Every year, we all run around getting gifts, attending parties and spending time with family. These are part of the Christmas traditions we have all grown to know and love. I, like many other people, find myself thinking of Christmases past. While it’s easy to think about times when I was a kid and the gifts I received over the years, perhaps my greatest Christmas memory came not too long ago in 2006.
It was Christmas Day and it had gone the way it always does: waking up at my mom’s house to open gifts (I still wake everybody up way too early), then going to my dad’s to do the same. I can’t recall any of the presents I gave or received that day, but I will never forget this one phone call. My dad handed me his cell phone and said it was Pepoc. The nickname Pepoc is what my sisters and I have called my grandfather since my older sister Ashley used to try to call him “pen pocket” because he always had pens in his shirt pocket. My grandparents spent most of their time living with my Aunt Sandra in Florida, so I didn’t remember the last time I saw Pepoc, so that made the phone call a cherished memory.
The call itself was only a few minutes long and we talked about what we got for Christmas and how things were going for the two us. At the end of the conversation, my Pepoc said something to me that he had said a thousand times before. “When are we going to have that foot race?” I don’t recall ever having a foot race with him, but he was always up for one, even when he walked with a cane and was fresh out of hip surgery. On that Christmas day, when he was 94 years old, I sensed that in his mind, he thought he could beat me or any other 18 year old in a foot race, anytime, any place. Saying this does not prove he was just a stubborn old man, because he wasn’t. He was a determined man that could do anything if he put his mind to it.
He had various jobs through the years. He worked on planes in the Air Force during WWII, and after that he was a mechanic, refrigeration expert and handyman. I would say ultimately he was a fixer, an engineer on the fly. I never saw him come across a problem he couldn’t solve. Even as he grew older and his body started giving way to time, his mind was always there, still solving problems.
As much as he loved fixing things, he loved his family more. He was always interested in how his family was doing and always made time for anybody who needed it. Pepoc was always there to help in any way. He would buy gifts and never ask for anything in return. When my sister, my cousins and I would see him, he would either offer to take us to Sonic for a milkshake or slip us a $20, saying not to let our grandmother know.
After my Pepoc asked me when we were going to have a foot race, I told him we would as soon as he got back home. Then we told each other goodbye and I handed the phone off to someone else. That was the last time I talked Pepoc. He passed away two days later. He was the greatest person I have ever known and Christmas gave me one more chance to chat with him. So this Christmas, try to cherish each moment. You never know what or who won’t be with us next year.
Justin Crawford holds a degree in Engineering Technology from MTSU. He is employed as a network engineer.