Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Self-Made Man...

My papa passed away Thursday night, October 28, 2011.  His name was Ernest Laverne Crosby - of which he hated and most people just called him "Cotton" due to his white-blond hair (which he kept until the day he died).  He was 82 years old. He fought a courageous battle with Alzheimer's and lung cancer, and has now moved on to a place where he is not hurting anymore.  I have faith that my Papa is in Heaven with my Granny, because while not a church-going man, he was a Christian man.  He told me more than once, "I can worship the Lord right here from my chair just as well as that pew..."  And he is right. God does encourage us to gather together with Christians, but he does not require it.  And furthermore, who is to say the NASCAR drivers aren't lovers of God?  I suspect many of them are - he was gathered around his most Holy place - the track.

My Papa was born in Texas and died in Texas - and I believe this is just how he wanted it to be.  He was a stern man, but not without humor and grace.  Growing up, he did not have an easy life.  It took me a long time to understand this.  Side-stepping all the details, we'll just say his Daddy was also stern and his mama was often too busy to be a mama.  My Papa was successful despite a broken home.  Knowing what I know now about all the allowances made for children with difficult circumstances and knowing no one did these things for my Papa during his childhood gives me even more respect for this self-made man.

At 17, he dropped out of high school and joined the Navy.  As a high-school teacher, you'd think that would make me gasp - but it doesn't.  He did what was right for him and he was ALLOWED to do it.  Now-a-days we force kids into a mold that doesn't fit, Papa busted the mold and I'm glad for it.  He served his time and then finished his high school requirements in his own way earning his diploma.  He was smart, he just didn't want to meet the expectations on someone else's time-table and that is a trademark personality piece right there!  He went on to become a master metal-worker and was sought after as a craftsman in the industry.  No one could make some of the things my Papa made, and rest assured - perfection was the order of the day.

This photo is outside a bunker somewhere overseas I think - I'm not sure.  I like the cocky look of his casual seat and while it's hard to read, the bottom right corner says, "All my love...Bing".  As in Bing Crosby.  This is a picture he sent to my Granny before they were married.  It reminds me of his love for my Granny and their marriage that lasted 56 years is a testament to that love.  Was it perfect?  No.  Were there mistakes and hard times?  Yes.  But - did they make it through?  Yes.  They didn't quit and they didn't give up and this respect for marriage inspires me.  I remember the summer my Granny had a hysterectomy.  I was 16-years-old and I wanted to drive my Papa's truck.  He took me, which is surprising in itself, but as we left the house, he locked the back door.  A door that was never locked, one that we all just walked right through when we arrived at house.  I asked him, "Why are you locking the door?"  and he said, "I can't let anyone get my sweetie..."  Endearing.

My Papa and I were not that close in an obvious traditional sense.  He had struggled with what to do with little girls.  I was a conundrum to him with my dolls and make-up and teenage drama.  Once he told me how horrible my lipstick looked - I cried.  Looking back, he was right - but don't tell him I said so!  But, my Papa was also proud of me and while his compliments were few and far between, when they were doled out - you had better notice!  When I graduated college my Papa said to me, "Looks like you worked your butt off out there, you ain't got one left..."  This was a two-fold compliment.  1) Papa respected me for graduating college.  It was something he never did and was NOT going to compliment anyone on something he could go out and do himself - expectations were extremely high to impress that man.  2)  He told me I was skinny!  Now - for those that don't know Papa...this is a BIG DEAL!  I'll leave it at that.

When I married a military man, he was proud - proud of me and proud of Jerry.  He had the greatest respect for our marriage and for Jerry's job.  He was thrilled to become a great-grandparent for the first time and I was thrilled to be the grandchild that gave him this gift.  He was so fond of CJ - before he lost his memory of who he was, he held him and played with him.  And after he lost his memory of who he was, CJ just assumed it was the same and continued to hug Papa's neck and love on him every visit.  This warmed my heart and Papa's, too.

Papa lived a long and full life, surrounded by a family that admired and respected him, and friends - of which he told me once, "You only have a few - the rest are just people you know" - until he left us.  He was strict and to get on a pedestal with him, you had to claw your way to the top, but once you were there, you were there.  But, he was also charming and funny and kind.  These are the things I will remember about him, the well-rounded package he presented.  The brutal honesty, the backward compliments, and the love he had for us all. 

His funeral was a wonderful event - sounds weird to say this, but it was.  Family and friends gathered together to celebrate his life.  And I believe Papa was there - in his own way.  About half-way through the minister's sermon, the light on the wall started to flicker. My two cousins, Jason and Cole, my brother, and myself all immediately had the same thought - "Papa's here...he wants to know why we're subjecting him to church - he didn't go in life, why is he being sent in death..."  - a little funny, we all thought.  I had a running monologue in my head the entire time the light flickered - when the sermon ended, so did the light show...stranger things have happened.  We congregated after the funeral at a BBQ restaurant in Austin, Poke-e-Joe's.  And just in case you are wondering - it is impossible to solemnly say "The family would like to extend an invitation to Poke-e-Joe's for a meal and fellowship after the burial."  Just can't be done...and I think Papa would have giggled, just a little.

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