To say I don't remember a time when he wasn't around would be untrue. I remember the last 14 years easily. But I cannot recall a time as a child whenever he wasn't there.
He was the patriarch of the family. We all looked up to him. He was our rock.
When I was about the size of that little fellow in the picture, he would let me sit on his foot and ride on his leg like a horse. I suspect that's about the earliest memory I have of PaPa. As I grew older, it was time for him to teach me about fishing, and fish we did. We would put our stuff in the back of his old pickup and drive to the lake. We made sure to get there just after sunrise because that was the best fishing time. We'd note who caught the first, the most, and the biggest. When I was 8, he gave me my first big boy fishing pole. Not long after, we went to break it in. I caught my biggest fish to date that day - a 3 pound bass. Of course, he had to help me land that bass, but it counted for me. I can't remember if it was the first nor if I caught any more that day, but it was definitely the biggest. We continued to fish together well into my teens.
He gave me my first job. As a young teen, I helped him cut the grass at the new retirement village. It was a rather large complex, and it took the two of us a day and a half to get it all done. Did I mention he was in his 60s and retired at the time? I got paid every week even though the complex was not always prompt about paying him. We eventually quit because they got so far behind in paying. When we weren't cutting the grass at the retirement home, we were probably out together cutting trees for firewood. Upon his retirement, he built a den on the back of the house complete with fireplace. That necessitated the procurement of wood to burn. And burn he did - 15 cords some winters. He instilled in us a steady work ethic. Hard work was a virtue.
College and grad school would find me and my cousin Alex spending the entire day Sunday sitting in his den watching football - from noon until 10 at night. We watched not only because he loved the Dallas Cowboys, but because we played fantasy football with each other and had to keep track of our teams. I think it's no coincidence that I lost my desire to watch pro football after his passing.
After graduation from grad school, I moved away from home. The distance necessitated at least a weekly phone call. He always asked about the weather and how work was going. I don't recall much of what we said, but I do remember he always had words of encouragement.
Today, he would have turned 97. A lot has happened in the 14 years since he died. Lots of great-grandchildren are now part of the family. He would have loved seeing them. All of the grandchildren have gone on to do really cool things. He'd be proud of each and every one of us. Not a day goes by that we don't miss him.