In his eyes, there’s this flirtatious twinkle. Hidden behind it is a playful secret that always reels you in.
There was the little toothpick that hung from his lip.
The smoked smell of his BBQ tri-tip on the back patio.
I can hear the clicking sounds of the slideshow projector as slivers of warm light brushed across his shadowed face.
I loved how he would say YIKES at the perfectly appropriate times.
The way he would tap your knee with his knuckle when he had something to say to you.
His signature hats.
His adoration for my grandma.
His love for wildlife and nature
And his love for making fun of himself and putting up with my weirdness.
“Okay, Grandpa. For this picture we have to do our most unflattering face possible, and you have to commit! Don’t back out on me.”
… He didn’t back out.
I love the memory of his voice when I was a child, and he would gently rock in our wooden chair and quietly sing I was Born Under a Wand'rin Star.
Or every Christmas Eve when he would wear his Santa hat and sing/rap to T’was the Night Before Christmas for the entire family.
My husband never knew his grandparents. It was so incredible watching my grandpa immediately adopt Mitchell as his own and open his heart with the same love that I had known from him my whole life.
He love to call my son Trekker Prather whenever he’d say his name because he felt so proud to share a middle name with his great-grandson.
He would always tell all of his grandchildren that he loved us all the same… but he would look at me when he would say it. So I’m pretty sure that was code that I was the favorite.
He was a man who loved God with all his heart, might, mind and strength.
And then there was his laugh...
I don’t know if our laughs change over time as we get older, but when he laughed, I would picture it coming from the young, handsome man I had always recognized posing in the black and white photos in family albums. I would imagine being Marty McFly and, oh, how badly I would wish I could fly back in time and peek from behind a stage curtain draped in silver tinsel and watch him dancing with Grandma at the local prom. Gazing at her with a smitten look (and gosh was everyone smitten with her) and see his flirting eyes twisting my grandma’s stomach in knots.
The last time I saw him, I think we both knew secretly it was goodbye. He was in the back of the car getting ready to leave, and I reached in through the window to grab his hand. He didn’t let go. He held it tighter than usual. I told him how much, so much, I loved him. He grabbed Mitchells hand and told us to take care of each other.
I remember when Grandpa’s cancer had gotten worse and he was in the hospital. I was at the beach when I received the news. I just stared out at the ocean alone and cried and cried, and it felt so good to cry and to be at the beach, because it was one of the places he always loved.
During the last few weeks before he moved on from this life, my mom stayed by his side. He was so tired, and it was hard to catch him with enough energy to have a rich, deep conversation. I had my mom do me a favor and ask him a question for me when he had the strength to talk.
When she found herself alone with Grandpa, she told him how I loved to be out in nature and loved to open my heart to Heaven with questions when I found myself alone. She said how I wanted to ask him… “Once you’re on the other side and you see me having a hard season of life and needing a little extra strength to carry on, what can I look for to know that you’re near and that everything will be all right?“
He was pretty tired when my mom asked him so she told him to think about it for a while and went over to the kitchen to crush his night pills. Once she fed him his medicine disguised in applesauce, he looked at her and said in his tired voice, “Tell Jesse… a Bald Eagle.”
As little kids there was something magical about Grandma and Grandpa’s home in Manteca. An atmosphere where unconditional love could be felt so thick in the air, to the point where if you rubbed your fingers together your could almost feel the actual sensation. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was the solid foundation that the rest of my childhood revolved around, it was the "spinning jack" in my world of "Inception", if you will.
Summers and Christmases we would make the arduous journey to California, siblings squished together in the back seat with suitcases before iPads and DVD players were around to keep us sane. The excitement was almost unbearable when we would finally roll into the neighborhood and turn onto Navajo Way.
I can still remember my child-body frame hopping out of the car and the stretching sensation in my legs releasing the muscle aches from the long, long drive. The home smiled at me and a strange feeling of homesickness churned with a watered-down version of déjà vu every time we got there.
Grandma and Grandpa were always waiting by the front door, always. Their eyes and their smiles warmed me before I even reached their arms and fell into their embrace. I still hear Grandma’s laugh and can feel Grandpa’s kiss on my cheek. It was pure. The welcome that I always received made me feel whole, I felt enough, I felt home.
This week I feel like Grandpa must have gone through a parallel experience in his own way. Stretching out his legs from his long journey, I picture him walking up to his spinning jack— his treasure that always reached out to him with homesickness and déjà vu. I imagine him soaring towards arms and eyes and smiles of warmth that are embracing him and welcoming him with pure, unconditional love. Maybe where he is now, he can hear a mother’s laughter and feel a father’s kiss on his cheek.
I’m so glad I was able to go this far through life with you with me, PaPaPa.
You can finally be that Eagle. You can be at peace. You can stretch your wings and fly. And I’ll always be searching for you.