"I'll Always be Your Miss Priss"-Reminiscing on my Grandfather
Column by Atlanta Northcutt -- Reporter for the Southern Standard
- My grandpa, Chuck Burgen, during his battle with melanoma
As a child, my grandpa would always sneak me pieces of turkey while he was carving the roasted bird on holidays.
During the Thanksgiving of his illness, he choked on a piece that had accidentally been inhaled down his trachea. The radiation from chemo had affected everything, even his ability to swallow.
This frail, bald and tired man looked nothing like the one who sat at the head of the table every year and recited a prayer.
He had been granted a death sentence since then. He knew it would be the last family gathering he’d attend. He recognized the fact this would be the last month his lungs would continue to receive and dispatch air. Birth. Then comes exit. Death.
In, then out. That’s the existence of beings.
He stood to give his speech, like all of the previous years before. He shook, weary from age. His breath a hard and strenuous labor.
The chemicals ran through his veins to stop the impossible disease eating away at him from the inside out.
This man, who was once up every morning by 6 a.m., tending to his garden, taking care of the family farm or sitting on the porch in peaceful silence, rocking back and forth in his old, wooden chair.
The creaking noise became a rhythmic lullaby when I was a child, never failing to make me yawn and rub my sleepy eyes.
This man, who’d accepted death by this Thanksgiving, wasn’t the man I’d always known.
He was weak, which I’d never seen before.
In the past, his hugs squeezed every breath of air out of me and every backbone into my stomach. I’d try to exhale, “I’ve missed you, too,” but his hug was always so strong it was hard to speak when wrapped in his embrace.
That Thanksgiving, my entire family was there, but everything was different. He choked, coughed, took a
drink of water and coughed again.
My strong Grandpa, who posed handsomely in an Army uniform in a blackand- white photo hanging in the office.
As the family listened to the patriarch’s usual prayer, one tear streamed down his cheek. My strong role model of all a man should be finally cried as I’d never seen before.
He taught me well. The hummingbird’s heartbeat, the wasp’s ferocity, the grape vine’s flexibility and the goodness and strength of a human being.
He excused himself from his last Thanksgiving dinner. He said he was tired and needed rest.
Sweet Grandpa, who taught his daughter how to be the best, most gentle and understanding mother, who loved his wife fiercely and wholly, who gave his heart to those needing help.
Grandpa died two months later. I kissed his head. We had said our goodbyes in our own way a month before.
He walked out of the room after sleeping on that Thanksgiving day and wrapped me in a tight hug. I inhaled the scent I always knew. He kissed my forehead and released me.
“How’d you get to be so pretty?” he asked. “Because I look like my grandpa,” I replied, smiling at the frail, old man whose outside I didn’t know.
However, I knew his soul, which was pure and beautiful. He winked, and I knew that was our own farewell.
I will forever imagine that moment as him saying, “Goodbye, Miss Priss. You will always be my special girl.”
Standard reporter Atlanta Northcutt can be reached at 473-2191.