Papa

This world has lost a good soul, my papa. He was a loving husband to my granny, a father of 2 boys, a papa to 4 girls, a mentor and a friend to so many.

Hundreds of people came to pay their respects and tell us stories about Papa, “Mr. Dyer” as he was known to most. There were many tales shared that even my dad and uncle hadn’t heard.   All of the wonderful memories people had of Papa made us smile and laugh through our tears of mourning, which is exactly what Papa would have wanted. His strong legacy of kindness, encouragement, genuineness, faithfulness, and respect for others is such a comfort to us all.

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Some of the stories were very sweet and powerful testimonies to the man we all knew Papa to be. Others were comical. Evidently Papa was more of a prankster than we realized, which is funny because all my life I had heard Papa chuckle, but I don’t know that I ever heard him really belly laugh. But man could Papa smile. Looking through photos this past week, I don’t think there was a single photo in which Papa didn’t have a big ol’ grin on his face (which could not be said for the rest of us who were not as photogenic or cooperative).

I loved to hear Papa’s tales about growing up on Mud Camp, a rural, farming lifestyle where much of the food you ate, you grew or made. Let me just say that many of these efforts were far less than glamorous. Papa used to love to tell me these stories and see if he could gross me out. He succeeded on several occasions and had a good chuckle over it.

Every time we went anywhere, at least one person, and often times many people, said hello to “Mr. Dyer.”   He taught agriculture for nearly 30 years, taught Sunday school for decades, was a State Farm insurance agent for years, and lived his entire life in the same county. Almost everyone he came across was at some point his student or customer or buddy since childhood.

Papa was a greatly respected man, though he was not arrogant nor did he seek out affirmation or recognition. As so many people told us at his funeral, you just didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Dyer. Growing up, I can remember numerous occasions where my cousin Lauren and I got in trouble with Granny, but I don’t ever remember Papa getting onto us about misbehaving.  We most likely knew to act right around Papa, which was an unspoken understanding.  Likewise, when he was proud of you, you could tell, but he didn’t let you get a big head about it.

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Papa was a strong man, but he certainly had a soft spot for his buddies. Papa loved to take us (his 4 granddaughters) to Rite Aid, where we could stretch $20 farther than the pros on Extreme Couponing. There’s no telling what random combination of gum, office supplies, beauty products, sodas, and plastic toys we would come out with, but Papa didn’t care. He was glad to take us with him to town and get us something that would keep us entertained for hours on end.

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Papa also loved to drive us around to the family farms, check on the cattle, and see if the hay had been cut or rolled. We also spent many a summer day on the top of the hill behind Granny and Papa’s house “camping” around a small fire. We’d roast marshmallows and cook hot dogs and have a grand old time. Though it’s probably been well over a decade since we last did this, my cousins, sister and I have vowed to carry on this tradition and have a campfire this summer.

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Yesterday marked a week since Papa’s passing. Of course the last few days Papa wasn’t sitting in his chair at the house like usual, but I don’t know that I’ve really processed that Papa is gone. I decided to plant some flower pots at my new house yesterday and it started to sink in. All I could do was think about Papa. Having been a farmer and an agriculture teacher, he was an expert in gardening. He taught me so much in the last few years as I experimented with growing flowers and vegetables.

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The first summer I lived in Nashville, I helped him with his vegetable garden and I got to learn firsthand many of the nuances of gardening. He taught me not to plant seeds or plants too close, to give them room to grow, setting the expectation that they would become something far greater the small spec from which they started. He taught me to be patient, to give the plants time, not hovering like a helicopter gardener and constantly doctoring. He showed me what the crops look like when they are ripe and ready to harvest, what signs to look for if they are doing well or struggling. He taught me that we are at Mother Nature’s mercy when it comes to sun and rain and critters. There is only so much we can and should do and then the rest is out of our hands. As I felt the soil in my hands yesterday, I felt close to Papa. I know he will watch over me as I continue to implement his lessons in the garden.

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I’ll forever cherish being able to spend that time with Papa in the garden. I am so glad that I took pictures and captured our lessons and progress that year in my blog. I went back and read the posts again this week. I’d forgotten some of the funny things that happened even though it was just a few years back.

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I am so thankful that Papa was not in great pain his last few days and that he was still himself. Though I didn’t know it would be at the time, the last thing we talked about was his cat, Ally, who is another one of his big buddies and who loved him better than anything. They had their own routine everyday and she would come in the house and sit with him in his chair for a while. I told Papa as he lay there in the hospital bed that I wished I could have brought Ally to sit with him and he joked with me that, “Oh no, she can’t come. She gets carsick.” That made me laugh.

On the way home from the hospital, I saw the most beautiful, full rainbow, which I had hoped would be a sign that Papa would pull through but maybe it was a sign that his life was complete.   As we arrived in Nashville, we drove into the darkest storm I have ever seen. It poured down rain so hard that the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up and we had to slow down to less than half the speed limit. I remembered that Papa had asked me earlier if it had rained yet that day.  We always talked about the weather, nearly every conversation we had.  I am fascinated by it and so is he.  I’ll miss calling our phone calls that always started something like this:

Me: “Hi Papa, it’s Emily.”

Papa: “Hey, little Emily! How ya doin’ buddy? How’s your weather?”

Me: “I’m good.  It’s a beautiful day here.  How about there?”

Though the weather has been stormy for weeks and overcast the days of the visitation and funeral, the sun came out as we left the funeral home and the sky was nearly cloudless at the cemetery. I have no doubt that the bright, warm sun was Papa smiling big and wrapping his arms around us as we all gathered together to celebrate his life.   How lucky I am to have called him Papa.

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