June 21st is usually the longest day of the year and the official first day of summer. I learned that fact from my Grandpa Ryals because he was born on June 21st and told me that his birthday was on the longest day of the year. Later in my life, 1985 to be exact, I graduated from Glen Ridge High School on June 21st, the longest day of the year. I thought that was pretty cool back then.
I was my Grandpa's first grandchild. I first called him "PawPaw," perhaps because I couldn't say "Grandpa." Or maybe the collective parents and grandparents came up with that because I called my maternal grandmother, "MawMaw." Whatever the case, somewhere along the line, "PawPaw" switched to "Grandpa" and that's what the rest of the cousins called him.
I remember my "PawPaw" holding me on his lap or holding my hand, and loving to spoil me. Actually, he loved to spoil everyone (his wife and six kids and all of his grandchildren) and would always try to get the check when we all went out to eat (and his sons would try to get it first). Grandpa enjoyed driving his Cadillac El Dorado around Oklahoma City. He liked to cook and taught me how to make fried peach pies using canned biscuit dough and peaches he'd cooked down with sugar. And speaking of peaches, I remember Grandpa's homemade peach ice cream that he hand churned for a couple of hours.
My last visit with Grandpa was in December of 1989, when I returned from a three-month short-term mission trip to Hawaii. I decided to take a couple of days to spend in Oklahoma City with my grandparents before going home to New Jersey for Christmas. Grandpa's health had been declining, but he and Grandma were still living in their house at 3004 South Santa Fe ("Thirty-o-four," as the family called it). Grandpa slept in a room back in the old machine shop part of the building, while Grandma had her room upstairs on the second floor. I also stayed upstairs in a room full of left-behind belongings of my uncles (and maybe my aunt).
I remember that my Grandpa told me the story of when my father, his firstborn son, was born. When my dad was an infant, he got very sick and had to spend time in the hospital. Grandpa told me about how he prayed for healing for my dad and dedicated him to the Lord, for God to do His will in my dad's life. As my dad grew up, he followed God's call on his life to preach and to start churches. I loved hearing that story from my Grandpa and felt a new level of love for my dad. I also felt like I was growing up, since I was being told a piece of family history that I'd never heard before.
About six weeks later, I was back in Nashville, trying to find a permanent job and start my life after college. I got a phone call from my parents saying that Grandpa was in the hospital and was not doing well. Soon after that, Grandpa passed away. I didn't get to go to his funeral, but I was so thankful that I had been able to see him just a few weeks before he died.
Today, on the longest day of the year, June 21st, I am remembering my Grandpa and am thankful again that I had grandparents who loved the Lord and who loved me. Happy Birthday, PawPaw!
P.S. I need to find a picture of my Grandpa to add to this blog post!