Remembering Papaw

This is a few months late, but after Thanksgiving and heading into the Holidays, it is as good a time as any. For those outside the South (or Appalachian Mid-West apparently), Papaw (or some variant) is a name for a granddad. My Papaw was Jeffie Cleveland (J.C.) Hunt, Jr. He died back in July, a few months after turning 94.

My last memory of him comes from the Saturday before he died. I loaded up my month old twin boys, one of which has the initials J.C., after him, and Sprout to head down to my parents for everyone to meet them (and give Mrs. MMT some rest). Papaw was mostly in a wheelchair at this point, and with them being so small and he being old, he was scared to hold them. He had thick white hair (my mom tells me it all turned white in his 40’s, a trait I fear I may have inherited) and these intensely bright blue eyes; it sets up quite a contrast. I bring the boys over so he can seem them closely, he reaches up and grabs their feet with a smile and a little bit of a tear in those bright eyes. He died less than a week later.

Born in rural south Alabama, he was number seven of 13 children. His dad, J.C., Sr., was a Church of Christ pastor and a farmer. I inherited dozens of his books, some more than 100 years old, including a Bible he bought in 1920 for $20, which according to the US Inflation Calculator is $257.35 in 2019 dollars. Papaw joined the Navy when he was 17 and left of the Pacific Theater of WW2, where he learned to be a machinist. When he cam back, a family friend and lawyer thought that he’d be a good lawyer and was able to get him into Auburn, but formal school was not for him and shortly after someone offered him a job at a machine shop and he took it so that he could get married.

He was a quite man with a uniquely bright mind, he liked working with his hands. He completely built an entire house, the one in which my mom grew up, in the 50’s, and then built the cabin to which they retired in the 80’s. He turn an old VW into a dunbuggy when my mom was in high school. When the moved from the rural cabin to be closer to my mom in the 90’s, he turned the garage of that house in to a beauty shop (my memaw cut hair) then built a new garage (with a ramp to help the cats get over the fence), then built a workshop/barn out back where he experimented with different varietals of peas and beans (a decent one I remember was a black-eyed pea crossed with a lima bean). He had an interest in learning/keeping his mind going and taught himself guitar/dulcimer, attempted to teach himself Spanish (despite never having Mexican food until he was in his 80’s a referring to tortilla chips as Mexican Crackers), and he was my only grandparent who learned how to use a computer, internet, and even Facebook.

Another thing I’ll also remember about him was how much he liked ice cream. I can easily picture him younger, from the days we’d spend over there, wearing coveralls with no shoes hold that big tub of Neapolitan ice cream. I don’t think he ever had any until joining the Navy, and he told me while others spent their money on booze and women, he spent what he had on ice cream. When he was 85 he had a heart attach and had to be lifeflighted (the first/last time he ever flew) to a hospital in Atlanta. When I went to visit him he was eating ice cream. He told me it took him 85 years to go through the first heart, so he didn’t have to worry about wearing this one out (he didn’t have a transplant, just a quadruple bye-pass, but he liked to say he had a new heart, eyes (cataract surgery), and knees (reconstruction).

There are other stories, and we shared those with each other at the funeral, especially the wild stories about growing up in the South in the 20′ and 30’s, but this is already longer than he’d ever want written about him. He loved his ever-growing family (my boys make 18-20 great grandchildren, depending on how you count some) and especially liked Sprout (whom he said was a spitfire and a pistol) and some of the toddlers because they were so loud. He was near deaf for probably the last five years, but he could hear those screaming/giggling little girls. At holidays and lunches, he’d just sit and watch them run around, with a little tear in those bright blue eyes.

Edit: One more story, when he knew I was bringing the boys down, he had my mom get two 50 dollar bills, couldn’t be a single $100 to split, one for each of them for their college fund.

J.C. Hunt, Jr.
May 18, 1925 – July 12, 2019

Remembering My Grandmother

No book review today, as I am heading to a funeral. Louise Dueree “Dee” Turner, my grandmother, died on Monday morning. She would have turned 90 this August, but even more amazingly, in less than two weeks, she and my granddad would have been celebrating their 73 anniversary.

I lived next to my grandparents from about eight years old until I left for college, and when school was out of the summer, my brother and I spent our days with them. They lived on a little more than 30 acres and she had numerous gardens in which she grew Day Lilies. For decades she sold the flowers, but mostly the bulbs for others to plan in their gardens. Later in life, I’d come across people from surrounding cities and all they knew about my area was an old lady that sold bulbs to their garden clubs. One lady actually remember there being two little boys running around the gardens.

