In Memory: My Pap 1928-2012 / by Justin Merriman

In the way of men, at least in my eyes, there were none greater. He was my pap, and I was his bub. Through all the years, he was there, steadfast in nearly every memory of my childhood and life.

Now, facing a life without him seems nearly impossible. My mind can hardly imagine not having him along as I sit on the quiet banks of lakes, dangling lines deep into waters, waiting for a fish to bite, or trudging on hunts deep into woods on crisp fall days. Somehow now, the woods seem quiet and unfamiliar, and lakes and rivers seem to flow less brilliantly. Though I feel his presence with me and know I will forever carry him in my heart, simply put, I’m going to miss his company.

When I think back and sift through the memories that fill my heart and mind, I’m constantly drawn back to my recollections of his hands. Even as a young child, I remember watching his hands, the same hands that held me with joy, and pulled me close to his cheek and gave me comfort.

In my earliest memories, I remember studying his hands as he worked with great finesse in the bike shop, toiling away on broken bicycles. It seemed as though his hands could fix anything. As the years passed, I watched his hands celebrate in the birth of each of his grandchildren and hold them with the same care and love he did me. I watched his hands build and precisely lay each brick, one by one, making my family our home. I watched them as I learned how to drive. I’d sit in the passenger seat of his old Mazda truck and watch how effortlessly the steering wheel would spin through his rugged hands so gently as he turned the wheel, the way sand slips through your fingers. I watched his hands.

His hands taught me a lot. They taught me how to shoot, “Breath,” he would tell me, “Don’t pull the trigger just squeeze it.” I watched his hands celebrate in each and every accomplishment in my life, as he would clench his fist and pump it in the air. “Way to go Bub,” he would say, with a smile that stretched his face. I watched him clip countless photographs of mine out of newspapers. Then whoever would visit, he’d trudge back into his room and gather the clippings, only to force his guests to share in his pride for my work, as he would stretch them across his kitchen table. 

I watched his hands care for my grandmother and gently touch her face as she would kiss him before we headed off on each of our adventures. I watched his hands twist with worry as he often did, never distinguishing between trips to warzones or just driving home after a visit. “Be careful,” he’d say, no matter how long or far you were traveling, he worried but worried well. I watched his hands.

As years accumulated on his hands, I watched them weaken, though still touch me, and others with the same love and care he always had. I watched him hold his great-grandson, pat him on the head and pull him tight towards him, as he would tell him he loved him. I watched his hands pull his feeble body up when his age began to catch up to him. I watched his hands.

I watched them as Parkinsons took its toll and robbed them of their abilities. I watched them as they shook and struggled to do even the simplest things. I watched them as they became frailer. Though even in my final visits with him, I felt his love each time he would hug me or put his hand on mine. I watched them on each visit wipe tears from his eyes as he would tell me, “Don’t forget me bub.” “Come back again to visit,” he’d say each and every time. I watched his hands. I watched his hands on our last time together pat my hands as he looked up and said, “He’s my boy,” with great pride. Those were the final words he said to me and the last time I felt and watched his hands, but now looking back I realize, what I hadn’t realized until this moment, his hands crafted my life as they did so many other things and so many other people. He sculpted my life with the same precision he did with everything else. I only wish I could have held those same hands that cared for me through my entire life as he left his. I realize that all things must pass and life carries on, but I know with great certainty my world will never be the same without him in it. To me he was the best, he was my Pap and I was proud to be his Bub. If I could talk to him one last time I’d tell him, “Pap, you were the best grandfather anyone could ever have and I’ll never forget you. Come back again to visit.”