24 June 2010

Fred Downs

My Pop-Pop died a few weeks ago. He had been sick for a while but it was still a bit of a shock to me. He just got old and tired and I think he kind of gave up. And considering the last few months he’s had, I don’t blame him.

I grew up in the north and Pop-Pop lived on Jax Beach in Florida, over a thousand miles away. So I don’t remember much about him but here is what I do remember.

He was an incredible artist. Any iota of artistic ability I have comes from him. My uncle thinks he could have been a great American artist, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Pop-Pop told me “Draw everything. Sit in front of a tree and try to draw the other side of it. That’s how you’ll get good, kid.” He may not have actually called me kid, but that’s how I remember it.

He loved Frank Sinatra, and really the Rat Pack in general.

He smoked like a chimney, and I didn’t really mind when I was younger. And he drank like a fish. But in my mind he was more like a romantic Hemmingway. Without all the womanizing. Just this beat artist who drank and smoked because that’s what artists do.

He watched the racing channel.

He was in the navy. I’ve seen pictures of him in his blue sailor uniform with his great long legs in those sailor pants with the flare. He looks like a tall handsome movie star in those pictures.

He used to own some kind of fast red car. I don’t remember what it was because it was before me. But he showed me pictures and I could tell by the way he talked that he “loved that damn thing.”

He said “damn” a lot. He’d be sitting on the couch talking to us or telling us a story or (most likely) complaining about something and he’d draw his great long legs up under him and prop his forearms on his knees and wave his cigarette around and say “Damnit I tell ya!” I never remember what he was telling us but I can very clearly hear his voice saying that one phrase.

He made us call him Pop-Pop, that was all his choice. I think “Grandpa” made him feel too old, and he was right. It didn’t suit him and he wasn’t old until the end there. He made us call him Pop-Pop like some old beatnik poet or jazz legend from the thirties.

That’s all I really remember and I’m ok with that. I’m sure there are other things, but I can’t think of them at the moment. And I feel like that’s the really important stuff. He was a good man and I really love him. And I’ll miss him. But in some ways I’m glad he’s gone. Maybe he’s happy now, wherever he is.

From left to right: My "little" brother (what is with the facial hair? You're 16.), Dad (Glorious 1984 hair), Pop-Pop (Totally awesome.), Uncle Chuck (He has a glass eye.), Me (Please don't mock me, I didn't know any better.)

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