Along with selling flowers she was in charge of the church kitchen that made the Wednesday night meals every week. She was an incredible cook and well known for her abilities. One of my favorite memories about her is the pancake breakfasts she would cook every Christmas morning. They also hosted massive Easter and Labor Day celebrations at their house that would have dozens and dozens of people attending, including her sisters and my dad’s cousins and all their children. She loved the beach and for years they and all her sisters and their husbands spent October in New Smyrna Beach. All this despite have had three hip replacements, she was so active she wore out her first one and needed a replacement.

Mrs. MMT actually lived with them for a little over two months while I was away at grad school and right before we were married. They watched old movies with Clarke Gable together and my grandmother enjoyed having her there so much, she would often try to convince me to have us live there for a while after we were married.

She first started showing signs of Alzheimer’s about eight years ago, and unfortunately it only become worse. She hasn’t recognized me or Mrs. MMT in a few years and while she always loved seeing Sprout, she was never entirely sure who she was. Maybe a year or so ago, she starting not knowing my parents and this past January we moved them to an assisted living facility with memory care from the house they built more than 40 years ago.

My granddad woke up around 5:30 on Monday and my grandmother told him she was cold, he got her a blanket and told her he loved her and went out to watch TV. When he checked back in on her a little bit later, she was dead. In some ways, it is comforting to know that she went quickly, and that if she suffered, it didn’t last long. However, for him, it happened too quick. He told me yesterday that he wished that he had been able to hold her just one more time.

As we talked about her yesterday, he said that she was a great wife and mother, that they had a long happy life, and that he could not have asked for anything more. Best of all, and the most comforting, is that I know we will all see her again. She’ll have no more hip pain, and she will remember everyone when we all meet again.

Dee Turner
August 31, 1928 – May 28, 2018

Daniel

Well, I just started this blog and have already taking a longer break than I anticipated. It started by taking a few days away from work as my wife’s sister and her husband came into town and continued on through Veterans Day yesterday. Thank you to all who served in war, especially those who had no choice.

Them being here lead to an idea for a post that I had for a while, but wasn’t sure I really wanted to write about. Back in August, my sister in law was due with their first child in a few weeks when suddenly the child died. Apparently he had an issue with the umbilical cord.  When my wife called me to tell me there was a problem, I thought worst case scenario, he’d be born premature (my wife’s sister, my brother and I were all born earlier in pregnancy), so I really didn’t give it a second thought. I had no idea that there was such a thing as cord issues or that baby could still die this late in pregnancy.

I suppose I was also a bit naive. A week prior, my brother’s wife had to have emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage and her having one of her fallopian tubes removed. For some reason, I felt as if since one bad thing had already happened, another would couldn’t. Obviously, that is not the way the world works and so while one of my sister in laws is recovering from surgery the other is being told she has lost her son and tragically will still have to go through labor. She delivered Daniel earlier the next morning.

Later they decided it would be good for them to get away from everyone one and come visit us (we are about a 12 hour drive away) and that is why they were here over the weekend. Now obviously, I can’t imagine they pain and anger they felt. Outside of my grandmother dying about a year and a half ago, I have never experienced death. They, on the other hand, had experienced what many people consider the worst loss, the death of a child.

Talking with my brother in law (well, technically my sister in law’s husband, but that is harder to saw) this weekend, I began to realize more of the frustration that comes with tragedy. He is understandably angry with God; but he also realizes that God didn’t kill Daniel. Recognizing God’s sovereignty, he is angry that God didn’t intervene and save Daniel. So he struggles with the question of why, why did this happen?

The answer, in my mind, leads to more frustration because it is so utterly unsatisfying: we live in a broken world. I think my brother in law knows this. I think he knows that this wasn’t some punishment for his sins or divine retribution, but instead that death is a just a part of life. Outside of the Garden, tragedy happens. Away from paradise, there are murderers and rapist, 30 year olds get cancer, people bomb buildings, storm surges kill thousands and umbilical cords get tangled.  And really, that just sucks. It is not comforting during times of loss. It does not encourage us emotionally, but instead reminds us that we could be, at any moment, seconds away from death and tragedy.

My pastor likes to say that life was great in the first two pages of the Bible and will be again during the last two, but in between is terrible as we experience loss and separation from God. I suppose in times of tragedy we should be reminded that one day we will experience no death; that we will walk with God and worship him for eternity. It should give us hope for the future and of Christ’s return. We should be reminded that our time is short and that we are commanded to go to every nation preaching the Gospel. Instead of renewed hope I think most people experience hopelessness; instead of looking to the future the dwell in the past and what could have been; instead of vigor for those without Christ, they feel apathy and the sinking feeling that life is pointless.

Our models for this include Job who continued to praise God and even Christ who asked forgiveness of those who crucified Him. Most people fail to meet these standards; I know I would in the face of tragedy, I usually do just in the face of minor inconvenience.