We sat on his deck each summer, barbeque lit, after a long day of skiing behind his boat. Two weeks of heaven, enjoyed from the time I was 11 to 17. Days spent at Six Flaggs, riding roller coasters and eating cotton candy, nights spoiled rotten at the nearest Red Lobster for my favorite, always King Crab legs. Me and him, spending hours in his car as we drove the country roads of Missouri, singing …
“Counting Flowers on the Wall,
that don’t bother me at all,
playin’ solitaire til dawn,
with a deck of 51,
smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’,
now don’t tell me…
I’ve nothin to do…”
by the Statler Brothers, at the top of our lungs.
I will never forget this song, I hope, as he and I were the only two crazy enough to know it by heart and blast it out the windows. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and with those silly songs he loved so much, he also taught me how to harmonize.
We would walk into the nearest bar, when I was of age and living with him, and everyone inside would yell, “Norm!” He looked like Norm, and drank like him; Norm, the character on the TV show Cheers. But when I was 20, a new single Mom, and had no where to go, he offered to help me. Said, move in, sweetie, we’ll babysit for you at night while you work, until you get a decent job. Which was several months later, after a good friend of his got me the job. But for a year and a half, we got so close, shared so much fun and love and laughter. We put together countless puzzles while frozen in. I marveled at how much he spoiled and loved my son like no other, his first grandson, and it meant more to me than growing up without him.
Any time I wanted to talk, he was there. Any problem I had, until the day he died in 2000, no matter what it was or how upset I was, he would softly say, “Keep your chin up!” and always followed immediately by an “I love you!”
He was PawPaw to my son, and insisted the word was drawn out, like Paaaw Paaaw, like a bear paw, because he was no ordinary Grandpa. I would laugh until I cried while he told “Hair lip” jokes, which are now terribly un-politically correct, but back then, hilarious. He taught me how to make the best spaghetti and lasagna sauce known to man. He would spend hours in the basement with my son playing with his massive 500 car train set, complete with mountains, trees, towns, all built by him. They would race remote controlled 4 wheeler trucks through the house, across the back deck and down the driveway to the squeals of laughter of my son, and him. He built my son’s first snowman. Let him drive the lawnmower at age 1, and the speedboat the same year from his lap, and I’m not sure, but probably his car as well.
He taught me how to use his massive telescope, and gave me the desire and love of looking up at the stars. He taught me how to take photo’s with great perspective, and to water ski, and to slalom, behind his boat. But most importantly, he taught me to laugh and love, no matter what else in life you do…you must laugh and love. And I miss him all the time, and thank him for passing on his orneriness to me, along with his amazing sense of humor.
He may not have raised me, but as a Dad, he was the best. He filled a huge hole in me, with love and laughter. And when I scattered his ashes across that lake, I scattered pieces of my heart. Russell Keith DuBois, November 18, 1938 to April 15, 2000, RIP Daddy! Love, me.