed in a muumuu shirt, shouting at the young cashier girl.
“You owe me change! You owe me change! The coins! You didn’t give me all my coins,” muumuu lady screamed at the cashier.
“You’re just stupid. They shouldn’t let people stupid as you who can’t do math work with money!” muumuu lady continued.
I, and almost everyone else, stood staring at the sight. The cashier girl opened the drawer to her cash register and took out some coins – COINS! – not more than two or three of them, and handed them to muumuu lady.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” the cashier girl said through her embarrassment and burgeoning tears.
“Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault you’re stupid. You’re just not good enough to work here!”
The cashier girl was probably trying to run and hide when she turned around and away from muumuu lady and ran right in to PawPaw, who had stepped away from our spot in line and walked over to her.
She turned around and walked right in to him, and when she did he just wrapped his arms around her and said, “Don’t listen to that. Don’t listen to that. You are good enough. You are good enough.”
The cashier girl buried her face in her hands and cried on his chest.
“You are good enough”, he repeated. “You are good enough.” Over and over.
Muumuu lady put the coins in her purse, gave a hmmmpff to the whole situation and left the store.
When the cashier girl settled down, after what seemed like minutes, PawPaw whispered something to her and she nodded to him as she wiped tears from her face. He gave her another hug, and then he returned to pay for our cereal and ice cream. The cashier girl took a deep breath and began ringing up the next person in her line.
Through tears of her own, our cashier said “thank you” to PawPaw and rang up our purchase. PawPaw and I walked out of the store, got in the car, and went back to the house to watch ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’.
We never talked about that night, what happened in that store, but I think about it a lot.
I think about it when other people are acting like muumuu lady.
I think about it when I’m acting like muumuu lady.
I think about it when I read Jesus’ commandment to the disciples – and to us – to love other people not as we want to be loved or as the other person deserves to be loved, but as Jesus loved us. With everything that he had.
PawPaw was never concerned with the things that we use as excuses for not stepping toward people who are hurting. That night he wasn’t concerned with holding up our line. Being in a hurry for some TV show wasn’t as important to him as taking a few minutes to be there for the cashier girl. He didn’t wrap his arms around the cashier and encourage her so that he could cast a negative light on muumuu lady, because he wasn’t concerned about how his actions reflected on muumuu lady. He didn’t do it to be an example for his grandson or so I would have something to write about almost 35 years later. He did it because he loved, just truly loved, other people. Especially people who were hurting. He was all heart.
I’m concerned today for those hurting who may have found themselves in PawPaw’s arms for comfort and encouragement. Who is going to take his place with them?
You. And me. Or no one. Please, let’s not let it be no one.
Ninety years of age and in health that had slowed him down recently, he was mentally strong but he just hadn’t felt like himself lately. I’m sad that PawPaw has passed, but I know that he’s in a better place, fishing with Tony probably.
Go. Be kind.