Remembering Papaw

I don't know how, but it's been over a month since my Papaw passed away. I've been writing in fits and spurts, but writing about Papaw was by far the most important to me this month. So that's what I'm sharing with you today: his eulogy. He is one of my heroes, and a hugely formative figure in my life. I still sing songs he sang to me to wake my kids up in the morning. His unconditional love, support, and constant affirmation are some of the reasons I'm able to write at all.  So here's to you, Papaw. Love you forever and always.  

“When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for.”

—Toni Morrison


"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

—Maya Angelou



Dr. Charles Alfred Webb was a man of many accomplishments. At the time when emergency medicine was not even a specialty, he helped establish a full-time, fully staffed ER in Ashland, Kentucky. He helped write and administer the first national board exams for emergency medicine, and he was a contributing author to an emergency medicine text book in the early ’70’s. In the 1990’s, he offered consultation in a partnership with Croatian doctors, after the Serbian-Croatian conflict. After 9/11, he volunteered as a medical consultant to the Afghan Ministry of Health, to expand regional healthcare in remote areas. 


All those things are true, but what I can’t get out of my mind today, is simply the way he lit up when I walked in the room. And it was the same for all of us.  


All those incredible accomplishments matter—they matter to people we will never meet, who have lives that are at least a little better because he was in the world. But it turns out what I’m clinging to the most right now is that there was someone who walked the earth who was always thrilled and delighted that I walked the earth. He was big and smart and important, but I was important to him. 


He showed up at ALL our events. He gave wild, undeserved applause for us at plays, recitals, games, and graduations. (And for me, it wasn’t because I was awesome—I often sang off-key, and was ALWAYS on the “B” team. But he celebrated me like I was Beethoven starring on the varsity team.) He took to the time to show us how to do things like swing a golf club and all the rules and strategies of both football and chess. He entrusted valuable artifacts into our hands—his father’s cowboy hat and his black leather medical bag & stethoscope—to have hours and days and weeks of imaginative play. He created a secret clubhouse for me and my cousins under the deck of his house. He took us on wild adventures: canoe trips, camping trips, fishing, exploring in the woods, driving the tractor, vacations at the beach. 


After Mamaw accompanied him on one of his many medical trips to Croatia and Austria, they decided it was so beautiful that the whole family had to see it. So they invited us all to Austria. Can you imagine what it was like for a 10 year old girl from Elliott County, Kentucky to SEE the actual Von Trapp family house—it almost seems absurd. But nothing was impossible to Papaw. He made the mythical and legendary come to life.  


He was the life of the party and always hilarious, quick witted, and more than a little mischievous. He once hatched an elaborate scheme with an artistic friend, who built the most magical, intricate dollhouse the world has ever seen. It had real carpet and wallpaper and siding and shutters, and stairs and elegant furniture. To this day, it may be the most luxurious thing I’ve ever touched with my own hands. But the magic wasn’t just in the house itself, but the way he went about getting it for my cousin and I. In typical Papaw style, he regaled us with a mysterious and long-winded story about “the old man in the mountains.” And after he had built up this character over the course of weeks and months, he took us on a long trip, up into the very literal mountains. At the end of a long drive, a white-bearded man awaited us (little did we know that it was our family friend Benny in disguise). He presented us with this gorgeous southern mansion for our dolls, and with our jaws hanging open we made the drive back to Mamaw & Papaw’s house. That escapade has obviously been the source of many family laughs, but stands as a monument to his character.


He was wildly imaginative, exuberantly fun, and he loved us all so elaborately. It sort of reminds me of how God loves us all: no holds barred, spare-no-expense, with complete delight. It was as fun for him, I think, as it was for us. He reveled in doing extravagant things to value and delight his family. And that, more than anything, is what has stuck with me. He lived big, generously, and had so much that he offered the world. But when I was with him, he made me feel like I was the only one in it. 


I think it shows the measure of a man, when he holds intelligence, credentials, accomplishments and wide life experience, and yet walks in the humility it takes to get down on a child’s level. I will probably never have a resume that’s even close to touching his, but I know that if I treat people like he treated them, I’ll have made a difference in the world. I hope that I can make people feel like he made me feel: valued, important, delighted in, and loved.