Our Papa had a stroke last Tuesday while cutting counter tops out at my little brother’s new house.
He’s sticking out his tongue because that, and gently waving a ham-sized right fist, is the only way he can protest things at the moment.
Being a firefighter and EMT, my brother knew right away what was happening and got him on an ambulance and into surgery within the critical time window. The surgeon tried for 3 hours but couldn’t get the big hard blood clot to unlodge. When I told Papa, he smirked and said “obstinate”. Even with eyes that are hard to open, half of his facial muscles, and slurry speech, he manages to show pride in his obstinance.
I was 16 when Papa came into our life; a silver-haired man named Wayne, with gigantic hands. He was quiet until you teased him once, and then his mischief could not be contained. Mama and him seemed enamored with each other and we highly approved of their romance.
All teenage rebels know that summer nights are made for sneaking out the bedroom window. But alas, before Mama and Wayne had finished their second month of dating, he’d offered to fix some things around the house. One of those fixits involved my bedroom window. Specifically, it involved putting screws at 1-inch intervals all the way around the screen frame. From the outside. I’ve always imagined him hooting and gleeful while he did it.
Next spring, he bought me a Dillards dress for my senior Prom. It was floor-length black velvet with a wide white satin, off-the shoulder band around the top and it cost more than I’ve probably ever paid for a single garment.
Papa loves simple pleasures like good food, music, and beauty. In fact, he seems a very simple, straight-forward man—until you watch him build. Then his brilliance is so innate, so natural, it feels more like wizardry. He’s built commercial buildings in Denver, and countless homes.
After their wedding, he built my Mama her dream house on 5 acres in Black Forest, taking her practical-yet-fancy designs to the architect. He went on to build her next two designs too, one in Buena Vista, and the third is their current home in Woodland Park. He favors brick exteriors, radiant in-floor heating, and always a wood stove. When I say he built these homes, I mean that he cut every board, hoisted every truss, laid every brick, ran every wire. We marveled that one man can create such gorgeous structures.
I was well into adulthood before understanding how rare his brand of excellence is. No matter what it took, he built everything square and plum. When other beloved men in my life told me something couldn’t be done, (as in; “That’s a support wall, you cannot just knock it out.”) I’d ask Papa. He could do anything.
We dubbed him “Papa” early on, and he came to our family bearing gifts; two big brothers—which some of us have always wanted. The eldest was married, the younger wasn’t yet, and we became the pesky little sisters he never knew he wanted. Both of these bonus brothers taught us much about exemplary men.
This Christmas, Papa gave his rambunctious blended family a priceless gift. I doubt he’s aware that he’s given it.
Life happened and we’d drifted apart, haven’t all been in the same room for years. We didn’t really know each other anymore.
But we gathered. All seven siblings, several spouses, a handful of grown-up grandchildren. Those of you who know us can now take a moment of silence for what the ICU nurses have put up with.
For 4 days we’ve shared stories, tears, meals and so much laughter. Between hovering around his bed, speculating whether we might only have today with him—or perhaps weeks or months—we held hands, held each other, and I have to believe, held our Papa in this newly strengthened net of love we wove.
Before diving back into our respective lives, we all agreed; this time together has been a balm. Christmas came early. And though we have no idea how much time we have left with Papa, we treasure those precious spectacular days. What greater gift is there?