Papaw Bill was one of ten children who grew up in Pine Mountain in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. He came to Louisville when he was a young adult and worked in a slaughterhouse with Maw Maw’s dad. Papaw Bill was later an electronics salesman for P.I. Burke’s. Then he was a maintenance man in Indian Oaks Apartments, where Maw Maw lived. Papaw Bill had two wives, both who passed away, and fathered two children, Wanda and Eugene, before he married my grandma Margaret on October 29th, 1983.
When Papaw Bill got into his eighties, he developed lung cancer that eventually spread to his brain. Papaw Bill passed away on June 29th, 1994 at the age of eighty-four. That date was also my sister Melissa’s ninth birthday.
There are only two things that I remember about Papaw Bill’s funeral. One of them is when a group of people were standing around and talking about all of the good memories that they had of Papaw Bill. When a man in the group said something to me, the only things I could think of to mention was the money that Papaw Bill would give to me when I’d ask (If I didn’t ask for too much) and the ten-speed mountain bike that he had gotten me almost a year earlier.
A few minutes later, when I thought about what I said, I started getting that sick feeling in my stomach. I wanted so bad to take back those things I said. Those things I mentioned weren’t memories, they were just material things that only someone selfish would think about at a time like that. Only God knows what I did with the money that Papaw Bill had given to me. The mountain bike was stolen shortly after Papaw Bill had passed away, maybe not even a month later. But I don’t totally blame myself because, most of my life, I’ve never really been good in those “social” and “interactive” situations, they make me nervous.
Papaw Bill was actually the first person that was so close to me, who died when I was old enough to understand what was going on. The other thing that I remember about Papaw Bill’s funeral was when I stood by myself next to his casket. I just looked at Papaw Bill and thought to myself about how I was a little brat a lot of the time that I was around him, when he only continued to love me. Whenever I bring it up, people tell me that I was just a kid, or completely deny it altogether. But most of us know the saying: “The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.” If I hadn’t taken the time to think about those things on that day, I may not be the better person that I am today. If I didn’t realize that I needed the constant Grace and Forgiveness of Jesus Christ when I was a freshman in high school, I may not be a Christian today.
After a while, Maw Maw noticed me just standing there and looking. Maw Maw said to Uncle Marty, “Get him away from there.” As soon as he got up to get me, that’s when I turned away.
Sharing unshared memories
I want to take this opportunity to share some of my most favorite memories of Papaw Bill.
My oldest memory of Papaw Bill was when I was six-years-old. Maw Maw and Papaw Bill took me and Melissa to Bethlehem Baptist Church for the first time. Maw Maw took me to Mrs. Flossie’s First Grade Sunday School Class and I sat down at the table. We were early, which meant that I was about the only kid in the room at the time. Maw Maw told me that she would be back shortly and left.
Pretty soon, other kids started showing up. Mrs. Flossie had everyone making paper boats (a reference to when Jesus called His disciples to be “fishers of men”), but not me. I suddenly got scared and began repeatedly bawling, “I want my Papaw Bill!” And I didn’t stop until either Papaw Bill came to get me or someone took me to him. I ended up spending the rest of that Sunday school hour in Papaw Bill’s class.
When I started having back pain that led to me being diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, it was the summer, so I was at Maw Maw and Papaw Bill’s apartment often. One day, my back was hurting so bad that all I could do was lie on the couch and cry. Papaw Bill was sitting in his easy-chair next to me. He finally got up and told me to stand up so he could hold me and pray for me. Papaw Bill told me that if I just believed, the pain would go away. All I can remember after that is that I slowly began to stop crying, at least for a short while.
I have other vague memories of Papaw Bill, some are mentioned in previously written chapters in this book. But I also know that he was crazy about electronics. Maw Maw often said that anytime Papaw Bill bought a new gadget, he wanted to take it apart to see what it was made of. Papaw Bill also tried more than once to teach me college level algebra. I never even got the hang of algebra in high school.