I’ve had this bill in my wallet for about 4 years. It has a twin brother. They have been hiding deep inside, tucked into a little pocket in the lining. It seems crazy to carry around that much money for that long, but in reality, I kind of forgot they were there. (I’m not one of those wallet/purse changers. In fact, I’ve used the same hand-me-down black leather Coach purse and wallet for about a decade, so it’s easy to forget what all is hiding in there.)
But I can’t forgot where I got them.
Papa (pronounced PawPaw, like the tree) sometimes liked to give me and my sister a few dollars for “gas money” when we’d go visit him. He was a generous man and quite insistent. Each time he placed a neatly folded bill into my hand in his surreptitious fashion, he would say, “Now, don’t tell your [Mom, husband, sister] about this. This is just for you.”
It started with me when I was just out of college. I was in Richmond visiting a friend. I was broke and living off of credit cards, without enough money in my wallet to pay a toll nor enough money in the bank to make a withdrawal. I called Papa to ask him how I could get to Crewe, where he lived, without using the toll road. When I explained why, he gave me a rare lecture, telling me to never go anywhere without some emergency money in my wallet. When I got there, he gave me a folded $20 to hide.
Papa’s gifts were surprises. It wasn’t every visit, and it wasn’t always the same bill. Sometimes it was a $5. It was usually a $20. I never looked at it, but I would always try to return it to him, saying, “Papa, you don’t need to do that.” And his answer, every time, was “I know I don’t need to. I want to.” The secret exchange usually happened as we walked slowly to the car after a visit. He would puff a few times on a cigarette while telling me to drive carefully. After my travel partner, whoever he or she was, made the way to the car, Papa would slip the bill into my hand, and we’d say our well-rehearsed script.
In the last couple of years of his life, the $20s became $100s. He’d sometimes give me two when Tim came with me, saying, “Now, you give one to your husband, too.” Papa was not a rich man, but he would do whatever he could for me and my sister, and as we grew up and moved away, I think these little “surprise” gifts made sure he could still help take care of us.
In 2007, Papa’s health started to decline. He had surgery in June of 2008, which was the start of a a four-month deterioration. I traveled to Farmville and later Lynchburg to visit him every other weekend in the hospital. He wasn’t always aware of who was around him, and he would sometimes refuse to answer or respond when spoken to, but if I said “Papa!,” he would look up with those sky-blue eyes and try to do what was asked of him. It was hard on everyone, and it broke my heart when he passed in October. He left the world knowing he was loved, and he never spent a day alone in the hospital thanks to Mom.
His funeral was in Crewe, and I was obsessed with his hands. Even as his muscles withered and his cheeks grew hollow, his hands had remained strong, calloused, and warm. I can remember how those hands held mine, hugged me, patted my head, cracked pecans, held a nail… so many everyday, minor tasks that every set of hands perform, but Papa’s hands were special to me for another reason: they were mine. In my family we joke about the Evans features: a snub nose, short toes, and chunky fingers. Well, I have all three. Holding those hands after surgery was hard. Patting them good-bye was the worst.
I left the funeral with peace lily, that ubiquitous plant of Southern funerals. I’ve managed to keep it alive, too, which is something for someone who hates houseplants. It has rested on a barstool in the dining room, soaking up the sun. We named it Papa, which is in poor taste to some, but it feels good to say his name when talking about watering or cleaning or pruning. Silly, yes, but he’s still a part of my every day.
After his death, it was quite a while before I found the bills. They were where they always were, but as I said, they were easy to forget. So there they stayed.
A year ago I pulled one out, straightened it, and moved it to the regular bill section of the wallet. Today I finally found the courage to break it. When Dad was at a church meeting, Mom and I visited an antique store, and there in a booth, tucked underneath plastic Easter eggs and glass dishes, sat a small walnut plant stand in great shape.
Now Papa’s Peace Lily sits on the stand, facing the Allegheny Mountains. It fits well with my style, and I think he would like that I used his gift to add to the home. He believed in the importance of owning a home and land. He believed in family. He believed you should never go anywhere without an emergency bill, so I think the other will stay with me until I need it…just as he would want it.*** This personal blog is comprised solely of the opinions, views, projects, and travels of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She is lucky enough to have loving family and friends whom she drags along with her on her adventures and whom she puts to work on her little farm. She uses this blog to help promote living in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.**