Friday, November 9, 2007

Pawpaw's Hat

Out of all the people I've known in my life, there is not one man that I can say was earnestly devoted to a single cause, but for my grandpa. He was my grandpa, but I always knew him as "Pawpaw".

He was born in a small town in Mississippi and grew up in relative anonymity. When he died, around 1,000 people came to his wake and over 500 people from around the world attended his funeral in the middle of nowhere-Grove-Oklahoma.

There is so much that I could say about him that I don't know where to begin, so I'm going to start rambling and hope I reach the coherent thought that I had wished to convey when I thought of this blog.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I cheated on a vocabulary quiz in Ms. Derwin's Honors English class. She caught me cheating and asked me to step outside. I stood there sweating and thinking of how I was going to explain this to my parents when she opened the classroom door and joined me in the hall. The locker-lined-hallways were quiet but for my breathing until she opened that door. I gasped and, then, held my breath. Ms. Derwin's blue eyes beneath her dyed red hair looked up to me through her thick, wire-rimmed glasses that accentuated the lines under her eyes, creased from years of dealing with dumbshits like me. She began her lecture by saying, "Kyle, your family has a reputation in this town." I thought, "What the hell does my family have to do with my cheating on a 20 point quiz."

Now I know. Derwin's speech has stayed with me for 12 years. (I should call her and tell her this. Teachers don't get enough credit.) What she was trying to convey to a wiry, barely post pubescent Kyle, was scripture: A good name is better than fine riches.

I joke and say that my family is the mafia of Grove, Oklahoma. I joke, but it's true.

When Pawpaw started Grove Christian Center 30 years ago after being kicked out of the Baptist church for his radical beliefs, he began his legacy by only saying "yes" when he meant "yes". And Ms. Derwin was telling me that I should consider that while I hid my cheat sheet underneath the vocabulary quiz. My family had a reputation.

Pawpaw was a terribly fun guy. He would harass me until I cried when I was a kid, and he would race me around the "sanctuary" of our church while my grandma yelled at us when I was approaching adolescence. He told me that he didn't have a fat belly like me when he was my age after I had gained weight from college, and called me "buddy" after I was married.

His navel was directly attached to the uterus of God. He felt the words he needed to say to you and said them, regardless of whether or not they were what you wanted to hear.

It's been a year and a half since my dad called to tell me that Pawpaw stopped breathing after being removed from the respirator at 5:05 p.m. on May 9, 2006.

I still feel like he'd answer if I called him.

I still feel like he'll pick up and say, "Hey, buddy."

I'm writing this while sitting on a lawn chair in my studio apartment in New York and wearing Pawpaw's hat. Pawpaw liked his hats. He continued to wear them as they went in and out of fashion. He had many hats for many occasions -- fedoras, cowboy hats, baseball caps, straw hats, Russian hats, leather hats, felt hats, biker hats. I have this one:

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I cherish this hat. Not just because my grandpa wore it or because it reminds me of where I came from, but because it fits.

Pawpaw had a big head.

He had a big head and a small chin, and my grandma says that he looked like James Dean when he was young. I'm happy that my head is big enough to wear his hat. This is not a metaphor but simply a matter of fact. If his hat sunk over my ears or if it wouldn't lower over the crown of my head, I couldn't look like a fool as I wear it around the streets of New York where I'm surrounded by the chic natives. I'm happy that this hat fits because I can comfortably wear the hat of a man whose life was bigger than life.

Pawpaw said that his kids didn't have to worry about receiving an inheritance because he was going to give it all away. And he did. He gave his life, time, family, and money to Christ. The Hondurans, Russians, Africans, Americans, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Okies that stood around his casket as it was lowered into the ground were witnesses of this.

Pawpaw is gone.

But he's not. He's wearing this tattered straw hat and typing this blog in this tiny New York apartment. And he's happy his hat still fits.


  1. this is me, hugging you. right now.


    your ribs are cracking. and thank you for saying that about teachers, by the way....i had a sociology professor that I have thought, many times, might like to know how much she changed my life....

    *hugs you again*

  2. I love this one kyle, of course. It made me cry again.