It is difficult to describe my relationship with this man. He was the husband of my babysitter. He was my surrogate grandfather. He was the man who would take me to Stanley's, the local soda counter, for cherry smashes and later, for unsweetened iced teas after I was diabetic (I still had the occasional cherry smash). He would give me $1 every time we went and I could buy whatever I wanted there (back in the day when $1 could by a lot of junk). We would watch MASH and boxing on the television every afternoon. I would trace the grass-skirted woman tattoo on his forearm with my tiny fingers and watched her hourglass figure fade with his age. He taught me how to tie my shoes (square knots and not grannies so they lay straight). Daddy Byron (pronounced with one syllable - "barn" in a West Virginia accent) smoked Marlboro reds for many many years. Started when he was 15, I think. He said he would quit the day he died. Well, that was almost true. He has been on oxygen and medication for maybe 8 years or so (not really sure how long) and went from an athletic man and proficient fisherman to someone who could either bath or shave in one day but could not muster both due to shortness of breath. Ms. Bea called my mother at 1am Monday night and said that he had died in their bed. His sons had tried to revive him while waiting on the paramedics but couldn't. He was due to go to the hospital the following morning.
Daddy Byron had a huge chocolate lab named Rambo. That dog was probably one of the largest dogs I've seen, short of a Great Pyranee. He loved that dog immensely (they probably weighed about the same, Byron being of short stature). And for all his grousing about that dog and things in general, he showed only the greatest of compassion and caring.
He used to hitchhike his way from the Naval base back to West Virginia to see Ms. Bea when they were dating. He knew the whole route 460 between the two and where the truckers would stop. I can still hear him saying how cooooooold it would be out there praying for a truck to stop and let him in. I always think of him standing on the road when I'm driving through southern Virginia.
I even went to one of their family reunions when I was about 12 or so. I'm not sure how they explained who I was. But I was just happy to go on this great adventure into the mountains and sleep in a waterbed and ride on the side of cliff faces on tiny little roads.
All I can seem to muster is these fragmented memories of him. Hardly seems fitting for such an important person in my life. I will miss him greatly and love him very much. He taught me to tie my shoes.