Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Remembering Pap

I wrote this a few years ago for a tribute book about my Grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed...

I think about Pap (“Pap-Pap Hair”) a lot, and I have such wonderful memories of this wonderful man.  I’m so thankful that God allowed me to spend so much time with him, despite my living most of my life about 200 miles away.  I wish I had as many fond memories of Grandma, but she just wasn’t as much a part of my childhood like Pap was.  And, more importantly, I spent time with Pap as an adult, and I truly believed he helped shape me into the man I am today.  Mom and Dad get most of the credit, but I am so happy that I was able to spend so much one-on-one time with Pap during those early adult years.

Some of my earliest memories of Pap center on the old Hopwood house.  I remember always getting to sleep in Pap’s bed when we would visit. It wasn’t quite the honor you might think, since Pap’s snoring could wake the dead, and I spent most of the night listening to the “thunder” in the bed next to me and staring at the head with the knife in it’s mouth hanging from the ceiling in the “blue” bedroom (and those of you who’ve slept in that room probably know about that head).  That old house sure was spooky.  Another time, I remember Angie and I sleeping in the attic bedroom and hearing the fire alarm at the fire station up the street go off in the middle of the night and us being scared to death!  Anyway, Pap would wake up at the crack of dawn (and usually even earlier).  I pretended to be asleep until he left the room, and then I would follow him all the way down to the basement and watch him shovel coal into the furnace.  I don’t know if he knew I was watching him or not.  When he finished shoveling coal, he went into the Barber Shop, I guess to prepare it for the day’s customers. I remember one morning watching him put on these big boots. He went into the Barber Shop and it was flooded with about a foot of water. He just swept it all outside with a broom.

The kitchen always smelled like syrup to me, and it seemed like Pap was always cooking something.  We always had pancakes (“hotcakes”) for breakfast. And I ate a lot of peanut butter fudge.  Much later, during Pap’s “bachelor” days at Hague Lane, Pap regularly made his “famous” chili with everything (and I do mean everything!).

Pap gave me many haircuts over the years. I always first asked Mom if it was okay, and she would say, “Okay, but just ask for a light trim.”  Of course, since Pap cut everyone’s hair pretty much the same way, a light trim didn’t mean much, and I wouldn’t have a whole lot of hair left on my head when he was done.  But I always got a lollipop from him.  Years later, in my teens, when I wore my hair much thicker and Pap hadn’t cut my hair in several years, Dad & Uncle Jim (Freed) talked me into letting Pap cut my hair.  Pap got out those big vacuum clippers and pretty much sucked all of the hair off from around my ears.  I was mortified, and I truly thought I looked like Bozo the Clown! Thank goodness it was summer and my hair would grow back before I went back to school.

But, as a kid, I used to just sit in the Barber Shop all morning and watch Pap give his customers their shave and a haircut.  He also would give me a bottle of pop to drink.  To this day, whenever I drink a strawberry pop, my favorite, I think of him and the Barber Shop.

Another neat memory was when, just before that fateful and tragic trip my family and I took to Canada in 1987, we and my Mom’s parents stopped in Uniontown to drop off our dog, Ginger, who
Pap was going to watch while we were on vacation.  It was one of the few times, in my memory, that all of my living grandparents were together, which was just so cool (“neat”, “awesome”) to me. Pap and Bebop (my other grandfather) wore matching hats that said “Old Fart”, and my grandmother (Grammy) wore one that said “Old Fart’s Wife”.  It made for a great picture. That was the last time they were all together.

After high school, I was fortunate to be able to drive by myself from Maryland to Uniontown, and I made many, many solo trips to visit with Pap.  What a wonderful time that was, and I am so thankful for every opportunity I had to spend one-on-one time with Pap.  He and I would talk for hours, and he passed along so much knowledge and advice. He once told me that one of the greatest things in life was the pursuit of a woman.  I’m sure the lessons he taught me about the Fairer Sex were what helped me, years later, in choosing a wife.

