The day before yesterday, I read this to the family and friends gathered to grieve the loss and celebrate the life of A. B. Manley. For the rest of my life I will miss him.
I wish I could stand here today on behalf of the family and capture every detail of the man we are here to remember and celebrate. But I know I have neither time nor composure to do all of their respects and memories justice. So instead, I’d like to capture a bit of my own personal experience from my borrowed time with the man I knew as “Pawp.”
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Jonathan Hart, one of Al Manley’s grandchildren. He had been my only living grandfather since 3rd grade, and we were closer than most people I know are to their grandfather. For that gift alone I will be eternally grateful.
I’ll just go ahead and admit that I was raised an only child and received the usual spoiling thereof. But while the family made occasional comments and warnings about this, no one seemed to feel strongly enough to do anything about it. At Christmas and birthdays it was mainly the fault of my mother and grandmother, but other family pitched in. Usually not Pawp. His name would be signed on all cards and tags next to my grandmother’s and I would be quite doubtless that he had no part in picking out the exact model Bat mobile with all its various components. But as the family knows, Pawp never feared a spoiled loved one…nor a spoiled dog, for that matter, evidenced by the continual giving of table scraps along with the pretend scolding to follow. Pawp did not investigate all 55 items on my Christmas list and expend the energy to meet every wish.
INSTEAD, virtually every one of the countless times I would go over to spend the weekend, I would wait for it. It might not be within the first hour or two, nor perhaps even the first day. But at some point, Pawp would pull on his Members Only jacket over his tucked in plaid shirt and slacks…and jingle the familiar keys. I would look up pretending to be confused through his bifocals into those age-softened Choctaw Indian eyes and wait for the words. “Son, I need to go to Walmarts. You woanna go wi’me?” I would quickly stop sword fighting my invisible opponent with my grand-mother’s wooden spoon or halt work on my cardboard space shuttle to hit the road with Pawp. While he could find a reason to go to Walmart or Lowes pretty much any day of the week, he would make up some special excuse to go when I was there.
He would pretend not to know where his one needed item was or he would pretend to have several things to look at knowing that I would love nothing more than a solid 15-20 minutes in the aisle of action figures. He would always eventually come moseying in from one side of the aisle taking his time to get to me, smiling and peering at the package in my hand and say, “Did you find the right one?” As I would nod beaming he would scrutinize it as if he was actually comprehending what in the world it was and confirm, “So this is it, huh? Well, we better get it and go.” Each trip he would make a five-dollar investment into what my Uncle Michael estimates was my $5000 collection of action figures. And this kind of investment for all those he loved was absolutely characteristic of my Pawp.
I’ll never forget the day Pawp pulled over the white extended cab automatic 96 Chevy S-10 pickup on Cottage Hill Rd and said, “Alright, it’s your turn. Take us home.” At that moment I realized that Pawp entrusted his life into my hands. He taught many of the family members to drive, and I believe he would have given his life for us to learn how to drive because he almost did…several times.
I honestly think he was the most patient man I’ve ever met. He was also kind and saw the best in people. He never had a bad thing to say about anybody unless it was a joke, and then he felt guilty over it for days. And likewise we don’t know of one bad thing anyone’s ever said about him. Family came first, and he never ever ever passed up a chance to say or express in some way how much he loved each and every one of us.
And we’ve been saying goodbye for as long as I can remember. Because Pawp treated each parting as if it might be the last, standing in the driveway waving and shouting things at the car window blowing kisses only to go inside once the car was out of sight. He leaves a legacy of love, kindness, patience, gentleness, compassion, joy, discipline, and commitment.
Oh Lord, make us thankful for all these and many other blessings for your sake and in your name. Amen.
(The prayer in bold at the end is how I chose to close, a prayer Pawp said before every single meal at such a speed few could distinguish the words. He would always chuckle and reply, “He knows what I’m sayin’.”)