Papa turned seventy-something this week. From the Deep South, we send a heartfelt Happy Birthday!
Papa is a beloved father, father-in-law, and grandfather to the mass of Dolin males and to the tiny female exclamation point at the end of the line. Ainsley fell in love with Papa on this latest trip and enjoyed nothing more than sitting on his lap playing with a stuffed Charlie Brown. She would alternate between feeding a baby bottle to Charlie Brown and pretending to squeeze hand soap into his mouth. (Note: She did not learn this from me!) Ainsey would erupt in laughter and never tired of it. If Papa tired of it, he kept his game face on. He's nothing if not a good sport.
Papa spent hours watching Ainsley and John jump between the sandbox and the wading pool. He delighted John by catching fireflies with him.
No one gardens like Papa gardens. His tomatoes prompted a friend of mine to comment, "He makes me proud to call myself a Midwesterner!" We brought home a coolerful, and they are absolutely to die for. Papa calls all the grandchildren Punkin. When Tim and Kolbe were small, Papa added pumpkins to his garden and carved the boys' names in them. The names grew as the punkins did.
Papa has a dry wit that keeps me laughing. He has a host of quips. If Dave fails to use a turn signal, I invariably quote Papa: Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em guessing.
Both of my in-laws have a remarkable grace to absorb our four children, an astonishing amount of noise, and the seventy-two or so bags we inevitably bring along with us. They are, without fail, patient and generous.
I remember a family trip to northern Michigan. Then seven months pregnant with Kolbe, I looked forward to a week-long break from the Georgia heat. It was not to be. Hale, Michigan, must have set a record as the mercury hit well above 100 degrees. While we struggled to stay cool, I spotted Papa dashing off with a Tom Clancy novel and a cup of coffee to get a moment's peace behind the garage. He caught my eye and said, "You know, we run the risk of this becoming an annual event."
Papa loves to entertain us with stories of his early years in the hollows of West Virginia. His uncle, the bus driver, would give him a nickel if was so bad at school that his aunt, the teacher, spanked him. Tim and Kolbe find this tale flat out hilarious.
Papa talks about alternating between a two-room school house in a rural area and a big city high school in Charleston. He learned to read the F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E box that patched the hole in the roof, and remembers delivering blocks of ice when a refrigerator really was an ice box.
Whether it's reading Harvey's Hideout -- a Dolin family classic -- or rocking the littlest punkin in the Dolin patch, Papa is reliable and kind. I am grateful to call him a second Dad and blessed that my children call him Papa.