Today is my grandfather's birthday. He's my only living grandfather and one of my favorite people on Earth.
He's worked hard at hard work his entire life. He is precisely the kind of man that you think of when you think of the Greatest Generation (although his age left him in between major wars and he never served in the military).
He had minimal education, but he had a strong back and a strong will and charm and a sense of mischief that makes a lifetime of labor bearable. He found himself a beautiful girl with a will as strong as his own and they raised a family together. My aunt first, then my mom a decade later. The family grew, one grandson, then a couple then a granddaughter, now a handful of great-grandchildren to join the ranks of the people who owe Papaw and Nana everything.
This birthday, Papaw is recuperating from open-heart surgery. He had two bypasses and a repair to a heart valve just a week ago. In their mid-80's not a lot of patients would have been good candidates for such extensive surgery, but Papaw is still as strong as an ox, and the doctors saw it too. So, they cracked him open, repaired what had worn out and sewed him back up. The road to recovery is a long one, and time eventually wins every battle it fights, but Papaw is on the mend and headed back to health now.
To recognize his birthday I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite Papaw stories.
He's not exactly sure which birthday this is. - The state believes my grandfather is 86 years old today. My grandfather contends that he is actually 87. It turns out Louisiana in the 1920's was pretty loose and free with record keeping and lots of birth certificates were filed years late if at all. I guess it matters very little in the grand scheme of things, but the novelty of a possibly of an incorrect birthdate has always tickled me.
Dirty songs and jokes are exactly what Grandpa's are for. - My family (both sides) is and has always been devoutly religious. They're good Christian folks, no boozin' or carousin' and as little cussin' as we can manage muddling through life as frustrating as it can at times. Papaw was all that too, but he has a mischievous streak a mile wide and it was that side of him that taught me silly little songs and jokes that thrilled me as a kid, it was a glimpse that the rules didn't always hold and that bending them (with the right company) was a hell of a good time. My favorite? An army style chant, "I don't know, but I've been told, a catfish has a round asshole!" I can't wait until I have grandsons of my own to teach dirty jokes their mother will hate.
He taught me about the Squared-Circle and the Sweet Science. - Papaw loves boxing. Not the shell of a sport that exist today in the shadow of MMA, but the thriving, thrilling sport that was at the center of pop culture for a lot of the 20th century. He's seen bare-knuckled fights and Championship bouts in person and countless matches through screens at his home or friends' homes as he followed his favorite fighters. Boxing (at least heavyweight boxing) fell apart when I was still young, but I remember going with Dad and Papaw to rented PPV's or HBO specials with a room full of old men, harrumphing and cheering the "sweet science". He also loved the old NWA wrestling and took me to my first matches as a kid. We stood and cheered for Sting and Ricky Steamboat and booed and hissed as Ric Flair and Big Van Vader walked by. I don't follow the world of wrestling anymore, but it was a mainstay of my youth and the hours spent in front of the TV and in arenas with Papaw are some of my fondest memories.
Happy birthday, Papaw. I know you'd rather spend it in front of your TV or at the ballpark or probably anywhere but the hospital room. We're just glad you're spending it with us. Here's to dirty jokes and dirty wrestlers and dirt under your nails. Here's to you and here's to many more birthdays, even if we don't know exactly how many there have actually been.