Red Bird

Photo by  Jesi Godwin

Photo by Jesi Godwin

Thinkin' about my sweet granddaddy today. Here is a little story that a 7-years-younger Beth wrote about him the morning he passed away, on this day in 2009. 

I've changed a lot but my memory of him is steady, and the kind of love he had for my grandmother is the kind I'll never stop chasing after.


Red Bird

I’m not the person who wakes up every morning to make a cup of coffee. I want to be that person, but usually fall short of time and pour a roadie glass of Dr. Pepper instead. This is my coffee, I say to no one in a manly voice.

This morning I woke up, silenced my obnoxious alarm, and tiptoed on the cold hardwood to the kitchen, as if it were my routine. I opened the cabinet and was surprised to find an almost empty bag of coffee, well past it’s expiration date. As the water boiled, I poured the coffee dirt into a tiny french press - as efficient as it is adorable. I waited.

My grandfather drinks coffee all day. Common, I think, all old men love coffee… except I remember he would drink it from fancy glasses with pretty birds on them. I have very vivid memories from my childhood looking up at those little birds. I remember the sounds he would make – the clinky sound as he stirred and the funny sound as he slurped. There was a red, blue, green and yellow one, each with a matching bird. The last time I was home I asked him about those mugs. They had been packed away by now and he sent me to the garage to fetch them. As I examined the mugs with adult eyes, it was strange to see how common they looked, even trendy… like I could buy them at Urban Outfitters. Proud, he told me I could have them, pointed at one and said, that red bird is my favorite.

Smiling, I poured coffee into my fancy mug. Hello, red bird.

As I sat with the cardinal, I thought about my granddad - who we call Pepa, Momma calls Daddy, Mema calls Honey, and the world calls John Roberts. He fell in love with my grandmother at the age of 16, served overseas in the military, and is the first to tell you that he’s been married for 66 years…and to the same woman.

The last few years have been a string of him letting go and hanging on. Days away from turning 83, his health is waning. A lifetime of smoking has caused one lung to die and the other isn’t far behind. A miracle man, he is. He was not supposed to live long after they discovered the golfball-sized mass in his head 15 years ago. I can hear his quiet chuckle. He sure showed them.

He’s the kind of grandpa that always acts like he’s gonna getcha, making you run and squeal and laugh. He wears Dickies jumpsuits and falls asleep in his la-z-boy recliner watching westerns on TV. He washes the dishes and waits on my grandmother hand and foot. She’ll say Johnnnnny, with a whiny accent and he’ll smile and say, What do you want woman? And they laugh. To this day, my Mema has never pumped her own gasoline. Every time he walks by, he gives her bottom a playful pinch and every time she acts surprised.

Early this afternoon I got a call from Mom to tell me that Pepa probably wouldn’t make it through the night but as usual, we were hopeful. This time he didn’t. He fell asleep in his chair one last time.

Last week he told my grandmother that he saw a light, but then realized that shiny light was her and sang his own rendition of This Little Light of Mine.

So maybe sweet, forever, imperfect kinda love happens in real life. People fall in love and stay there for 66 years.

I love you, you cute ol’ man and I miss you already. Good news for the both of us – there are no inhalers in heaven, huh Peep? ;)

John O. Roberts

(Written 9-11-09)