Sunday, January 31, 2010

In memory, always.

John William Townsend 79, of Louisville, KY died
Saturday, January 31, 2004.

My grandfather beat the odds. He did not lose. The doctors originally told us, "maybe a year." Townsend's are stubborn--we never listen to doctors. It is our trademark and in true fashion my "pa-pa" fought his cancer as angry as a mule and as spiteful as a rattlesnake. He never believed he was going to die--not once did I hear him say that he was going to die from cancer. He always talked about when he was going to get better and sometimes we would catch ourselves believing this. The family knew what "stage four" meant. We knew anything after those initial twelve months was borrowed time...and I am thankful, if not, grateful, for each and every one of those "bonus" months.

My "pa-pa" was as country as a Cracker Barrel store. Born to farmers, raised in corn fields...his articulation lacked the education and diction of a Rhodes Scholar and yet there was nothing this man could not do with his hands. Traditional through his core, my grandfather did not yield to his word, did not steal or deceive others, and rarely held his opinions in. He told you the truth even if you did not want to hear it. Yet, beneath this gruff exterior was a man who would sneak pieces of candy in my hand as a young child and whisper, "You're grandpa's favorite", and wink as he pulled away.

There are those memories I hope never to the sounds of my grandfather sighing when he had stood too long bored with idle chatter of strangers, the stamping of his feet trying to rouse a dog, or his deep guttural laugh when he would tweak the cats tail causing it to hiss in hatred. I can tell you what he would order at Frisch's on a Sunday morning and exactly how he liked his coffee. I can tell you his favorite candy and how much he looked forward to it each Christmas. I can tell you about his love of gospel music. I can tell you I miss him...often.

Pa-pa was a rare breed of men that believed in a solid work ethic. On February 2, 2004, one of the coldest days of the year, we buried my grandfather. Oddly, what we thought was to be a small family funeral, turned into 50+ car parade with hundreds gathered in the funeral home. The director ran out of funeral flags and instructed us to "please use your flashers. It would seem that John has many people that want to see him off today". People I had never seen or met poured through the funeral parlor each sharing a story of how my grandfather had helped them in some way. A small frail lady talked of the groceries he would bring by her house after her husband died, while another stranger said my grandfather fixed his car on the side of the road one hot July afternoon after a chemo treatment. That entire morning was a sea of visitors coming to share my grandfather in ways I had never seen or known him. Complete strangers filled the room until it spilled out into the hall and we walked one last time with him in a procession across the city.

There are days when I have needed to hear my grandfathers advice or words so badly I can feel it and I try as hard as I can to imagine what he might say and what it might sound like. There are days I wonder if he was proud of his granddaughter, the one he took under his wing and treated like one of the boys. Thankfully, on that last day of his funeral, complete strangers insisted on meeting me, hugging me and they explained they recognized me from a photo my "pa-pa" carried with him throughout the neighborhood. The photo (pictured above) was one he would unfold from his Dickie work shirt when he wanted something to talk about. These strangers knew I graduated high school (something my pa-pa revered as an accomplishment as he only finished the 6th grade), they knew I went to college, where I worked and how I loved the outdoors. Most importantly, they told me how "pa-pa" was very proud of "his Missy" (family nickname). Always a reminder for me to never I said, Townsend's are the core.

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