Ten years ago my Pops heart gave out, after years of wrapping our large and dysfunctional family in it.
His death changed all of us, some for better, some for worse. It made me more cynical, but it made me and Mems closer. It forced my ever irresponsible mother to grow up just a little.
Last night after I had crying fit brought on by this "anniversary" Mems wondered aloud, how I might have been different if he'd lived longer. It was inevitable that he would not live forever, or even much longer than he did because of a heart defect and lung damage from fighting fires long before the use of safety gear.
Would I have been different if I had more years with my Pops? Or is the mark he made on me in 17 years enough to last my life time?
It is because of him after all that I curse like a sailor. I learned some of my most colorful phrases playing in the front yard while he worked in the open garage. "Go fuck a duck" remains my favorite.
He introduced me to the wonder that is peanut butter. Sure I'd had the classic PB & J before... but once he rubbed peanut butter on a stack of vanilla wafers, I was in heaven. He made the first Chinese food I ever ate, showed me how to fry shrimp and green tomatoes.
The first time I went in the ocean I was holding his hand... I was scared of the water and made him promise not to let go. Then a wave hit us and knocked me down and he let go.
I went under the salty water and popped up instantly. Anger burning in my 6-year old body as I yelled at him "You let go! A shark almost ate me!" Yes I've always been melodramatic. But he just laughed and said nothing happened, you went under water and you're fine. And I was, and I was never scared of the ocean again.
When I'm drinking a beer I feel the need to listen to Merle Haggard because I grew up hearing it play on the tape deck above our refrigerator while Mems and Pops drank a beer before dinner.
In these little ways Pops helped form the habits I still carry with me, in larger ways he influenced everything I do and everything I'll ever become.
His unconditional love gave me the comfort and courage to say and do whatever I choose, and even now that he's gone I have a part of him I know I'm better because of him and hope I'm still making him proud, even with my cursing.