It has been such a long time, these last few weeks have been a blur, and the busyness is more than I can even describe. More on that later.
I promised you a story before, and this is meant to be it. I began thinking that things happen in our lives, and in our shallow, self-centered fervor to continue in our trajectories, we rarely see them as more than points on a path that we follow, and direct, and steer. But lately I have been thinking more on the stories of my life as building blocks that have made me who I am; the very stuff of what makes up the person I have become.
I realize that I am being a bit sentimental and pretentious here, but goodness; think about it! Think about the memories that you have and realize what they have done to form the way you respond to others and the situations you find yourself in. What more is our history other than a collection of the things that have happened to us in the past? No more than our thoughts are more than a collection of wonderful, wonderful words we know. All we are is words, and the order that we put them in, and pictures in the sequence that we choose to replay them.
So some of the earliest pictures that I remember stringing together are the ones that have my Papa in them. I apologize for the quality of the pictures, but they are the only ones that my mother had to send. And she is the only one who would have them to send, because to be quite honest, he was her Papa. He and his wife, who we called Nana helped to raise her, and she spent much of her young life, and her adult one in their house. Their rambling house which parts of were over 100 years old. Over time, as the need arose, it slowly crept larger and larger back onto the more than one acre lot that is sat on, moving steadily towards the undeveloped wooded lot behind it, that remained undeveloped until the time that I left that house for college.
My mother came back there, and brought us all. It was the house that I grew up in, and my happiest memories were there. My moher and father made it a home that we all could retreat too, and I could never imagine it more than a perfect, safe place. I can't imagine that it held only happiness for my mother and father, they watched my mother's mother and grandmother lie on their death-beds there, and we had the happiness and sadness of the life of a family of a mother and father and six children and the grandparents and great-grandparents and clingers on that a sturdy, caring family undoubtedly attract.
The foundation of that, the very first thing I remember of that place, and that life was my Papa. I was young enough that the memories that I have of the place that my great-grandmother, and great-grandfather lived held none of the revulsion and fear that old peoples living spaces often hold for the young who have no thoughts for sentiment, and nostalgia. I thought the smells, and artifacts of a long life, and the treasures of people long past their youth were fascinating. The old books, and desks overflowing with antique office supplies, and piles of mail, and trophies and trinkets of memories before the days that I was born were filled with interest for me.
My Papa had a work shed filled with tools that were truly antiques, and I have never seen the like since. It enthralled me to play with old hand-cranked drills and the push mower that he used to mow more than one acre of perfectly groomed and landscaped lawn; filled with flowering fig trees and blooming tulips and silver-leafed maples and oak trees with acorns nearly as big as peaches. My Papa loved to garden and landscape. He grew trees and flowers that should not have been able to flourish in the area that he lived in, but he could nourture them anyway.
He bred bird dogs, and trained them to be more capable and smarter than any dogs we had ever seen. My brother Chris and I would watch him give them commands, and I expected that all dogs would obey so well and understand commands so completely. I remember looking at the dog head bookends that he had and wondering that someone had taken the time to make a bookend exactly like the dogs that he owned. I don't remember how many years it was before I realized that it was no more the case but he had done a fine job breeding an excellent specimen of a dog well suited and well trained to hunt and point birds for hunters. It seemed such a novelty to me at the time that men might use dogs to consistently find birds that they had downed in a feild. The only dogs I had any experience with were unruly, and had a mind of their own. Training animals was more of a mystery to me than a reality. It might as well have been magic that he used to make the dog understand English.
My brother Chris and I were favorites of his. He called us Bo and Luke Duke, after the tv show that was popular at the time. We might have deserved the comparison, but regardless, we loved it. We loved The Dukes of hazard, and when he called us Bo and Luke it fed our ideas of action and adventure. We thought we WERE Bo and Luke Duke, so him calling us that endeared him to us so completely. My mom told me about a family that lived down the street from my Nana and Papa's house, whose son we played with often. When it came time for our friends birthday party, his mother wanted to invite us but she was at a loss. She called my mom ans said, "I want to invite your boys, but I guess I don't know them..." My mom told her that she did and that we played at their house all the time. When she finally realized who we were she said, "Oh! I thought there names were Bo and Luke!" We were our Papa's truly.
And then there was the local lore surrounding Papa, who is named Byrne Cooke for the record was a prominent local figure in the small town of Ennis Texas. Not of the sort of prominence that puts him in the news or history books, but the sort that puts his name and a smile on the lips of most of the people who knew him or knew of him. I heard stories that starred him, but i can neither confirm nor deny their truth. But they are funny so I will tell them. Ennis Texas is a small town that has a somewhat large Czech community, and therefore is home to more than a few social clubs, or as we always called them, Halls. Papa used to frequent one of the halls called Sokol which is now more of a a community center. But at the time it was as much of a social gathering place for locals. My Papa used to call it the "soak hole" and would go to join his friends for a "byear". At some point in his life his doctor told him that he would need to cut back to one beer a day (edit: thanks Momma, it makes more sense when I tell it right!) for his health. After that his friends got together and made him a beer mug big enough to hold enough beers so that he could sit and enjoy their conversation for hours. After he stopped going to the Sokol, they displayed the hige stein at the bar for all to see in his memory.
He was the type of guy that people respected and told stories about because he was jovial and fun and had a great outlook and a funny disposition. After he was not able to drive anymore, he would ride abicycle with baskets on it around town to get groceries or to visit his friends who could no lo ger leave their houses. That part I know is true, because years later after he had passed I used to got the the house of an old friend of his named Carmen Osterheld. At the time I must not have been more than 13 or 14 years old, and I went with a friend to visit Mrs. Osterheld while we dropped off her meals on wheels boxed lunch. We stayed and visited as she quoted long verses of scripture and poetry that she had memorized since her eyesight had gotten too poor to read. But she also told us stories of times long before our parents were born, I couldn't imagine that anyone was older than she was.
She knew my Papa, and he used to ride his bicycle by her house to visit her and talk about the old days, and how she was doing. She loved him for that as she had been home-bound for years before I started visiting her. I took his place somewhat in that role, even if I could never quite relate with her fully. She liked to talk to me about her sons, and grandchildren and her past and her friends. I loved it when she talked to about my family members that I never knew, or barely knew. It was like a living history lesson, and it fascinated me.
My Papa was another story teller, and he may have began the tradition with me. When my brother and I would visit at his house he would often times, later in his life, be laying on his bed when we arrived. He would hear us come in and yell through the open door of his bedroom, "You boys come in here and lay on my wings!" We would run through the door and find him laying on the bed with his hands beneath his head and his arms out to either side of his head. I would lay on his right arm while Chris would run around to the other side of the bed to lay on his left. And he would tell us stories. He would tell us the story of the Little Red Hen, and Henny Penny, and others that I can't remember. We loved it. I still remember the vividness of the imagery that his stories would bring forth in my mind.
So stories from Papa led to stories about my Papa, and as early as that stories became the way I relate to the world. And now, stories from Papa are shaping who you are, for better or worse in some samll way. It is a tribute to him, and the best one I can think to make, that he could be remembered, fondly and to some effect, even if I didn't have time to know him well.
And now I will share some more pictures with you.