Some people may claim they had the best grandfathers in the world, but I really did. Wylie Patterson, aka Daddy Pat, was an old country boy who farmed, worked at a cotton gin, and then went on to work at the Panama Canal until literally 3 months after I was born. He was, and remains, the best man I’ve ever known.
To say that I was lucky to have spent so much time with Daddy Pat feels funny to me because of the reasons behind our frequent visits. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was seven years old. She spent the remaining two years of her life in and out of the hospital, fighting the good fight. Thus, Mommy and Daddy Pat became very important adults in my life not only as grandparents, but also as caretakers. I spent many nights at their house when I was sick so my father could go to work.
It was during these “live-ins” that I really learned about the man my grandfather was. He used to quietly wake me in the middle of the night so we could sneak into the kitchen and eat Mommy Pat cookies on vanilla ice cream. Since he was a man of few words, this was a pretty easy task for him. Others might have called him stoic, but he really wasn’t. He was dear, quiet, sweet, and funny. He was my Daddy Pat.
As I got older and needed less attention, he changed. He slowly became moody. He resisted any and all offers to help with his lawn. He resisted to the point of taking out several of the fruit trees in his back yard. He told me he did it because the trees crowded the yard. Mommy Pat told me he took them out because he couldn’t take care of them on his own anymore and he didn’t want to admit it.
He also became repetitive. He told the same story about cranking up a Model A and nearly breaking his arm. I must have heard the same story about driving the sharecroppers to the fields via a deep dip in the road a million times. “Them older guys knew to hold on. All the new boys would damn near fly out of the bed of my truck!”
Slowly, he became even quieter, less talkative, to the point of near silence. But he always lit up when he saw me. He always hugged me, pat me on the back, kissed my cheek and said, “My girl is here!” (still brings tears to my eyes) Then, he always made sure I got one of the good swivel rockers in their living room. Mommy Pat and I would rock and talk for hours while Daddy Pat sat and listened, smiled and laughed, or frowned and said “Oh no!” (mostly when I spoke about boys)
Then, he’d be back to his old self, or as close as he ever got again. He and Mommy Pat began recounting events during the first weeks and months following my mother’s death. Daddy Pat would say, “Ernestine, tell her about how she’d wait for Joy” (my mother). So, they’d recount the times I stood by their front window, looking outside, for what seemed hours at a time, nearly 10 years prior.
“Honey girl, what you doin’ at that window?” Mommy Pat would ask.
“Waiting for mommy to come and get me.”
Daddy Pat would tell me this story over and over again, then he’d look me in the eyes and do something I’d never seen him do before. He’d cry. He’d say how sorry he was that I had that life. He’d tell me he wished he could have done more for me. We’d spent a lot of time consoling each other and it would end with, “You know, you’re my very favorite grandpa?” He’d say, “I’m the only one you know.” Then we’d agree that’s why I only had one, because the other might have felt left out.
This is when I first notice his mood swings. The man who once only showed a level head around me began to cry and get mad in front of me. Mostly, he got mad at Mommy Pat and his son, my sweet Uncle Sonny. He usually cried about the fact I was so young when mom died or how my cousin Kenny worked so hard to help his mom, my Aunt Helen, through her battle with cancer. Sometimes it felt refreshing to see these new displays of love and grief, but mostly they confused me. At the time, I had no idea what all these symptoms meant. My grandfather was invincible. The thought his mind was failing never occurred to me.
Then I got that dreaded call from Mommy Pat. At the time, I was living in Denton attending the University of North Texas. She called to tell me she had to move Daddy Pat to a nursing home because “he’s too hard for me to handle on my own. He’s not himself anymore, sweetie.”