I turned the key in the ignition, ready to get home after the end of the school day. NPR was airing a report about a potential new break-through in treating Parkinson’s Disease.  Whenever I hear those words, my mind immediately goes to my great-grandfather.  His hands and jaw trembled from the time I was old enough to remember.  He was told he had Parkinson’s Disease until near the end of his life, when doctors decided it was actually something else.  But despite his change of diagnosis, whenever I hear the words Parkinson’s Disease, I still think of my great-grandfather.

Papa raised cattle on his farm in Oklahoma, but he also drove a Coca-Cola delivery truck and a school bus earlier in his life.  The things I remember him driving, though, were a tractor and pick-up truck.   I loved riding on the back of the tractor as he hauled hay to the cows in the different pastures, especially in the spring-time when the herd was full of tiny calves.

One spring break during middle school, I was visiting my grandparents and got it into my head that I wanted a pet hedgehog.  Papa called into the Saturday morning “Tradio” show, saying his great-granddaughter was in town and was looking for a hedgehog.  Next thing I knew, the phone in the kitchen was ringing with a woman who was looking to sell her pet hedgehog.  We climbed into Papa’s old pick-up  truck and drove down the old highway to meet her.  When we returned home, Blossom the hedgehog came with us.

I was in college when Papa passed away.  I will never forget his memorial service.  The church was packed with family, friends, and neighbors.  After we sang his favorite hymns, the majority of the service was dedicated to people who wanted to share their memories of Papa.  One after another, people shared about how Papa had touched their lives through his love and generosity.  It was truly a celebration of a life well-lived.

I don’t make it back to Oklahoma very often.  It’s a part of me that my husband and children don’t really know much about, but I hope that they will.  Someday when my children are older, we’ll take a family trip to my great-grandparent’s farm where my cousin now lives and I’ll show and tell them all about where that side of our family comes from.  In the meantime, I will strive to live my life full of love and generosity so that my children grow up knowing the values that Papa has passed on through the generations.



5 thoughts on “Papa

  1. What a sweet window into your memory! My mother-in-law has not been formally diagnosed, but has declined with tremors. It’s hard to think she may not ever go back to herself before what might be Parkinson’s. But I like the way you juxtaposed the disease with the true nature of your grandfather’s soul. I’m trying to hold onto that part of my mother-in-law as she goes through this trial.


  2. Such touching memories! What a funny story about the hedgehog! My papa also had Parkinson’s and I immediately associate the word with him too. His tremors were bad ever since I was seven or eight and he died of a heart attack when I was 17. He had several surgeries and a variety of medications. My cousins are too little to remember him without Parkinson’s, but I do. He used to walk miles from his house to ours each Sunday. Thanks for the trip down my own memory lane with this slice!


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