Papa stormed up to the front door and knocked on it so hard that the house shook. Minutes passed. He pounded on it again, this time with his fist.
A man finally cracked the door open warily.
“What do you want?”
“I want to speak with your son.”
“My son?” The man’s eyes were deep set and blood-shot.
“Just get him out here,” Papa rumbled. He was a mountain of a man, a huge ex-Navyman with fists the size of hams.
The man looked Papa over warily, but then he shrugged. He yelled over his shoulder for his son.
Papa could hear rustling coming from inside the house, and the father and son exchanged angry words. Finally, a defiant young man appeared in the door frame.
“What?” the kid demanded blankly, staring at Papa as if he’d never seen him before in his life.
Papa shot out an arm and grabbed a fistful of his oversized t-shirt and dragged him out onto the porch. The kid sputtered in surprise; he was still just a boy, after all.
Papa towered over him and pressed his face threateningly down into the boy’s. “Where’s my radio?” he growled.
The boy took a step back and tried to twist away from Papa. “Man, you’re crazy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Papa tightened his grip around the boy’s collar and pulled him closer. The boy finally looked afraid, and honestly he should have been; he’d heard Papa firing off his gun in the back yard next door too many times.
“I’m giving you ten minutes,” Papa said, “Ten minutes to return that radio you stole from my truck.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at his big rig that was parked along the side of the street, “Or I’m gonna kick your ass.”
The boy cursed under his breath as Papa let him go, but his face was white. Papa ignored him, turned, and strode back across the lawn to his house next door.
Ten minutes later there was a knock on Papa’s door. When he opened it, the boy wasn’t making eye contact, but he had Papa’s radio under one arm.
“Do you know how to reinstall it?” Papa asked.
The boy nodded.
“Well, get to it.”
Papa followed him out to the rig and watched him. When the kid was done, he gave him a beer.
From that day forward, Papa never paid anybody to mow his lawn. That young man came over and did it free of charge every other weekend… even after Papa moved ten miles across town.
One of the interesting things about people is that little bits and pieces of them live on, even after they’re physically gone.
Papa passed away a few weeks ago. By all accounts he was a good man, but a complicated man. An imperfect man.
But he was also a man who made his peace. Who sought forgiveness. Who knew where he stood before God. Papa saw a little bit of himself in Johnny Cash as he clung to the hymns of the Man in Black. And like Cash, he probably didn’t realize what kind of effect he had on people by being so real and raw in his redemption.
Papa became like a father to the young man next door after the incident with the radio. The kid’s father had been indifferent and absent, and the boy had been on a destructive path. But Papa showed up. He got involved.
Papa also spent a lot of time with another little boy while working on his Harley some weekends in his garage. The boy liked learning about motorcycles and listening to Papa’s rumbling, rambling stories over the sound of the radio.
Sometimes Papa would take him out to the Harley dealership, stopping at Dairy Queen along the way. Sometimes he went to ask the mechanics questions, and sometimes he went to buy parts. But other times, Papa would buy a six pack of beer and bring it by the Harley dealership for no reason at all.
“Sometimes you just have to show up with beer, even if you don’t need anything,” he said.
Papa was larger than life, always quick with a story or a tall tale. Not all of them were true, of course, but he was indiscriminate in sharing them. He would chat up nearly everybody he met – strangers and friends alike. Whether he was talking with a clerk at a convenience store or a homeless man on the street, he engaged with everybody just the same. He approached people as they were, and he was genuinely curious about their lives, their thoughts, their opinions. It meant that the people Papa talked to remembered him. They were drawn to him – he made them feel special.
I don’t know Papa all that well myself, but I do know the little boy who spent time with him in his garage. As we were telling stories about him after he passed, I realized that I still get to see a little bit of Papa every day. One of the things I have always admired about my husband is the way that he engages anybody and everybody around him in the same way – no matter who they are or where they’re from. He likes to tell stories and he wants to hear theirs. And I’m pretty sure that’s something he picked up from Papa in his garage.
It’s easy to forget about the ripple effects our lives create. Most of the time they’re invisible, but every so often we catch a tiny little glimpse. Even if nobody remembers Papa’s name, they might find part of him rippling and radiating through little stories, little feelings, little kindnesses. And the funny thing about stories, feelings and kindnesses is that they never seem to stay put. They can’t help but pass from one person to another – and another, and another.
The other thing about those kinds of beautiful ripples is that it doesn’t matter much if they come from somebody who is flawed or imperfect. They are the product of someone simply showing up. Someone being real. Someone spending time.
Thank God that none of us have to be perfect to leave a legacy.
Thanks, Papa. And welcome home. This one’s for you: