Recently, my little middle, Baya, and I took a trip to Mobile, Alabama. We went with a two-fold purpose: see my cousin Rachel walk down the aisle and hang out with my grandfather- more commonly known as Pawpaw. This was not the kind of trip that’s exciting because you’re exploring someplace new. Instead, it was about reconnecting with something familiar.
Pawpaw lives alone in the big, old, old house he’s called home for more than 60 years. Nine of his ten children live within his same city limits. Proximity makes most of his nearly 100 family members day visitors. They come by to chat over a cup of coffee. They bring left-over chicken and rice in carefully labeled, microwavable plastic containers. They bring birthday cake at the right time and shuttle him to numerous eye doctor appointments.
My dad is the only one who moved away from this big family in a small city. That makes my parents, sisters and brother, and our families the few overnight visitors at Pawpaw’s house. And over the years, we’ve collectively spent hundreds of nights upstairs in the big, old, old house.
It’s a place where little ever changes.
Tires on the white gravel driveway sounded the same this weekend as they did when I was ten years old. Coffee, biscuits, and aftershave mix to create a distinct smell. The furniture, the phone, the mail, the trinkets, and the mementos haven’t moved. There are always a few new family pictures on the giant collage that are his kitchen walls but that's about it.
It’s no surprise that his stuff doesn’t move. Old people don’t need or want new stuff. They’re creatures of habit and know what works for them after 90+ years of living.
What’s surprising is that our stuff- leave-behinds from us few overnight visitors- doesn’t move either.
Because Pawpaw’s bedroom is on the first floor, the second-floor guest bedrooms are rarely disturbed. Going upstairs is like going back in time- but not in a fun, retro “Back to the Future” kind of way. It’d be fascinating to see the stuff leftover from a time when my aunts and uncles were teenagers in the house.
No, the three upstairs rooms were redone in florals and stripes after they left. Anything personal (and really interesting) was taken away in boxes a long time ago. Instead, it’s going back in time to trips my siblings and I made to this house in more recent years. Pawpaw has a lovely woman come to help clean and dust every other week but clearly doesn’t know what to throw out. So, stuff left behind stays put.
What happens at Pawpaw’s house, stays at Pawpaw’s house. Literally, for like, forever.
Here are just a handful of examples I came across on our recent weekend trip…
Here’s a gossip magazine. Oh no! Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert broke up?! Sorry that was breaking celebrity news back in 2015. Just look a Blake’s sweet, sorta sad, sorta happy face. I look into those eyes and want to tell him, “Don’t worry, Blake. You’re having a baby with Gwen Stefani now.” Figuring out the owner of this leave-behind was too easy. It’s Anna’s. You can tell by the address block.
The rest weren’t as obvious, but I think I figured them out.
Here’s an old stick of deodorant. It’s called Canoe. Yes, Canoe. I mean, really? I had to read it twice. What kind of name is that for a hygiene product? There are a lot of great things about boats. The smell is not one that comes to mind. Either way, this has to be my brother’s. I guess CVS was all out of “Oil Rig.”
While we were there, I had a runny nose and got tired of leaving a trail of tissues. What luck! I found a box of DayQuil! It was a bit dusty so I flipped it over to check the date. Damn. It expired in January 2007. January 2007 was BEFORE MY WEDDING and that was 10 years ago! This has to be Molly’s. She must have had a cold sometime during the second Clinton administration. I'm guessing this was about when her passion for universal healthcare started.
Alas, moments before leaving for the wedding, I realized I needed a razor quick, or there wouldn’t be any Y-M-C-A-ing for me. No problem. This Daisy was in the medicine cabinet. Only one of the two blades rusted and it did the job. Thanks, Kelly. You always plan for contingencies like that. This had to have been yours.
The owner of the last leave-behind had me a bit puzzled, but I figured it out by process of elimination. This bottle of LA Looks conditioner couldn’t possibly be from one of my siblings. We’re more of a Finesse kind of family. That leaves the brothers-in-law. Since two out of the three are entirely bald (not to mention Republicans from New Jersey), there’s only one man left. Mike! Mike, your 1980s-era investment in hair care is holding up well. It’ll be exactly where you found it on your next trip…ready to give you that yes-I-might-just-be-Matthew-McConaughey shine-enhancing look.
In addition to these things, there are dozens of little hotel soaps, travel toothbrushes, one lonely gold bangle bracelet, and ponytail holders. There’s a travel hairdryer, a boarding pass, and a fresh copy of 50 Shades of Gray. (Kidding. Dad put that one right back in Anna’s carry-on after realizing what all the hype was about.)
I love that a trip to Pawpaw’s house is so predictable. You know precisely what to expect. All the little, value-less items upstairs peacefully coexist with the heaps of kindness, laughs, and memories in this big, old, old house. The leave-behinds will eventually be thrown away while we cling to the rest.
To my brother and sisters: There might just be a few new leave-behinds for you from Baya and me to discover on your next visit.
At 94, Pawpaw reminds me life is a marathon. We put one foot in front of the other each day for something. Our unique combination of dreams and obligations propel us forward. For my grandfather, he’s driven to do the right thing. His life has always been focused on the basics: love, work, and just being. While those things aren’t unique, his style is. Everything he does is done in the gentlest, most kind way possible. He’s simply the sweetest person I know.
I took this picture while we ate dinner from Panera and shared a bottle of wine. I had 7 glasses, he had 1, and only 1/3 of the bottle was gone! The next morning, I had 6 cups of coffee... with no jitters! In addition to being the sweetest person, he has the smallest glasses I've ever seen.
And while I'm at it... have you ever noticed how flirty old ladies are? My goodness!