Hershel.


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Hershel.


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My grand­fa­ther, Her­shel Ward, passed away this morn­ing. He died in his reclin­er, cof­fee cup beside him, half-emp­ty pack­et of tobac­co stick­ing out of his pock­et (with a wad in his mouth), watch­ing the WVU pre-game. Heart attack — his fourth one, though first in over a decade. He was 78 years old.

He could be hilar­i­ous. He could be real­ly hate­ful. We’ve always joked with my dad and my broth­er when they get hate­ful that they’re being just like HB — Her­shel Brown Ward. He could cuss up a storm if the Moun­taineers weren’t doing well in a game. He could cuss up a storm when he hit his head on the hang­ing light in the liv­ing room (as he often did, being 6’4” liv­ing in a small house with a low ceil­ing). He didn’t real­ly have deep con­ver­sa­tions, at least when I was around — the weath­er and the Moun­taineers were his go-to top­ics. He liked John Wayne movies and thought Julia Roberts was ugly. When my broth­er and I were lit­tle, he’d always let us get away with things Mom and Dad nev­er would. He taught my broth­er to spit and say “damn.” He’d actu­al­ly cud­dle with me and read me books.

At 78 years old, he was still work­ing full-time. He’d retired for a while, but retire­ment didn’t suit him. So he went to work with my grand­moth­er at a senior citizen’s cen­ter. Grand­ma is a recep­tion­ist, and he was a dri­ver. The peo­ple he was dri­ving around were usu­al­ly younger than him. He had a good time, though — it always gave him sto­ries to tell about how he was so old tak­ing care of peo­ple younger than him who couldn’t wipe their chins. He was nev­er very polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect.

The last time I saw him was at my wed­ding (pic­tured). His birth­day had been the day before, so we had my wed­ding cake and a birth­day cake for him. I remem­ber see­ing him in the base­ment of the church after the cer­e­mo­ny (as we were going down to bus­tle the train on my dress), and it struck me then how much old­er he looked than I ever remem­bered — but he still looked real­ly good for 77 (at the time). They were sup­posed to stay behind and help clean up, but there was a foot­ball game he didn’t want to miss. Like I said, nev­er very polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect.

For their 50th anniver­sary, the whole fam­i­ly went down and we had a par­ty with fam­i­ly and friends. I played piano, and Dad played and sang “Time in a Bot­tle.” Grandma’s always been emo­tion­al, so she sat and cried the whole time Dad was singing. Papaw was nev­er emo­tion­al, and def­i­nite­ly not a lov­ing sort of fel­low. But that day, he pulled a chair up behind her and held her and rocked her while she cried and they both lis­tened to my Dad play and sing. It was nice to see that he real­ly did have a gen­tle side — pos­si­bly the only time I ever real­ly saw it enough to notice it.

I don’t know what my grand­moth­er will do. I think it might kill me to see her tomor­row. It’s going to be so hard for her once the shock wears off. Only one of their four chil­dren lives near­by (grant­ed, it is only five hous­es down). I hate liv­ing so far away.

The view­ing is Mon­day, the funer­al is Tues­day. I’ve nev­er been to a fam­i­ly member’s funer­al before.

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