For those of you who haven't read here long, Billy is my son Hank's best friend and they've been friends since Billy was in high school and Billy's been my friend too, one of my best, in fact. Billy's like that.
He and his wife, Shayla got married in my backyard and Mr. Moon and I and Lily and Owen, who was freshly born himself, were with Billy and Shayla when their Waylon was born four years ago this November. I think it's November.
But before Billy and Shayla were married, before Waylon was but a gleam in his daddy's eye, I had the distinct fortune of meeting Billy's grandparents, MawMaw and PawPaw who at the time were living down in Tate's Hell in their sweet little house on Doyle Creek in the middle of east nowhere. Hank had been telling me about them forever but I'd never met them until we went down there for the Apalachicola Seafood festival one year. He knew them and had come to love them and when Glen and I met them, it was as if we were family just recently discovered. Their love for Billy was such that that was how it was. If Billy loved you, they loved you, no questions asked, no barriers to cross, no hurdles to jump.
Just, Come on in, y'all hungry? You need a drink? We're so glad you're here.
PawPaw was handsome. The kind of handsome that doesn't go away with age. The kind where a certain kind of girl just knows that at some point, that man played guitar.
He and MawMaw (who was a stone-cold beauty in her day) were married sixty years ago this coming-up Halloween. PawPaw was in the service and I think MawMaw was about sixteen. They had three kids and lived a life. They sure lived a life.
Anyway, in the past few years, PawPaw hadn't been doing well. His mind got a little foggy and he and MawMaw had to move to town to be close to Billy and Shayla and Billy's mama and his sister but being fiercely independent, MawMaw figured out how to make it work keeping him at home with her. They got help and Billy and Shayla and Denise and Kelly helped out tremendously and it wasn't until recently that they had to put PawPaw somewhere where he could get the help he needed because MawMaw was alone with him at night and she's on a walker and not in the best of health herself and it was hard and she lost weight she couldn't afford to lose and he started slipping down fast.
When I heard that Hank was going over to see him, I knew I needed to as well and Mr. Moon met me over there. PawPaw had been admitted the night before and wasn't responsive, but MawMaw was there and Billy, and we got to see Billy's mama and meet his niece from Washington state. I knelt by MawMaw in the recliner where she was laying beside her man and I held her hand for a long time and we talked and PawPaw was still there, unresponsive but breathing, and we all knew it wouldn't be long.
He passed this afternoon, I hear, and I'm just so gently hammered in the heart.
I really don't even know what to say. I want to say all the right things about how he was so gracious and loving and how he delighted in his bride, Nell, and their life together. About how he said my name in that southern way that made my knees weak, "May-ree," and how gentlemanly he always was towards me. How generous towards my husband and me and our kids, too. How he and MawMaw loved Billy so much and so good that he turned into the man and husband and daddy he is. How he was a man who did the best he could and how that ended up being mighty damn fine.
He and MawMaw just got a new great-grandchild recently and Billy and Shayla and Waylon went up to Georgia to meet that child last weekend. When I talked to Hank a little while ago, he said that MawMaw was with them, which is good, all the family gathered here, she being with this tiny baby who is another direct proof of her life and love with the man she loved so much.
How do you sum all of that up? You don't.
You just say that you were mighty glad you got to know him and you hope that the ones he left behind will be able to go on. I worry for MawMaw. She's spent the last years of her life dedicated to taking care of him and now what? I worry for Billy who loved that man so much.
I'll make some chicken and dumplings tomorrow and take them over to the family. I don't know when the funeral is but Hank has been asked to be the officiant.
Here's a picture of PawPaw and Waylon that I stole from Billy's Facebook.
Fourth of July. Independence Day. Today PawPaw became independent of the mortal chains which bind us.
I'm sending my love to him, sure, but also to those he left behind who will mourn him forever.
Happy Freedom Day, PawPaw. We were lucky as hell to have known you. Thank you for being the man you were. We hold you in our hearts, we are family because you and your beloved bride let us be.
So much love...May-ree.