Paw-Paw Always Believed
By Linda O'Connell
There’s something very special about experiencing all of the “firsts” with your first grandchild, especially if she is as verbal and precocious as ours was. Four year old Ashley was madly in love with the first guy she ever “dated.” She showed him off to her girlfriends, and she bragged all evening about how much fun he was.
Ashley’s only consistent male role model had been my husband, her step-grandpa, whom she adored and called Paw-Paw Bill. The Dad’s Night invitation came home from preschool in her book bag. It stated: If Dad can’t come, your child should bring any other significant male.
Four year old Ashley didn’t hesitate a moment. “Paw-Paw Bill, would you be my date? My escort?”
“What on earth? Where did you hear such a word?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Paw-Paw, don’t you even watch videos? The prince was Cinderella’s escort; he took her to the ball where she lost her glass slipper. But I’m not going to wear glass slippers. Please, will you take me to Dad’s Night?”
“Of course, my princess,” he replied.
I dearly loved my second husband, but my love for him grew ten-fold when I saw my granddaughter plant her petite hand in his giant paw, and I watched him escort her to the car. Out of that entwined grasp evolved a powerful love.
Ashley proudly strode into her preschool classroom that evening beaming from ear to ear. Her six foot two inch, two-hundred-forty pound Paw-Paw shadowed her like a gentle giant. He knelt beside her and colored pictures, built block towers as high as Jack’s beanstalk, and held back tears when he read Ashley’s heartfelt essay about the most important man in her life. Her teacher had transcribed as Ashley dictated: “Paw-Paw is my best friend. He’s big as the refrigerator, and he can lift me all the way to the top of it. He lets me help him make ‘shawshage’ and scrambled eggs every Sunday. He’s so silly. He tickles me, and we play wrestlers and he’s a good dancer; he twirls me around and around. He gives the best hugs, and he makes me laugh all the time. I love him ten million, this much.” Her teacher drew a stick figure with arms outstretched to indicate Ashley’s endless love for her Paw-Paw.
“He’s my bestest silly friend,” she told each of her classmates as she led him from center to center. Bill rolled play dough cookies with her and made the entire class laugh when he pretended to eat them. He rocked bald dolls dressed in frilly dresses the same way he rocked Ashley when she was a bald baby.
Paw-Paw Bill was there the day she was born, and he has been there for her ever since. When her mother and I lectured or scolded, he tried a consistent, calm approach to discipline. He never towered over her. He scrunched his body down to her level. With his big jolly face close to her tiny cherubic face, and with his sincere hazel eyes gazing into her blue eyes, he talked to her in ways that she could grasp. He used metaphor, and she listened.
From the moment she was born he carried her facing forward. She perched like a parrot high atop his left shoulder and mimicked words he taught her. Bill believed that she should be able to view the world around her with wide-eyed wonder. When she began toddling, he wrapped her little hand in his and reached out to catch her every time she stumbled. Although he had to eventually let go, he held her in a grandpa’s grasp no matter how big she grew, or how near or far she ever was from him. Through childhood, he bounced her on his belly, cuddled her in brawny arms and gently bear-hugged her. When she grew older, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder as they walked through the mall or down a winding wooded path. He taught her how to treat others and how others should treat her. He allowed her to experiment and learn from experience. He took her places her imagination led and he always followed, if not at her side, then a step behind.
Paw-Paw taught her many concepts and skills but the most important lessons he taught her as she grew up was that an apology and one’s word are the two most important things a person can give another. Through his own interactions with her, he taught her how a boy should treat her. He taught her to respect herself, and he taught her to expect respect.
During the difficult teen years, when all children spread their wings and sometimes fly off in the wrong direction, everyone stepped in to guide her. No one, not her mom, grandma or great-grandma, nor any teacher or preacher who ever spoke to her during those difficult teen years has had as great an influence on her as Paw-Paw Bill. Before a date or a dance or a party, he always said only three words to her that every young lady needs to hear. When the three generations of women in her life finished lecturing about the do’s and don’ts and curfews, Paw-Paw Bill would take the phone, or he would look her in the eye if she were in his presence, and he’d say, “I trust you.” That’s all. No lecture. No more words. She always lived up to his trust and beliefs in her ability to make the right decisions even when the wrong ones were so available.
It is with dignity and honor and many laugh lines along the way that Ashley reached adulthood and recently got married. Paw-Paw escorted her down the aisle. Our granddaughter is the young lady she is today because of the gentleman who believed in her…always! Sometimes Dad is another name for Paw-Paw. These days Ashley calls him Grandpa Bill, and she readily admits, he is still her favorite big kid.
About this writer
- Linda O’Connell is a seasoned preschool teacher and award-winning freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Her prose and poetry have appeared in books, magazines and anthologies. As Linda waltzed through the decades, she discovered her age of elegance was in her forties, but she isn’t complaining. Life has been an adventure. Linda resides in the Midwest but her heart and soul hang out at the beach.
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