When Poppaw Cried

Essay by Crystal Roberts

Crystal Roberts is a high school Senior in Lebanon, VA.

Dedicated to the memory of Albert Caney Farmer, Jr. My hero, my Poppaw.

I was looking through our picture albums the other day. I came across pictures of him, and the memories started to flood my mind. His hair was jet black, and his brown eyes glittered in the light. He was my Poppaw; he was my best friend.

I was the joy of his life. I was Poppaw's little girl. I should have been a boy because I loved to go hunting and fishing with him. He had taken me everywhere he went since I was two-years-old, and I loved it. I loved sitting on a lawn chair on the side of a riverbank waiting for a fish to come along and jerk my line. I also enjoyed listening to Poppaw curse when I hung my line up in a tree. He always became overexcited. The best days of my life were when I was fishing with him, hunting with him, or eating a bowl of beef stew on a cold Sunday afternoon while watching football games. I miss those days.

I guess that it all started when I was born. Mom said that Poppaw came to pick us up at the hospital. The nurse was trying to dress me, and Poppaw kept saying, "Are you done yet?" The nurse replied, "No Mr. Farmer, not yet." I guess that he just kept on asking until she finally said, 'Yes Mr. Farmer, I'm Done!' FARMER, I'M DONE!" According to Mom, Poppaw picked me up and left her there to carry the suitcases. He sure was proud of me, that's one thing that never changed.

Every afternoon, my Mommaw and Poppaw would pick me up and take me to Roses and buy me any stuffed animal that I wanted. It was like that for several years of my life. Every time we went somewhere Poppaw would tell me to get anything that I wanted. He would still do that to this very day. He wasn't rich, he didn't have a lot of money, but he would have done anything to make me happy. Mom says that's how I became so spoiled. I guess Poppaw did spoil me.

We moved in with Mommaw and Poppaw in 1986. I had just finished the first grade, my sister Jessica was three almost four when we decided to move. We only lived half an hour away from my grandparents, but they had been urging us to move in with them for years. Poppaw had a bad back and Mommaw had just been laid off work. They always called on Daddy to do the chores around the house, but Poppaw always supervised to make sure he was doing a good job. I think that we moved in because of financial reasons. It's never easy living off one income. I was leaving my house, my dog, my friends (what little I had), I was leaving my life in Abingdon and I was glad. I wanted to be with my Poppaw.

We soon found out that everything wasn't going to be "peachy keen." It is difficult putting two separate families into one house. Six people living under one roof started a lot of squabbles! I ended up becoming the fussy one. I did not get along well with anyone. I always had to have everything my way. I am still like that, but not as bad. I had never seen my Poppaw get so angry at me before. I made him angry a lot, but he never spanked me, he raised his hand back at me a couple of times, but he never hit me. Instead, we would talk; those long drawn out speeches that seemed to hurt worse than a beating. "Be good for Poppaw," he would say. "Be good for Poppaw." I still hear him saying that often. It's so incredibly difficult for me to realize that he is gone.

We went through a lot. Although it wasn't easy, Mom knew that Mommaw and Poppaw really needed us, so we stayed. One of the most devastating periods was when Poppaw first became sick. It was in 1989.

There was a red knot that came up in the middle of his chest. We didn't know what it was. He went to a doctor in Abingdon and he said that Poppaw had arthritis and gave him a shot of cortisone. When the knot didn't go down, we knew that something was wrong. Mommaw made him an appointment in Roanoke with the same doctor who had performed back surgery twice on my Poppaw.

He was the one who found out that my Poppaw had Hodgkin's disease.

"Congratulations Mr. Farmer, you have cancer," is what he said to my Mommaw and Poppaw. I know that you think that it is a little strange, but my Poppaw was in the third stage out of a four stage type of cancer. Hodgkin's disease is one of the few types of cancer that can be cured. That's why he said Congratulations.

When my grandparents told my sister and me, I do not really think that we knew how to react. I was ten-years-old at the time, and my sister was eight. I knew what was going on, but I don't think that my sister did. I wanted complete isolation from Poppaw. I couldn't be around him. I think that I wanted to be strong and in my heart I knew that I couldn't be if I had to be near him. My sister's first reaction was to hide under the table and start crying. She was scared and I was stunned.

I didn't go around my Poppaw much, until the day he asked me if I was afraid of him. I had never been afraid of him before in my life, and I wasn't then. I was afraid of losing the one person that I loved with all of my heart. I started spending more time with him. Every Saturday night, I would pop popcorn for him and we would watch sitcoms on NBC. That's when I realized what a great person he was. That's when he became my hero.

My Poppaw was a dedicated worker. He had worked with the ABC board for several years. He had also been a town police officer in Lebanon, Haysi, Clintwood, etc. He was well loved by all that knew him.

During this time, we found out how many people truly loved him. The men that worked under him picked him up every day and took him for his radiation treatments. It paid off. A year and 86 radiation treatments later, he was in remission.

