My grandfather, with his body’s deterioration finally catching up to his mind’s head start, stayed bed-bound downstairs while my dad looked after him during the day. It was two generations of Strother Halls, back under one roof, with the younger version now fully in charge, the patriarch at last, helping his Alzheimer’s-riddled father ease into this final stage as peacefully as possible.
Those last few months also gave my dad a final peace with his own dad, something he shared with me toward the end of Papa Hall’s life.
Dad told me that when he was growing up, the two hadn’t been very close, with Dad even wondering if the two men loved each other. I found this shocking since the Papa Hall I knew was about the kindest old grandfather you could ever encounter. My youth at his house was spent hearing tall tales of his youth while we shared glass bottles of Mountain Dew or the occasional Ale-8 (soft drinks that I wasn’t allowed to have when at home). We played card games at the kitchen table and read (newspapers for him, Archie comics for me) in our recliners in the living room. We laughed when Granny passed gas, then asked forgiveness by bringing her flowers from the backyard garden.
It couldn’t be possible that this man, my grandfather, my Papa Hall, wasn’t capable of being anything short of incredible to anyone, let alone his own son, his only son.
But age and grandchildren can change a man, I guess.
I see this every day now with my own dad. Growing up, I knew my dad loved me, but I never knew how much he actually liked me. We weren’t close, although we interacted often. When we played catch, I viewed it as a chore; there were no sentimental father/son Field of Dreams moments at that time. He seemed miserable to be out there, and I’m sure I was equally unhappy.
What I didn’t know then was that his body pretty much stayed in constant pain, the result of back injuries that had taken their toll. Every time he threw a baseball toward me, his body howled with crippling pain, yet he would just grit his teeth and go on because playing catch with your son is just what a man is supposed to do.
Just like my dad realized that his own dad did indeed love him (and that it was a shared feeling), I’ve come to terms with my own relationship with my dad. Fortunately, we didn’t need a deathbed to get to it.
Instead, all it took were grandkids in the form of my sister’s three boys.
All three of my nephews think my dad is some sort of superstar, and honestly, I can see why: he is loud and funny, telling tall tales of his youth, sharing soft drinks, playing card games and laughing at Mom when she passes gas. He’s become the Papa Hall.
While the two oldest boys, ages 15 and almost 14, still love being around my dad, the youngest, Jon, age 10, worships him. He will call my mom and ask if Dad can come over and play. They are best friends.
Jon recently had a school assignment asking him to write about a hero. He chose Dad (or, Poppa, as the boys call him). Jon wrote that Poppa took them to the Corvette Museum and joined them on a beach trip to North Carolina this summer. Jon told how even though Poppa has had lots of injuries to his hip, leg and back, he has always been there to do things with them and for them. He never gives up. He is a hero.
Yeah, age and grandchildren can change a man.
It can also change a son.