By Troy Headrick
This is the second in a series of blogs intended to thank those who’ve played important roles in shaping my personality and values, in helping me become the person I am today. If you’d like to read the first piece in this series, check this out.
It’s commonly thought that every human being is unique in the same way that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. There’s some truth to this idea. Truly, no two individuals, perhaps with the exception of some identical twins, are perfect copies of one another. Having said this, I can see, when I look closely at the person I’ve become, that I have within me a lot of my father and mother; a considerable amount of my grandparents; and a set of core values, behaviors, and outlooks that I picked up from a few really close friends and mentors. This means that I’m something of a human mélange. I am who I am because of the people I’ve known, gotten close to, admired, and, in some cases, emulated.
In this one, I want to thank my maternal grandfather, a man I called “Pawpaw” up until the day he died. Speaking of his death, I was at his bedside and watched him, on one dark and sad night, draw his very last breath.
Pawpaw was a rancher and a man of the natural world. He made his living raising and selling livestock while living on a lovely piece of land located in Williamson County Texas. The north side of his ranch abutted up to a beautiful vein of water called Berry’s Creek.
Because my mother and father’s marriage was incredibly unstable, I actually lived, for a considerable period of time, with my Pawpaw and Mema, my grandmother. Thus, I came to think of my grandfather as a second father.
I’ll never forget the first time he took me out in his pickup to roam around his vast and beautiful acreage. Not far from the ranch house, there was a windmill and a tank where the animals came to drink. My Pawpaw pointed at the watering hole from a distance and then stopped when we got closer. He turned to me and said, “I think you should go over there and look at all that water. You might find it interesting.”
I jumped out and ran toward it, the breeze ruffling my hair as I went. As soon as I got there, I pulled off my shoes and waded into the mud which squished up between my toes. I saw frogs jumping here and there. I also found tadpoles and fish and all manner of insects, including a strange bug that could skate around on the surface of the water.
My Pawpaw was the first person to really introduce me to the natural world and to encourage me to get out into it—to explore, to observe, and to appreciate its beauty. He never failed to point out a cloud with an interesting shape or to talk about the crazy, neon colors that gathered in the sky at sunset. Once, while we were driving along a lonely country road, we passed a field of wheat. I asked him about it, and he stopped the truck. He asked me if I wanted to see how it tasted. I said I did, so he told me run out and pull a stalk and give it a try.
Looking back at his life now, my grandfather was a nature lover and an environmentalist before loving nature and environmentalism were cool. He taught me that we are connected to the world, that we are nature and that nature is in us. Sadly, this is a lesson not everyone learns which goes a long way toward explaining why so many treat our beautiful surroundings so abusively.
The night my grandfather died, I was sitting beside him, holding his calloused hand. His fingers were gnarly and twisted from a long life of hard work. Suddenly, the tears poured out of me as I began to realize that I was in the process of saying my goodbyes to him. Not long after that, he took his last breath. And then, just like that, he was forever gone. The man who had always loved nature was about to make his last trip back into it.
I invite you to leave comments about those who’ve played a pivotal role in your life. To keep ourselves fully alive, we need to periodically remember those who’ve left us and left their marks on us.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.