I learned from my mother that my paternal grandfather has died. He was a Southerner and we called him Paw Paw. I had not seen my Paw Paw in 30 years, due to the type of estrangement that often comes with a divorce between two immature people, one of whom is born from immature people. (Want proof? My father's mother was 14 when she gave birth to him, 34 when she became a grandmother, and was the woman who introduced me to the pleasures of Peanut Butter Capn' Crunch, a very un-grandma-like breakfast treat.) In the last five years, I have had a desire to visit Texas to see my daddy's family, to get in touch with the people whose blood courses through my veins and from whom I inherited my body type. My older sister discouraged me. H has seen my family in the last 20 years, having represented the Northern contingent upon the occasion of Miw Maw's (that's grandma in Southern speak) death. H reports that they are all miserable, racist human beings. She intuited that I would be disappointed upon meeting them and would likely regret the use of my time and money on them. In spite of the fact that I have a very good friend who lives (relatively) in the vicinity, I chose not to go.
And now my Paw Paw is dead. I remember the only time I met him, in 1977, when my family visited Texas for the entire summer. My mom took all five kids down on the Greyhound bus - a trip that took two (maybe three) days. I remember we all had waning chicken pox, and my mother gave us each a little pillow made by folding a hand towel in half and stuffing it with polyfill. Each child had a different cartoon character printed on their pillow - Holly Hobbie for the girls and Ziggy for the boy. The pillows had long ribbons attached to them, so we could wear them around our necks and not lose them. Each child also had to carry her/his own suitcase from one Greyhound station to the next. I remember eating hush puppies and drinking Dr. Pepper in a bus station cafeteria with my mom, and falling in love with both.
When we arrived in Texas Miw Maw Billie (that's right, my grandmother's name was Billie) picked us up and drove us to her gated condo, stopping to pick up donuts along the way. We bounced between her home and my Uncle Gary's home in a nearby suburb that was still in development for nearly two months, attending family picnics all summer long. I slept in a canopy bed, played bumper pool, and remember swimming alongside a lake filled with lazy inner tubes. I remember having dinner one night at the home of Paw Paw and Granny Gladys (his second wife). Paw Paw was a rabbit farmer (or would that be a rabbit rancher?) and he cooked rabbit for dinner. I don't remember eating anything that day, but can still remember what the rows of rabbit hutches looked like, with these enormous, soft creatures sitting in them. "Is this where rabbits feet come from?" I wondered, thinking of the garishly colored key chains one could buy at novelty stores.
And now Paw Paw is dead. A man I met once, thirty years ago. And he was my family, a connection to a part of me that has always felt the loss that came when my parents divorced. That part feels emptier right now.