Built for Glory

Orville Glenn “Snooky” Thomas

Born: June 1, 1924

Died: April 10, 2009

For now, I’m just going to repost the following, something I wrote on my wedding anniversary last year. There is a lot to do in the next few days. Pack up the family and travel. Find time to write something to say.

And they only want me to talk for two minutes . . .

Yeah. Right.

He was the best of men. His glory never manifested itself in fame or fortune; instead, it resided in his smile. In the rascally twinkle of light in his eyes. I learned optimism from him. And I’m smiling now, knowing his days of pain and confusion are over.

WHISKERS

He wakes up early. Way before the sun slips over the southern Illinois corn fields. Nestled deep in the covers on the hideaway bed near the grandfather clock, I hear him whistling in the bathroom as he shaves and slides his silver steel comb through his jet black hair. He leans over me and nuzzles my cheeks with the remnants of his whiskers and calls me a “yon yock,” a term of endearment I have yet to decipher. Perhaps strange nicknames are the norm for a man who spent most of his life being called Snooky.

Breakfast is a smorgasbord; Post Toasties with milk, Jimmy Dean sausage patties, farm fresh eggs sunny-side-up and dripping with grease, toast with real butter and apple butter. If anyone left Memaw’s table hungry, they had only themselves to blame.

And then we kneel around Papaw’s chair down to pray. Though he’d already prayed for the meal, in his familiar lilting yet muffled manner, “Lord, we’re thankful for this food, dear God . . . ,” this is the real deal. This is the prayer that will set the tone for the day to come. Memaw and Papaw always prayed together, each giving voice to their own praises and petitions in words that overlap, an old fashioned Pentecostal concert of prayer.

Papaw in his overalls, I in whatever Memaw determines will keep me relatively clean and dry. We head out the door with Melinda the Chihuahua in Papaw’s arms, make our way across the narrow wooden porch and down the cobblestone walkway, then climb into Papaw’s bright red Farm Bureau truck with its truck bed tool box full of the implements of his trade. He’s a gauger, the guy who visits the storage tanks at the various oil leases and pumps out the ones getting full. It’s a dirty, physical job and he rises to the task with a song on his lips:

 

In the shade of the old apple tree

Where the love in your eyes I could see

When the voice that I heard

Like the song of the bird

Seemed to whisper sweet music to me.

I could hear the dull buzz of the bee

In the blossoms, as you said to me

With a heart that is true,

“I’ll be waiting for you,

In the shade of the old apple tree.”

 

We stop at some small town diner and he sees someone he knows. I listen as he chats about this or that and smiles his gentle smile at the stories they share. A storm remembered with details of lightning strikes and flash floods that wash out roads and makes his job difficult but seldom impossible. More often, there are easier memories of peculiar acquaintances with equally peculiar personalities. They share tales of the past with an air of wonder and gratitude. He is never coarse or vulgar but one who is “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” At the end of the day we stop for a fill up and he places a call to dispatch ticking off the day’s tally and signing off with “that’s the crop.”

This is how I choose to remember him.

He retired after thirty-five years and got a nice watch. In the early 90s he started falling down a lot. He drug his feet. He hunched over. He almost drove off the road near Griffith and pulled over so Memaw could drive. These things were not normal for my Papaw. In 1996 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Memaw did her best. She helped him eat. Struggled to bathe him and helped him go to the bathroom. For six years, amid her own medical difficulties, she stood by his side and served him with a dignity and compassion beyond her means. Eventually the family realized enough was enough and admitted him to a nursing facility. Into a room he has occupied to this day.

June 1, 2008. His 84th birthday.

My wife and I were married on Papaw’s birthday. He stood in the back of the sanctuary during our rehearsal seventeen years ago yesterday and got choked up when asked what our special day meant to him. Later he nuzzled me with his whiskers and told me to “treat her well.” He is the embodiment of his counsel.

I spoke with Memaw on the phone a few moments ago. She said he didn’t wake up at all today. This is now normal for my Papaw. There’s a part of me that hopes he rests so well because he knows he is loved. Respected. Cherished so much that it hurts . . .

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26 thoughts on “Built for Glory

  1. My condolences Brian. Take care of yourself and your family. As it was said above, your words about him are beautiful and eloquent, as usual.

  2. What a well written tribute. I am so very sorry for your loss. I know there are no words to take the sadness away. Travel safely my friend…

  3. Let me tell you Brian…I love that photo of your Pawpa. Those eyes and that smile. Welcoming and loved. If I had seen that photo first, I would not have imagined someone could come up with something to do it justice. You did, you did, you did. Lovely. My sincere thanks and condolences.

  4. A beautifully written tribute.

    I know from personal experience that even though we are glad the suffering for some one we love is over, no amount of intellectualising about it can take away that numb and dazed feeling of grief we’re left with.

    You grandfather sounded like such a nice man, sorry for your loss.

  5. My heart breaks for you and your family. You can see the twinkle in his eyes and the smile that goes well beyond his lips! You celebrate his life, and that’s the most important thing of all. My prayers are with you and your family as you travel and go through this.

  6. My grandfather was a wonderful man also, the true head and heart and conscience of our family. I was left broadsided when he died. He was 87 had lived a long life and was loved every single day of it so I thought this is a natural part of life, I’ll be ok. And I was but the visceral feeling of knowing I would not see him again flattened me. Still, I wouldn’t take any of it away because a year later it’s ok. I still cry a little when I tell the kids about the best man I knew save for their daddy and I still gasp a little when I want to tell him something and realize I have to “tell him” in the only way I know how, thoughts sent into the wind, my own voice but his heart and conscience such a part of me now. Take care of your heart. Razz is right, no aount of intellectualizing can make it easier for the living but it sounds like he was loved and cared for and had the simple life well lived that so many of us hope for.

  7. O,my. Two minutes for this glorious man? As you say, “yeah, right.” How wonderful you’ll use your words to bring him to life forever for your family and for us, never to fall again.

  8. Its easy to see he was loved. Thats the most important thing in life and so I’m sure he’s happy watching over you now- no longer in pain as you said. So sorry for your loss. My thoughts go out to you and your family tonight.

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