Summer holidays remind me of Poppy. I can still see him out in the yard on a chaise lounge, with a radio on either side, listening to baseball games and dozing. My grandfather, Fred Mast, died 40 years ago. Yesterday my sister and I were talking about how much Poppy would have loved the farm here, and how much he would have enjoyed our kids. He and my brother in law Bob would have a menagerie, and the plantings those two would create together would be breath-taking (if somewhat unorthodox). It made me realize that even though he's been gone for so long, he is still very much in my heart.
The conversation started as a discussion of the weather, and Maryanne asked if I remembered how Poppy went to the farm auction one year and brought back a huge box of tomato plants which he then watered one-by-one with a coffee can. All summer long.
As children, Mom moved her brood of 5 into our grandparents' house for 7 or 8 years until she built her business enough to move us to a run-down farm 1/2 mile down the road. Poppy was a farm boy, and before we knew it, there were chickens, goats, and ponies in the barn and yard. He planted a quarter acre garden next to the old apple orchard, and attempted to get us to weed it. Every day, he'd come down and care for the animals and tend the garden. He loved it. It was only recently that it dawned on me that it also gave him a chance to get out of the house where he could chew tobacco with abandon. Our grandmother Mimi didn't approve, so they had an arrangement where they both pretended he didn't chew.
He was really just a big kid trying to fit into the adult world. Times were so different then. Yesterday I found myself watching "Andy of Mayberry". Looking at Aunt Bea, with her old lady hairdo and old lady clothes, I realized that she was probably only in her mid-50's. Back then, we all had very specific slots to fit into. If I look at my mother's high school yearbook, all the graduates look so... adult. The kids in mine look like kids. In my daughter's yearbook, the graduates all had very individualistic portraits taken. No more cookie-cutter people, and what a relief that is!
There are so many funny memories I have of Poppy. He used to sing little songs to us, or dance little jigs to crack us up. He hated to see us sad or crying, and would say, "oh now don't let those steers (tears) get out of the corral". He was shy and humble, so that as we grew into young teens in the turbulent 60's he didn't know what to say to us anymore, but he was there to help us or support our dreams. There was nothing he wouldn't do for us, but woe be unto the child or adult who had a mean word to say about his wife or family. He loved his family fiercely with no expectations. He was a good man all the way through. Not to say that he never did anything wrong, but he quietly lived his life in service to his loved ones, getting enormous satisfaction from that. My mom told me one day that she'd met someone Poppy worked with, and the man told her how proud he was of her, and it made her cry because he was not a talker. I found one of his old carpentry ledgers, and there was a whole page where he'd practiced writing my sister's name. His 8th grade education made it difficult to be married to my college educated grandmother, I'm sure. We took him for granted, and when he died suddenly, we were all completely devastated.
Whenever I imagine an afterlife, it is Poppy who is there, waiting to show me the ropes. Our dog Baby is playing at his feet. I see him in each of my siblings and even in our children who never had the chance to meet him.
He inspired each of us in different ways. For me, it was about plants and nature in general. He had an amazing relationship with the natural world, knowing all the plants and animals, what the clouds meant, rocks, how to build things, and how to survive and take care of people. He took us fishing (and had to remove more than one hook from a little hand), to the beach, to the mountains, and through meadows and streams. He was a tough act to follow for my brothers, and even tougher for the future men in my sister's and my lives, although I think we both found him in them eventually.
Looking back, we never gave him credit for how smart he was because if anyone noticed, his comment would be "gosh-a-monkeys", which basically means "don't be silly".
There's not really a point to this post. He's been on my mind, and I'm not sure I ever told him that I loved him.