Don’t break my glasses
Do you know what I miss most about Pawpaw?
Today is Pawpaw’s birthday. He would have been 96. He died back in 2000 — just barely making it into the new century. It’s so hard to believe it’s been 13 years since Pawpaw was in my life, because it seems like only yesterday that I was breaking his glasses.
There are so many memorable things about my grandfather: his kindness, his humor, his litany of borderline inappropriate-for-children but colorful Southern sayings. I think about him often and talk about him almost as often. I feel it’s part of my duty to keep his memory present for as long as I can, even for the people who have never met him.
It can be tricky to launch into a lengthy, homespun yarn about your grandfather with someone you barely know. Unless you’re me. I have an arsenal of such tales on standby and can whip one out with even the thinnest of prompts.
“Hey, I see you’re eating an orange. You know, my grandfather had an orange T-shirt. In fact, I’m remembering the time … ”
Luckily, the jumping-off point that I use to tell one of my all-time favorite Pawpaw stories is logical and presents itself often. Whenever I find myself about to hug someone who has glasses hanging around their neck or tucked into the front of their shirt, I seize the moment to launch into a trip down Pawpaw lane. Good thing I live in Colorado, where we wear sunglasses and hug.
It goes something like this:
(I approach glasses-clad person and move in for a hug. They flinch.)
Don’t worry, I’m well practiced at hugging someone without breaking their glasses. I fact, it kind of reminds me of a story, which I’d like to share with you now, if you don’t mind.
I was lucky enough to know my grandparents well into my 30s. I was also lucky enough to realize how lucky I was at the time I was being so lucky. I truly, truly loved them, and one day my love for them took its toll on my grandfather, Pawpaw. Specifically on his ability to see.
I was 15 at the time, and my brother and I had flown back to Mississippi to spend the summer with Nannie and Pawpaw. Back in those days (and really, can you tell a story about your grandparents without saying “back in those days?”) you could stand right at the gate and wait for people to walk off of the airplane. So the first thing I saw after a flight from Los Angeles to Memphis was … Pawpaw!
My enthusiasm at reuniting after nine whole months caused me to run forward and embrace him enthusiastically. I was pretty tall by the time I was 15, so I was able to do a full-on chest-to-chest hug. And I did. I delivered a hug with a velocity and force that adequately demonstrated my love for Pawpaw.
As I squeezed him tightly I heard a “crack.” Though it was also sort of a “crunch,” now that I think about it. With a little bit of “snap” added to the mix.
Pawpaw wasn’t a fragile man, but I’d clearly just broken him.
I let go of Pawpaw slowly as we stared at each other, both very much aware of the sounds we’d just heard and also both fearing what they meant. As I released him from my overzealous grip, I saw his glasses — the ones that had been hanging around his neck, the ones he uses for, among other things, driving us home from the airport — begin to head quickly toward the floor. The left earpiece, still tethered to the plummeting frames, whips up and around his neck like a loose rope in a hurricane. Yeah, it was pretty dramatic.
And then the whole package hits the floor. This time it went “crash,” neatly rounding out my favorite list of sound effects.
For years after that, whenever I’d see Pawpaw and start to hug him — which I’d do every time I saw him — he would comically move his glasses from the center of his chest, even though we were both well aware of their presence. And as I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate enough to get about 20 more years of Pawpaw hugs, all without further incident. Funny thing, though— if I had the chance to hug Pawpaw today, I’m not sure I’d be able to contain myself enough to keep from breaking his glasses all over again.
So anyway, that’s why I knew not to hug you in a way that damages your glasses.
And by the way, my name’s Barry. Nice to meet you.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays. More at http://www.barrysmith.com.