Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Feeling With My Fingers"

We each live a life, a tale to be told.  I've always thought about whether my story is worth reading or not.  Some people just have that kind of life, the one you want to know more about.  They seem superhuman, almost, or at least have that something special.  As my sister Holly said, magical.

Papaw has always looked like Santa Clause.  A head full of white hair, a bearded face, rosy red cheeks, twinkling blue eyes.  I never will forget when my Great grandpa Barlow passed away.  I was in the 8th grade, and a couple of my younger cousins (on the Clemons side) looked up reverently as Papaw Paul walked into the funeral home. "Wow!" one of them exclaimed.  "Papaw Barlow must have been special. Santa Clause came to his funeral."

No, he's not Santa Clause, but his generosity can match Santa's.   Raised poor, he worked hard to help support his younger brothers and sisters.  He graduated from high school with honors and went to Michigan to work hours a day to provide for my dad, uncle, and aunt.  He came home and on the weekends worked on his farm and fed his fish and built in his basement. As Holly said, he was a creative genius. He could fix anything and he could make anything work the "right way". If you were to peak into his basement you would see so many "inventions", machines and gadgets that he had taken apart and put back together in a more efficient way. The smell of sawdust still brings back memories of Papaw downstairs, making me homemade microphone stands. I spent a lot of time there, and there was nothing like Papaw's cornbread crumbled up in a glass of milk. 

My sister Holly talked about his generosity, too. He embodied a self-sacrificial love. He was the person that when you were visiting him in ICU, kept trying to give you this new lotion they were using on him, because your 30 year old skin needed it worse. We say all the time that someone would "give you the shirt off of their back", but with him, that was true. If he thought you needed it, he would give it to you. And if you thought you didn't need it, he would hand it to you and say, "hush up and take it". 

As I got older, Papaw was always there for me.  He had his own "bank" and the reserve never ran out.  I'd sign an IOU, and every year at Christmas, Papaw would give me a notecard saying someone had paid off my balance.  He told me that it was his pleasure to help me out, but it was my responsibility to help out my younger sisters in the same way. 

Papaw is the smartest person I know.  He can figure out anything, can think outside of the box better than anyone I know.  A few years ago, his ice sculptures (made out of trees, branches, and water through water hoses) amazed everyone who drove by Hollybush.  He even was mentioned in the Herald Leader and was featured in the book Kentucky: Off the Beaten Path.  Holly said, "He could turn a tree into an ice sculpture, and a pair of panty hose into a rubber band. Matter of fact, I often wondered where Mamaw must be hiding them from him, in order for her to have any left to wear. wear. He could tell you the name of every plant on his farm and he is the only person I've ever known to correct Jeopardy and be right about it. He was truly the wisest man I have ever known. "

He has a wicked sense of humor.  I will always remember Wallace's first Christmas with us.  Papaw got a hot pepper and dipped a toothpick in it. He was the one laughing the hardest when Wallace realized just how hot Papaw's hot peppers were.
He was funny. Now because he was so quick witted his jokes sometimes came so fast you didn't even realize he was joking. Just like when you asked him how he was feeling and he would respond, "with my fingers". 

Holly remembers him as a master storyteller. Looking back on it, his love of Louis Lamoure must have inspired all of those Western Themed stories he mesmerized me with so much when I was younger. I was so mesmerized in fact that when I was asked during my kindergarten graduation what I wanted to be when I grew up I responded, "an Indian".  Speaking of Louis L'amour, he's the only guy I know who paid to get into Disney World to read a western and peoplewatch... but he had fun doing it.

Holly also remembered how trustworthy he was. She said, "It didn't matter if the passenger side wheel of that beat up old truck was hanging slightly off the edge of the road on top of the mountain, I knew we would be just fine, because after all it was papaw that was driving.  I can remember him letting me sit in the bucket of his tractor then raising it up in the air so that I could help him trim branches off of the trees. It didn't even register to me that this might be dangerous until Grandma Bert came outside and immediately started yelling for him to "put her down before you get her killed". I always knew that no matter where we were and what was going on it would be ok as long as he was there.

Probably the most important of all, was his demonstration of utter and complete humility. He would do things for you, simply and solely because he loved you. His only priority was for him to not get any credit. When Holly was a very young child, she got choked on a cherry pit. He saved her life that day, by getting that thing out of her throat. The thing is, she never would have known that, had someone not told her  about it later. She laughed, "I always wondered why he didn't want me around those cherry trees. I learned later that it was because I could apparently not be trusted around them. "
Holly summed it up like this. "I guess I would just say that he was MAGICAL. He was just magical to me. And as I think about it, it wasn't just because he was always so wise, humorous and creative. It was because of how he made you feel when you were around him. Not only could he turn a tree into an ice sculpture, he could turn a bad day into a smile. All I needed was an "Aww Honey" for it to all be better. He loved you and you knew it. You could just feel it emanating from him. You could see it in his soft eyes and hear it in is his voice. It was like he hugged you with that voice sometimes. As I think about the world now, honestly it feels a little less magical. But I realize that it doesn't have to. Because his "magic" was really just pure and simple love. Love like the Bible teaches us. And that is something that doesn't die with him. When I think of him I can still feel his love, and I can remember that he taught me to love other people. When I would protest his offering me help when I got older saying, "really papaw I don't need anything", we would always tell me to "pass it on". He wasn't just talking about passing on a few dollars, he was talking about passing on that love. So when I think about that it gives me a new mission, to always remember his love and do my utmost to "pass it on"."

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