Last week, Rob and I drove to a small dusty town in west Texas called Plainview. In more than one way, it lives up to its name – a small dot on a broad map that has surpassed what it once was. But in the ways that matter, it’s made up of the sweetest kinds of memories and moments. This is the town that welcomed my mom and me, and eventually, my younger sister Caroline, to spend lazy summer days at my Mama and Papa’s house, building forts in the living room and jumping off the shed in the backyard, just because we could. This is where I spent hours at the local pool and a few more hours plopped in front of the large, walnut-encased television set watching I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke show. This is also the town that bore and raised my mom, welcomed my dad, and provided the backdrop for their relationship. So, whenever I return, it’s not lost on me that this small, dusty dot on the map is where my story began. But it is also where it continues.
Today, my Papa still lives in Plainview. Born in South Carolina, he found his way to Texas by way of WWII, his new wife, and their desire to start a life and grow their family in a new place. So they did. They raised four children through the 1960s and 70s and lived to see them become college graduates, husbands, wives, parents, nurses, journalists and teachers. They made dear friends, and spent time pouring into their small community, and never missed a Sunday service at the local Baptist church. They took us, their grandchildren, on long road trips to see Yellowstone and White Sands, NM and Niagara Falls. They celebrated their family wholly and fully and loved each of us as if we were their very favorite. (Except that, of course, I was.)
And then one night, ten years ago, my Mama went to sleep and simply never woke up. Her heart had failed, leaving my Papa alone in a way that he never expected to be. We watched him endure the heaviest kind of grief. He was sad for a very long time and yet he soldiered on, leaning on his faith, his hope, and the freedom that comes with having lived a life that has been filled to the brim.
This past year, Angus Courtney Ott Jr. turned ninety-three. He is the last of my grandparents, and these days, he spends most of his hours sitting in his favorite chair, reading and watching his favorite television shows and movies, his humor always intact and his door always open. As he is prone to saying, gettin’ old ain’t for sissies, and when I watch him bravely succumb to the endless piles of medication, equipment, and numerous pairs of helping hands in order to get through a single day, well, I have to agree. What a humbling journey it must be. He has outlived his wife, his only son, and each of his friends. And yet, he is always the gentleman, never forgetting our birthdays and always at the ready, willing to provide guidance and wisdom to his children, and their children, and their children. His mind is sharp even when his body fails, and he can still make me laugh with the best of them. I've learned to avoid political talk and to always ask about the weather because if there is anything that brings a light to his eyes, it's the possibility of rain in west Texas. He still loves to eat (we have this in common) and so it's easy to bond over bacon, eggs, and the kind of extra crunchy cheese toast he prefers because it's how his grandmother used to make it for him.
I suppose it's no coincidence that I’ve been pushing play on this song a lot lately. Have you heard it? If not, you should take a few minutes and really listen. Almost every time I do, I get choked up. This weekend, while spending time with Papa, well, I found myself humming it over and over. Sitting in his living room, in the same armchair that's been there for years, I looked around and realized that what I was humming sounded a lot like letting go of grudges, holding tight to forgiveness, and making room for the small kinds of moments that cause us to look back and smile big and wide. I sure hope that when I've lived ninety-three years, I can smile in the kind of way that reflects a life lived with true joy and no hard feelings. I hope that I can hold my head high, just as my Papa strives to, and know that my battles and hurdles and mistakes weren't in vain. I hope I will be able to rest in the assurance that I loved deep, and that my people knew my heart, my faith, and (I think it goes without saying) my endless passion for cheese.
I love you, Papa. And I'm so honored to carry on your name and your legacy. Thank you for loving us well and for pointing us all towards the things that matter. Here's to a life well-lived, and to your story marking some of the very best parts of mine.