33: Papaw’s Visit

33: Papaw’s Visit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Papaw’s Visit

There is a wisdom of the head, and... a wisdom of the heart.

~Charles Dickens

Deep under the covers, sound asleep, I felt someone shaking my shoulder and heard my name whispered: “Linda.” I sat up, rubbed my eyes. Mom sat on the side of the bed. “Honey, get up. We are leaving for Mississippi to visit your grandmother and father.” Outside the window was pitch black. Still in my nightgown, I followed Mom to the car where my stepdad waited.

This midnight adventure thrilled me. It never occurred to my eleven-year-old mind to wonder why we were leaving in the middle of the night on a school day. I fell asleep soon and began dreaming. I saw myself walking toward a coffin. I peered into it to find my father lying inside. This shocking vision woke me, but I didn’t say anything. Instead, I stared out the back window and watched the stars slide by. It wasn’t long until the hum of the motor and movement of the car lulled me back to sleep.

At daybreak we arrived at my grandmother’s home. It was then I learned that my father was very ill and the family had been called in. A few days later he died.

He was only thirty-six years old.

A week after we returned, I was awakened a second time in the middle of the night. I felt the mattress move as if someone were sitting at the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and sat up to see Papaw. The odd thing about this was that Papaw had died when I was a baby. The only way I recognized him was from the pictures I had seen in my grandmother’s home.

“Papaw?”

He smiled and asked, “Are you still my little red rooster?”

I had no idea what he meant by that but I said, “Yes.”

Then he said, “I want you to know that your daddy is fine.”

His message went over my head. What I really wanted was for him to hug me and I leaned toward him. He held his hand out and said, “No, I can’t hug you. I have to go. I love you.” And then he disappeared.

In the darkness I whispered, “I love you too.” I have to admit, my feelings were hurt. Why couldn’t he hug me? I got out of bed, turned on the light and looked for some kind of evidence that he’d been there — a wrinkle in the bedspread? A warm spot where he sat? Nothing.

I went to Mom’s room and woke her. She slipped from bed and followed me to my room. Feeling my forehead she said, “Are you feeling all right? You are as white as a sheet.”

“Did Papaw call me his little red rooster?”

She frowned and said, “Yes, I’d forgotten that. How did you know?” Then I explained what had happened. We both were filled with wonder. However, as time passed, I rarely thought back to that night.

Until the day I turned thirty-six.

On that birthday, it hit me how young my father had been. Sorrow filled me for my poor daddy, struck down in the prime of his life. I realized how little I knew about him. He and my mom divorced when I was four years old and I only got to spend a couple of weeks each summer with him and my grandmother. My clearest memories of times spent with him were between the ages of six and eleven. Five short summers.

For the first time since his death, I truly grieved. I spent the day crying for both of us and all the things we’d missed together — my wedding, knowing each other as adults, and of course the birth of his grandchildren. Oh, how he would have loved them.

But knowing what he missed wasn’t my biggest heartache. When I became an adult, I began to wonder about something that didn’t concern me as a child. Did he ever make peace with his God? This, I felt, was something I’d never know.

Or would I?

The recollection of Papaw’s visit suddenly came to me. “I want you to know that your daddy is fine.” The memory of his words enveloped me with peace.

Since then I’ve often wondered why Papaw came to me as a child instead of my crisis moment when I turned thirty-six. Maybe he knew a child wouldn’t question such a visit. Perhaps he was there that day reminding me of his message.

I don’t know.

What I do know — and what really counts — is that my daddy is fine.

~Linda Apple

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