“Daddy, I talked to Pop Pop.”
This is how my 8 year old began a conversation with me while we were driving in the car. I was taken off guard by Hannah’s matter of fact and out of the blue statement (so much so, I just about swerved the car into the other lane). Hannah and Emma’s grandfather, my dad, has been dead for 5 years.
After I regained control of the car and wiped away a welling tear in the corner of my eye, I asked my suddenly psychic 8 year old, “You talked to PopPop?”
“Yeah. When I was praying, I talked to him.”
“What did he say do you?”
“He said ‘hi’ but I don’t remember the rest.”
“You can’t remember anything else from the conversation?” I wanted to prod her for answers like Dr. Phil prods a husband who calls his wife fat but I could feel the emotion welling up in me and needed to remember we were driving. I needed to remember a red light meant ‘Stop’.
“Daddy, you say I wear my pants like Pop Pop. Over my belly button. That’s why you call me George.”
Emma, my 5 year old, chimed in on the conversation. George was my dad’s first name and he had a tendency to pull his pants north of his belly button. He was a fashion icon for 8o year old men everywhere.
“That’s right Em. Sometimes you are a George.” In more ways than she will ever realize.
And that was the last thing I could get out of my mouth. My daughter had rendered me speechless. As I came to a stop at the red light (thankfully remembering to stop), my mind drifted.
Hannah was three years old when my dad died. Emma was just three months old. Their memories of their Pop Pop have had to be manufactured by myself, their mother, and the immediate members of my family who were fortunate enough to spend time with him. The image of their grandfather has been generated by pictures, videos, and an endless amount of stories. We tell the stories that made my Dad my Dad. Like how he couldn’t sit at a diner without mixing together the half and half with sugar and drink it and, of course, his questionable sense of pant fashion.
What I have been trying to do for the past five years for my kids, my 8 year old and my 5 year old had done for me sitting in the back seat of my car. They gave life to my Dad’s memory.
The light seemed to stay red for longer than usual. Under normal circumstances, I would have been openly cursing the length of time of the light and trying to inch forward to maybe hit a “sensor” to turn it green but I was happy to spend a few more moments with my Dad’s memory.
I think about my father every day of my life. There has not been a day that has gone by when I haven’t. I have written about him. I have referenced his insight. I have been told by people how much I remind them of him. And yet, for some reason, the innocence and excitement of my kids as they talked about the grandfather they hardly knew, captured my emotion.
As I continued to sit at the light, I could no longer hear the music playing or the girls now enthralled in a “stop touching me” argument. I could only hear myself calling out to my dad and waiting for him to call back. Because despite him occupying a large portion of my daily thoughts, any conversation I have had with him, has always been one sided. There has not been a moment when he “spoke” to me no matter how much I wished him to. In fact, at times, I wasn’t so sure he even heard me when I spoke to him.
I was hopeful, with this rush of emotion and memory flooding through me from the front seat of my car that I could hear his voice again so I called out to my Dad, hopeful to hear his voice. The car remained silent and the light turned green.
The music on the radio and the girls arguing both came back. They were my smelling salts, knocking me back in to consciousness as I put my foot on the gas.
When we pulled up to our house, I found my words again. I didn’t say anything about the “power of prayer” to Hannah and I didn’t ask her any questions about trying to remember her conversation with Pop Pop. I didn’t even thank her and Emma (though I probably should have) for breathing a refreshed life into my dad’s memory. Instead, I pulled up to our house, put the car in park and turned to my daughter.
“Hannah, can you do me a favor?”
The next time you talk to Pop Pop…could you tell him I said ‘hi’?”
Hannah nodded her head, “Sure Daddy.”