Of all my memories, the one I associate most with my grandfather is a crushed velvet couch piled six across and two high with Cabbage Patch Dolls. Blondes. Brunettes. Redheads. Boys. Girls. There seemed to be one of every kind displayed on that couch in that wood-paneled living room.
The year was 1983 and Cabbage Patch Dolls were coveted. (Think the Furbies and Tickle Me Elmos of the 90s). Everybody wanted one and they were impossible to find, especially in our small town in southern Indiana. In the years before Amazon, eBay, and ordering anything from anywhere with just the click of a button, if you wanted something, you had to go out and actually find it. In a real store with walls, carts, and surly cashiers. In the case of those twelve Cabbage Patch Dolls, they were found when my grandparents, affectionately called Pap and Mamaw, went all the way to Florida. They were there to visit my Aunt Betty (who was the quintessential crazy cat lady and honored each of us in the family by naming a cat after us), but before they returned home, they stopped a toy store and managed to score a dozen of these stuffed dolls that were driving early-80s America crazy.
I was five when I got my first Cabbage Patch Doll thanks to that Florida trip. Although her name escapes me with the passage of time, everything else about her has not. She had red hair done in two braided ponytails and she was, for some reason, dressed in a white tennis dress. (At the age of five, I’d never in my life encountered anyone playing tennis. I think I was drawn to her pleated skirt. Pleats were fascinating!) It was instant love. I vividly remember walking up to that couch and reverently running my hand along the happy, yellow boxes. So many plastic, smiling faces stared back at me. So many to choose from, but the red-headed one, well… she was mine.
Driving all the way to Florida and coming home with a dozen expensive dolls – that was just the kind of thing that Pap did.
He handed us a small square of folded-up cash whenever he saw us. And if he didn’t, it was because Mamaw had already beaten him to it.
Once, when we still lived next door to them, Pap made an early morning stop and left a bag of donut holes in the mailbox so that I would have a special treat at breakfast.
Pap’s personality belied his stature. The owner of several jewelry stores in several small Indiana towns, everybody knew him. A watchmaker by trade, anyone who went to greet “Bud” was treated to his smiling face, accented by his glasses with a magnifying loupe attached to one corner. His watchmaker’s desk was a fascinating place full of tiny tools, batteries, watch band links, and little pieces of wood that were so light, they mystified my young mind.
I write all of this because at 7:30pm today, Pap passed away at 93-years-old from cancer. In the hospital bed next to him was my 89-year-old Mamaw, who has suffered from dementia for years and is no longer familiar with anyone in the family, but who has seemed to be somewhat cognizant the past few days of a "shift" of the world around her.
I sit here tonight, a weird combination of numbness and shock roiling through me. I’m closer to 40 than 30 and, up until 4:29pm my time today, I still had four living grandparents.
I didn’t get to say goodbye. I hadn’t even seen him in several years because of our moves, first up to Indianapolis and then out to where we currently live, which is west of Seattle, Washington. The inability to say goodbye and, most importantly, to say “thank you” to him for such lasting memories, will haunt me. Regret, if we let it, will chew through our souls, leaving chunks of empty space, and I refuse to let that happen. I will honor Pap in my own way from 2,340 miles away. If that means that I step outside, walk into our storage building, root through a few blue tubs, and pull out a stained, ratty, red-headed Cabbage Patch Doll, so be it. I may hug her to my chest and cry, or I might smile as I remember that exciting day in 1983. Either way, my smiles and tears will be for Pap. People we lose survive through our memories, and few memories of Pap are stronger than those associated with that well-loved doll.
Thank you, Pap. For everything.
Note: this was also published on my blog.
Published by Rachel Hayden