Today my Pa Ed would have been 100 years old. I am packing my family up to go to Washington DC for the rest of the week. As I think about the things we will do and what I will need to take, I can’t help but recall my last trip to Washington, December 1992. Instead of flying home to California from DC, I stopped in to see my Pa and Ma Jewel in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
I am the fifth grandchild on the Kinser side. As I have been reminded by my daughters, I have a long history of not being the favorite place your chosen familial category here. However, without fail, Pa was my favorite grandfather. It helped that he was the only one I had, but I really, really loved him. In my years up to 17 years old I can not recall one time I had my grandparents to myself. I was always with a sister or two , or with cousins, but never just me and my grandparents. Not until that December of 1992.
It was cold and we spent most of our time together indoors. We sat and talked. I had taken rubbings of the Kinsers whose names were etched in the Vietnam Memorial. We chatted about the war, his thoughts on war in general as we ate popcorn that was more burned than I like, but seemed to be his specialty. I relished this moment of having my grandparents all to myself. To have their full attention and to give them mine was the highlight of a trip full of high spots.
After a few days, he took me back to the airport with a gallon size bag of pink bubble gum and a memory that would become all the more precious to me when three months after our visit, I visited again, this time with my family, to say goodbye to him on the day he died.
My Pa would sit us in his lap as he drove his van, singing silly songs in our ears and teaching us call signs on the CB radio. He loved to roller-skate and I was always thrilled to see him living so fully, always flirting with whomever he was with. He was proud of his ability to stand on his head and would show you, even on his 70th birthday at McDonalds in front of everyone, much to the chagrin, and my guess, the quiet amusement of Ma Jewel.
With every cup of black coffee I sip, I think of him. He smelled of black coffee and Old Spice. He let us color his fingernails with the ever present mechanical pencils he carried. He let us sit on his shoulders and practice giving perms like Ma Jewel to his thin fine hair with curler clips. If there were multiple of us, he would give an arm full of hair to be curled. He was a vision of pin curls head to torso.
The memories of my Pa flood my mind; small snippets of a man who did his best to make his grandchildren feel like the biggest blessings around. He’d tell us to go out in the yard and eat Worms to get us out from under foot, but not too soon after, he would join us with watermelon for a seed spitting contest or a hammer, nails and a scrap of wood to help us practice our carpentry skills. He was a fixer, who looking back was often doing things on the fly. I can’t hardly recall a time he didn’t have a bruised fingernail or a broken toe. He could laugh, a laugh that I’ve never heard anything like since, and he could get madder than a snake. It never seemed to matter to me. He was my Pa and he made me feel loved.
I love the full circle moment of traveling to Washington DCon his 100th birthday. I wish I could introduce him to my children. I long to match his laugh to the unique laugh of Jonesy, who would have thought him a riot. I knew him eighteen years. I have come to understand the complexities of this man, who I saw as nothing short of perfection. I value knowing that the many sides of him were placed to the side in the presence of those who just called him Pa.