Pepaw, a name that people use for grandfather in the south, was a foreign word to me until I met Tracie P nearly five years ago now.
When I first met pepaw and memaw at Thanksgiving 2008 (pepaw was 88 years old at the time), they must have been as nervous as I was, knowing that Tracie P and I were on a path that would most likely lead us to starting a family together (which we did).
I’ll never forget how memaw gave me a hug that day, even though we’d never met.
“We’re a hugging family, Jeremy,” she said. “Just give me a hug.”
As foreign as I must have seemed to pepaw, who grew up in East Texas and only ever left his home to
fight serve in the navy army (on a personnel transport ship) in the second world war, he always treated me like one of the family. He always had a smile and a firm handshake when we saw each other.
“How’s the wine business?” he would ask me with a big grin.
He loved to taste the wines that I brought back with us to Orange, Texas (the last town in Texas as you head out Interstate 10 into Louisiana), home to “chemical row,” a sprawling “golden triangle” comprised of oil refineries and processing facilities (pepaw like his son Rev. B, my father-in-law, worked most of his life at DuPont).
And he also loved to hear me play guitar as we would sit around the table on the patio at Mrs. and Rev. B’s house, with everyone joining in singing when they knew the words of the song.
Pepaw finally succumbed last night, leaving this world for a better one. He was 93 years old.
It’s so remarkable to consider the way western civilization changed in the arc of his lifetime.
Just think of the many technological advances that occurred over the course of his life and the sweeping changes in cultural attitudes and social mores (the year that he was born, 1920, was the first time that women could exercise their right to vote in a presidential election in the U.S.; Italy was still a monarchy and Mussolini had yet to march on Rome).
He told me once about docking at Naples when he was in the navy shortly after the war. The toll of the conflict was a tragedy, he recalled.
As we were sitting in the hospital, visiting with all the members of the B. family who had gathered, memaw remembered how she and “slats” (as pepaw was known because of his long, slender legs) used to go “across the river” to Louisiana to dance.
“Did you dance to rock ‘n’ roll?” I asked her.
“Rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t been invented yet,” she said and we all laughed.
Rest in peace, pepaw. We’ll miss you.
And thanks to everyone for all the thoughts and wishes here and on Facebook. They mean so much to all of us…