Strong Soul

Strong Soul


Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragement, and impossibilities:  It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak. ~Thomas Carlyle

Dad holding Nicole sitting by pap Christmas 1974

As I was watching the movie Soul Surfer last week, the film based off of a true story about a young girl who had her arm amputated by a shark, I remembered my pappy and his prosthetic legs.  Yep I said legs, plural.  My pappy, my paternal grandfather, had both of his legs amputated, one above the knee and other below the knee.

Being really young, if born at all, when pap's first leg had to be amputated just below the knee, wasn't a big deal to me.  If I am remembering the stories correctly, pap broke his leg, I'm guessing in the woods since he was a woodsman, and the doctor applied the cast too tight, cutting off his circulation, and eventually resulting in the amputation.  As far as I can remember, he only ever had one leg.  But looking back on it now, it didn't seem strange or odd, it was normal to me having a prosthetic leg and using a cane.  In fact, he didn't let the wooden leg stop him, even from driving.  He had a stick he used for the gas peddle, which would put him in jail today.  I also believe he had a wheelchair in the house, but I don't remember if the wheelchair came before or after his second amputation.

pappy, Ryan, Joel & me at my birthday party c. 1980

Regardless, as kids we loved the wheelchair.  It's almost shameful to admit, but me and Ryan used paps wheelchair as our own personal amusement park ride.  We would push each other around, chase each other, squeal tire (leaving the occasional tire mark on the floor) and spin the wheelchair into doughnut motions in the middle of my grandmothers kitchen.  We had a blast on that thing!  Every now and then, probably more times than I care to admit, we would accidentally run into grams cupboards, which always provoked a few loud reprimands from the living-room or porch.  Pap never really was upset with us, at least not that I can remember.  We also would use the wheelchair as an extra seat in the living-room.  It was always parked by pap.  I would request to occupy the seat to sit near pappy, it was either that or risk gram cuddling me to the point of crushing.  Sometimes, Ryan and I would fight over who got to sit in the wheelchair by pap, it was prime real-estate.  You see, Ryan and pap were always really tight, they were two peas in a pod.

Aunt-Heather-Piper-diary-page-5-6-87Now eventually, pappy lost his second leg to poor circulation, which I'm sure his smoking habit didn't help the situation out.  Did I mention they were Camel Straights?  Those life stealing addictive sticks totally stunk and were extremely gross!  Although, I do give pap kudos, he never really smoked around us and at one point he did try quitting, with no help of my gram.  He would go out on the porch, even in the dead of winter to inhale a few less years on his lifespan.  So I guess it's no surprise when I say that over the years, because of paps health, I was no stranger to Latrobe Area Hospital.  When he lost his second leg, which I remember very clearly, we went to visit him in the hospital, just like we did every time he had a heart attack or another health issue.  To this day, I can still picture the hospital chapel perfectly.  Mom would always march us down the hallway to the chapel to say a prayer for pap and to get us out of the room so the adults could talk.  Now I don't remember pap being upset over the removal of his second leg, which was above the knee, but I'm sure he was.  To this day, I remember the journey into paps hospital room and seeing him lay there.  I did shed a few tears on my journey, I must have been upset by this newest adjustment.  Pap was strong, at least in my eyes.  From my perspective, the new challenge didn't seem to bothered him at all.  However, mom did tell me years later, after my brother had already pasted, that pap was depressed over the second amputation.  This came as a complete surprise to me.  In fact, I remember pap giving me one of his ornery grins while laying in hospital bed.  I don't remember seeing him struggle with the canes, and I certainly never heard a negative word said about his handicap.  He wasn't even negative about trying to quit smoking.  I do remember he struggled with kicking the habit out of his life once and for all, but he was never mad.  Never mad at life and never blamed anyone for his woes or wished his life was different.  He was content, he was pap.  He would sometimes refuse to use the handicap parking, saying 'Those are for handicap people.'

During the time of the second amputation, Ryan wasn't in school yet, so he stayed with pap during the day.  I guess he helped him around the house and kept him company.  Ryan was probably a God sent to pap, kids tend to be like that, I know I've experienced it first hand with Kyle.  Thinking now on the situation, no wonder Ryan and pap were so tight.  Ryan kept pap going and saved his life, just like Kyle did for us nearly twenty years later.

Over time, pap learned to walk with two canes and two prosthetic legs.  His car had a contraption installed so he could drive, since gram rarely did, and trust me it was much safer that way.  He continued to work at the sawmill, literally until the day he had his last stroke and died.  Pap went to work every day, Monday through Friday and sometimes worked on Saturdays.  When it was my turn to stay the week with my grandparents during the summer, I would wake up at 5:00ish in the morning with pap and hang with him before he went to work.  He always made his own lunch and packed it away in his metal lunch box.  His midday fuel supply always included a pack of saltine crackers and a piece of fruit.  Then, when he would leave to start off his day, I would go back to bed with gram.

Aunt-Heather-Piper-dairy-page-5-7-87Pap died on May 6, 1987, which I just realized was the day Ryan got married.  While pap was working in his high lift at the sawmill, he had a stroke and was rushed to Latrobe Area Hospital, where he passed away a day or two later. I remember it was a Wednesday and I was in the fifth grade at Sacred Heart.  In fact, I remember I was suppose to go to a birthday party that weekend and we were going to make sundaes. I was bummed about missing the party and the fun.  Now don't get me wrong, I was really upset about the passing of pap.  We were all very close to him and since my grandpap Chester passed away when I was five, pap was our only grandfather.  What is really amazing about my memory, I remember every detail about the funeral, riding in the backseat of the car as we followed the hearse to the cemetery, the blue dress trimmed in white with ruffles that I wore, and mostly I remember the pain my brother was going through.  Later, following Ryan's hearse to the same cemetery I thought of that ride behind pap.  Well, Ryan is buried at the foot of pap.  Two strong souls sticking together forever!  Rest-in-Peace guys, till I get there!

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