for papa at 100
Today is Friday the 13th . . . my dad's lucky day. He was born on February 13th, 1915 and today is the 100th anniversary of that momentous day. November 2015 will also mark the 20th anniversary of his passing. But today is all about remembering and celebrating my papa, or sometimes just pop or, as his friends and the rest of the family new him, Jimmy Smith.
I grew up admiring my pop's grace and style . . . in all sorts of things. He was a ballroom dancer, smooth as silk when he and my Mom twirled around the dance floor or just around the living room ... it was like having my very own Fred and Ginger in residence! My pop played the alto sax and I hear tell, he used to sit in with a big band in Miami way back when, man could he swing! So you know our family music sessions were always a delight . . . Mom at the piano dashing off a mean boogie woogie, Pop on the sax, the rest of us chiming in with guitars and drums, dancing and singing and harmonizing. Treasured good times . . .
His elegant hands created gift wrapping magic that inspires me still and every one of us was frustrated at one time or another by his unerring ability to guess what was in our gifts to him . . . well, almost unerring. I don't think he had any frame of reference for that pair of orange bikini briefs I gave him for some forgotten occasion. He wasn't happy about that . . . hated that I had wasted money on something so silly.
As a boy in Miami, he shined shoes and loved to describe how he'd mastered the pop of the polishing cloth - that elegant style started young. Long before I arrived, he worked on the family farm in Perry, Georgia . . . stories from that farm are the stuff of family legend. I might be mixing up a couple of stories, but I do know parts of this are true . . . he saved a piglet (hog-let?) from being squashed by it's enormous mother, gave it mouth to mouth and put it in the oven to warm it up. Said piglet, known as Sam, followed him around like a dog. They raised him to a full grown hog, about 1000 pounds, and as things go on the farm, sent him off for slaughter. A much happier farm thought . . . I would have loved to hear him singing Amazing Grace at the top of his lungs while riding the tractor out in the fields, but like I said, that was way before my time.
There's a bunch of us, three girls, two boys and I'm next to youngest. Papa called me "Kitten" . . . I guess that came from Kathy - cat - kitten and I always felt very protected. He worked constantly to support our bunch and we never really took vacations - weekend jaunts for a day of fishing, but not much more. My pop had great aspirations and dreamed of becoming an import/export magnate. A few snippets of his efforts remain, like this tiny little treasure . . . a small decorated ball opens, nestled within on the original cotton a tiny hollowed out seed holds a cache of minute carved animals. It occurs to me that this is one of the few things I have of my father's . . . this little jewel and his stamp collection.
Many of my memories are of difficulties with a strong undercurrent of love . . . Papa walking with me down a hospital corridor after my hernia operation when I was about 7, my bare feet cold on the floor, the warmth of my hand tucked into his.
The discomfort of, after Dave and I had been living together for a few months, telling my parents we were getting married, my Pop says, "I thought you were going to say you were already married" . . . followed a few months later by the absolute joy of being on Papa's arm at our wedding.
My papa worried about so many things and his worries tended to manifest as various skin inflammations and irritations . . . worrisome to a child. I always felt he struggled with his unmet entrepreneurial aspirations and his daily reality. I had this idea that when Alzheimers set in, it was his way of forgetting those struggles. A few years ago, at a session with a psychic, I asked her about my Pop. I felt like he must have been terribly sad about how things had turned out, but she said, Oh no! On the contrary. Overall, he'd been quite happy and, most of all, he was enormously proud of us kids. Last year, my older brother dug out this family photo and it's easy to see Papa's pride and joy . . .
These days, I know his love and support are ever-present. I know he is always behind me, can feel his elegant hands resting on my shoulders. He continues to watch over me and this knowing fills my heart to bursting.
So on this, his 100th birthday, I celebrate and honor the life of my beloved Papa . . . and even more better because my big brother sent this terrific photo of our Pop to brighten this day. How many kids have pics of their dads bouncing on a pogo stick while smoking a cigar . . . I mean really, how cool is that!
with deep gratitude and especially huge hugs to my Mom . . . kvk