When I was young, I lived with my grandparents in a rural town’s municipal airport. It seems incredibly interesting to me now, we had miles of nature to explore around us as well as an airplane hanger full of all kinds of tools and gadgets, spare parts and junk. Oh, and a pool table.

Two of my cousins and my brother also lived with my grandparents who we called Nana and Popo but eventually shortened to Nan and Pope.

For school, Pope would pack us all into a ’74 Pontiac Starfire. 4 kids and a boxer dog.

Pope was a constant. He was always there for everyone. When I was young he would give me a quarter to get a soda from the Coke machine in the office. He also supplied the sodas to the machine and had the keys, so why the quarters? I always liked that.

Growing up, Pope would always tell me I need to read, but I never saw him read anything besides the comic strips in the newspapers. Sometimes you have to lead by example I guess. I have a love for reading books to this day and look back and was always grateful for him leaving such an impression on me.

Pope gave me my first car. It was made a few years after I was born and when it rained would fill the floorboards with water. The AC didn’t work and the heater wasn’t much better. You had to tune in to the radio stations by hand. It was a standard and ran on diesel. White with a red interior. I loved it.

For that car and subsequent cars I owned, Pope was always there to help me fix them. I had a car that had an engine go out and he towed me an hour back to his house, the next day we hit a junkyard and bought a used engine and installed it.

Throughout my twenties when I would call him, he would ask if I was at the Texaco, meaning “had I broken down somewhere and needed help”. It was more of a joke and I could sense he was eager just to spend time together even if it meant fixing a car. Maybe especially to fix a car.

He could fix anything.

Pope put his first airplane together when he was 14 years old. The only thing that was missing was the covering for the wings.

He grew up on a tobacco farm where he learned a strong work ethic that he passed down to my dad and I feel like he passed down to me.

My dad would always talk about how he was such a hardass but to me, Pope was always a marshmallow. I think there is a different relationship between father and son and Grandfather and grandson. As a teenager, I would take off his hat and kiss his bald head and he would tell me “Stop that”. He gave up telling me to quit when I was in my twenties.

Pope was a funny guy. He would always whistle a tuneless song. Growing up with him it would always gross me out that he put crackers in a milkshake or grape jelly in his mashed potatoes. Recently I had lingonberry sauce in my mashed potatoes at IKEA and I thought, “Wow, that’s good!” Maybe he was on to something.

He also had this thing called the “neverending story”. He wasn’t much of a fan of talking on the phone. He wanted you there in person. He had to tell me of all the airplanes he sold and what he sold them for, his time in the war fixing airplanes and galavanting around Europe, and how the threatened authority figures like a judge or cop with punching them in the nose.

It was always the same stories over and over spoken like they were maybe a week ago and I would say, “wasn’t that two years ago?” but it didn’t matter to the narrative. One story would lead to the next as if time was not linear. How he met his wife, how he dealt with employees, his first boxer dog and how well trained she was.

He never really asked many questions about me other than was my car okay. When you would talk to him across a table he couldn’t understand and you would have to repeat everything over and over but he could hear the engine to an airplane in the distance and tell you what kind of airplane it was.

Once, Pope bought an airplane simulator video game for his computer and wanted to show me how it worked. I was flying around and wondered about the capabilities of the game and went for a nosedive. We were sitting next to each other and he was grabbing for the joystick, like we were in a real airplane. With the ground coming up at us quick, I pulled back the stick and landed in a way an airplane never could.

Only once did I ever hear him really down. He said his wife died, his sons died and his dog died.

Once he called me his friend.

Does death have to be sad? I think for those of us left behind it is.

Pope used to always tell me when he died to throw his body in the dumpster. He would be in heaven and his body wouldn’t matter anymore.

He would say “I’m ninety-six years old but look like I’m a hundred.” Though he did look like the shriveled version of the man I grew up with, the old shouldn’t also be vain. How many gifts can you expect?

The last time I went to see him, he was telling me his neverending story, and he paused and for the first time looked out of breath and said, “Well, I guess it’s your turn.” I was shocked and asked a question (three times) and he started up again (without really answering).

Yesterday I was told he was in the hospital and probably wouldn’t make it. At the time I wasn’t shocked.

It is hard to consider the passing of someone who lived such a long life full of pursuing their passion as a tragedy. He told me many times over the years that he would be with Nan again and she would say, “What took you so long?”

But as I write this I can’t help but feel there is a Pope sized hole in my life.

It feels good to think of him now with his wife, sons, and dog. I am eternally grateful for everything he taught me and that I was able to know such a caring, kind, and selfless man.

I have never had a better friend.

Here is an example of the “neverending story”. I apologize for all my sniffling, it was really cold out in his shop. But you get to hear how one story transitions to the next with flawless execution!

By Sam Watson

I'm pretty good at Microsoft Excel but a freak in Google Sheets.

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