We were so happy. We celebrated that night. My Poppaw was back to normal, almost. He wasn't able to shoot a gun after that, and I think that he began to appreciate the value of life more. All in all, he was the same person. I still listened to him tell his stories about his revenuing days. I listened to how he caught bootleggers and drunkards. I heard about the time Mommaw was beaten up when they lived above the jail in Haysi and they never caught who did it. I also listened to him talk about the people he arrested and how they learned to respect him and the law. He had many friends that he had once arrested. That made me realize that he was truly a remarkable man, one who could turn the worst people into some of the best people. To know him was to love him.

We thought that the nightmare was over. Six years later, we were proven wrong. My Poppaw had been getting frequent migraine headaches. He had also been talking out of his head. He went to the doctor and had a brain scan. That's when they found out that he had six brain tumors. He also had cancer in his right lung. I was at school when they found out. They called me down to the office out of my Algebra II class. I saw my Mom walking down the hall and she was crying. I knew that something was wrong. When she told me, I just burst into tears. She didn't tell me that the doctors had only given him six months to a year to live.

The month after they diagnosed my Poppaw with cancer, was the worst month of my life. He had his beautiful, black hair shaved off and I watched him go down hill every day. One day, he was sitting on his bed and I went over to talk to him. He said, "Crissy, I'm dying." I said, "Poppaw, you're not dying, you've beaten it once, you can beat it again. Besides, you can't die, we all love you too much." He said, "I know you do." Then he started crying. That was the first time that I ever saw my Poppaw cry. He then looked up at me and said, "You and Jessie are my life, and I love you both, but you were always my favorite."

My Poppaw was in and out of the hospital several times. He went into diabetic shock. That was one of the scariest times for us all. He couldn't talk, and we thought that he was having a stroke. We rushed him over to Russell County Medical Center where his doctor put sugar water into his IV. He came to, but couldn't remember what happened. He asked for me. When I went into the recovery room he said, "Where were you when the lights went out?" I replied, "I was right there with you."

They sent my Poppaw home, but we had to take him back that night. They decided to keep him in the hospital a few days. That was the worst mistake that we had ever made with him, taking him to Russell County Medical Center.

My Poppaw became progressively worse. We noticed that the nurse was putting a patch on his chest every morning. When we asked her what it was for she said his diabetes. Later we found out that she was putting a nitroglycerin patch on him every day. My Poppaw never had heart problems in his life. The doctor had mixed his medication up with my grandmother's. My Poppaw was never the same after that.

We brought him home a week later. Within that week that he had stayed in the hospital, he became almost paralyzed. He couldn't walk, and we couldn't lift him. He was dead weight. He couldn't talk right and he seemed senile. I couldn't make myself believe that the person in his bed was he. We had to turn him and diaper him. He was in the hospital several times after that. I was working, so I couldn't be there as I wanted. Mom told me that Poppaw "saw" me frequently in his room. He told her that I was wearing a whit cap. He didn't see anyone else, just me.

Thanksgiving was so difficult on us. My Poppaw was a 260 pound man. Thanksgiving was the first time in my life that I didn't see him eat anything. I was actually watching him die. Every day, I would hold his hand and tell him how much I loved him. He would talk to me every day, sometimes he was in his right mind, and sometimes he wasn't.

I couldn't stand to see him like that. Each night I prayed that he would get better. Then, I started praying that if he couldn't get better, then I wished that he would just die.

The happiest day of our lives was when my Poppaw was saved. He knew what he was doing. He called my aunt and she read the bible to him. We were all so thankful that God had touched his heart. We loved him so much.

December 2, 1995 was my Mommaw and Poppaw's wedding anniversary.

Mommy bought Poppaw a little Christmas tree to sit on his desk. He never saw that tree. The next day, I knew that he was going to die. His mouth was wide open and his eyes were really big. He couldn't say anything. He was at home, in his bed. I was scheduled to work that evening, but I called in sick. Mommaw went outside to smoke and she asked me to go in and talk to him. I held his hand and said, "Poppaw, you can't die on me now. "You need to teach me how to drive a straight shift, and how to make beef stew. We need to watch the Braves win another World Series. I need you Poppaw, I need you." Mommaw walked back in and the Home health care nurses were there. I was about to cry so I walked out of the room.

I reached my bedroom door when I heard my Mom scream for Daddy.

I knew what had happened. I wasn't out of his room for three minutes.

I started to run back towards his room when mom stopped me at the door.

I said, "He's dead isn't he?" She told me not to go in the room, but I pushed past her. He was lying on his bed lifeless. The Home Health Care nurses surrounded him crying. My Mommaw had kissed him on the forehead. I flung myself over him and held on. When I looked at him, I saw one single tear flowing down his cheek. That was the second time that Poppaw cried. In that one tear, I saw all the emotions that were in his body coming out. I don't know if it was a tear of pain, joy, or sorrow, maybe all three, but I saw all the love that he had for us in that one tear. He had died only two months after being diagnosed with cancer.

It took my Dad close to 20 minutes to pull me off my Poppaw. I just didn't want to let go. That's the most difficult part, letting go.

I kissed his forehead and told him good-bye. At least I knew where he was going. I will always remember the night that my Poppaw cried.

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