I usually arrived at Pap’s on a Friday afternoon, and Pap was always sitting in his comforter in front of the big screen T.V., with the sound loud enough to hear from the top of the hill on Hague Lane. Pap couldn’t always see the volume button on the remote, so he just left it the volume where it was, regardless of how loud it was. When I visited with Pap, all I needed was a sleeping bag, and I would camp out each night on the dining room floor.  Unfortunately, Pap was an early riser, and every morning he would wake up at the crack of dawn (I know the Hague Lane house didn’t have a coal furnace!).  He went into the kitchen, turned on the radio, then went to the front door, went outside (slamming the storm door behind him) to get his newspaper, and returned to the kitchen to drink his coffee.  I guess he either forgot I was there, or he was hoping I might wake up and make him some hotcakes for breakfast.

On September 6, 1992, almost one year before he entered the Gates of Heaven, I was honored to be the one to present him when he was entered into the Hopwood UMC Hall of Fame. Much of the family was there, including Mom & Dad, Aunt Nancy & Uncle Jack, Aunt Rosey & Uncle Jim, Uncle Paul & Aunt Charlotte, Aunt Sandi, Mindy, Aunt Karen & Uncle Dick, Mark, Mandy, JJ, and Aunt Minnie.  I still don’t know why I was given such an honor, but Pap certainly was deserving of the Hall of Fame honors.  I was nervous, but stood at the front of the church with Pap and read the biography of his life that was printed in the bulletin. Afterwards, we all had lunch at the Sun Porch.  It was a great time.

On Easter weekend in April, 1993, I visited with Pap and took him to Hopwood UMC for the Easter service. Aunt Sandi invited us over to her apartment for Easter dinner.  Taking advantage of the beautiful weather that day, I opened up the t-tops on my 442 and we drove over to her place. Pap really seemed to enjoy the drive.  That was a wonderful weekend in so many ways, but it was also the last weekend I saw him before his cancer was diagnosed as terminal.
God works in mysterious ways.  The summer of 1993, I was working in a temporary position in the office that would later hire me permanently (and where I still work to this day).  Due to the way the job was set up, I had used up all of the allowable hours and I stopped working at the beginning of August.  This allowed me to spend a great deal of time in Uniontown with Pap during his last days. It was a sad time, but being together with so much of the family for such a concentrated amount of
time is such a warm memory to me.  There was just so much love in that house during that time.  I enjoyed spending so much time with everyone, despite the circumstances.

Pap eventually got to the point where it was difficult for him to stand up on his own, and we would pull him up and place him in one of the kitchen chairs. We would roll him from his room to the bathroom. Then, one night, when many of us were sitting around the kitchen table playing cards, we heard the bathroom door close. We all looked at each other, silently counting heads, trying to figure out who had just gone into the bathroom. Pap had surprised us all by getting up all on his own.

The last couple of days of Pap’s earthly life were so difficult, watching a man with so much life slowly dying.   For two straight days the nurse would wake everyone and we would gather around Pap’s bed, praying and telling him it was okay to let go. Pap held on, though, as if waiting for something. Dan and Erin McCusker were the last to arrive, late the night before Pap’s birthday.  I believe Pap was waiting for them.  I think there’s something grand about making it to his 83rd birthday, and maybe that was also what he was waiting for.  But, that morning, I will never forget holding his hand during his last few breaths, seeing him suddenly open his eyes (I believe he was getting his first glimpse of the face of Jesus), and then slowly closing again as his body breathed its last.

Teresa, my wife, used to tease me when I talked about “growing up” in Uniontown.  She told me she could see the pride in my face and words as I described my love for Pap.  She mentioned many times that she wished she could have met him.  Ironically, she would get that chance, much sooner than any of us could imagine, and I truly believe their meeting in Heaven was a grand and glorious occasion.

Many of us, especially the grandkids, were asked to speak at Pap’s funeral service at Hopwood, and Jeff McCusker ended up being the only one to speak.  I felt bad at the time, but I just didn’t have the words.  I did write some things down that day, and I just discovered them while typing this up. So I’ll end with what I wrote then:

“I still think Pap was one of the greatest individuals I ever knew, and even if you met him only once, you would come away knowing that you’ve met someone wonderful.  And today, he is getting the ultimate reward – eternal life in God’s Kingdom, and he truly deserves it.  Thanks, Pap, for everything.”

I’m looking forward to seeing him again.  I’ll bet it’ll be a great reunion. 

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