I crashed my papa’s golf cart the first time he ever let me drive it.
I couldn’t have been much older than seven, my head barely reaching the steering wheel. Immediately after stepping on the gas, I flew us down a hill and directly into a bush. He looked at me, wide-eyed and half laughing, and said “Megan, that’s not how you drive a golf cart. You want to stay on the road.”
I didn’t want to try again– too upset I had failed the first time– but that wasn’t an option for Papa; I could drive us right into the lake for all he cared, but I wasn’t about to quit. I was much better the second time around, having learned to grip the steering wheel tighter, go a little slower, and as papa said, stay on the road.
My papa was an expander of worlds; he made your life bigger and better by showing you all you were capable of if you just dug around inside yourself. He made sure my life was filled with lessons, from how to pick the perfect tomato to knowing that trying again after failure was the only way to learn. He lived his life filled with intention: of equal parts determination, strength, and stubbornness that took him from farm to city, from the middle of America to Europe and back. He was strong but kind, stubborn but loving, and unyielding in his belief of hard work over shortcuts.
He drove a car that had a middle seat in the front, a special addition he claimed to have made just for me. That was my favorite spot: next to him, my feet brushing up against his box of cassettes, listening to him belt out his favorite Irish folk songs. It was the car I knew to look for when he was coming to visit: I knew to listen for his horn around 5pm, to see him pull up in the driveway, and have him engulf me in his all-consuming hugs, seemingly not even worn out from his 16-hour drive.
Papa was a storyteller: he recounted incredible and vivid stories of moments in his life. I would sit and marvel that this person who was MINE had also lived a thousand wonderful, unbelievable lives. I’ve kept his stories with me when I’ve traveled, knowing that my eyes are seeing the things his eyes once saw too. That while I never experienced them with him, I saw them because of him. To have his eyes light up when I brought him back a small chalk rock I had chipped off the Cliffs of Dover (very much illegal, but very much a Papa approved action), knowing he had flown over them a hundred times but never walked along them. To have him now marvel at my stories, knowing how proud he was of me for the journeys I had carved out for myself.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which Papa isn’t around. To never see his familiar figure waiting to greet me, telling me to give him some sugar. To not have him tickle my arm to get me to smile. To not quietly sit next to him while he does his morning crossword, sings his Irish tunes, or quizzes me in French. To know that I will never hear him tell me, “Do good” when he says goodbye. I can’t help but feel, though, that he is everywhere: he is in the star-filled night sky, the welcoming crisp fall air, a really good glass of scotch, and a perfectly smooth airplane landing. He is in all the lives he touched, in everyone who was lucky enough to hear one of his stories. He is forever with me in my eagerness to learn, my dry, sharp wit, and in all the moments filled with trying to do good, even when it’s not easy.
There are so many lifetimes that can fit into the 96 years Papa lived. My 25 years were better lived because he was in them, and the rest of all my years will be better because he showed me how to live them.