The little boy sat with his great-grandfather and waited anxiously. He saw a soldier coming through the terminal and started to jump up and down. “Papère! It’s him!” When the man got closer, he realized he was wrong. “Darn.” He plopped back down and sat, chin in hands, disappointed.
“Paulie, I told you that when he comes, he’ll come from that way, ” said his vieux-papère, pointing in the opposite direction. “Now sit down and be patient, cher.”
“Papère, I don’t know HOW to be patient.”
“I’ve noticed that,” the old man said with a grin. “But try, anyway.”
“Okay.” Paulie leaned against him and sighed. “Papère, can I ask you something?”
“Maybe.” Paul surveyed his namesake with concern. T’is little fellow has no off-switch on his curiosity and one day he’s going to ask the wrong person the wrong question. Just that afternoon, Paulie had been puzzled by the appearance of a very large man with multiple piercings and tattoos. Before his great-grandfather could stop him, Paulie started with the questions. Fortunately, despite his fierce appearance, the big man was quite kind and had handled the child’s shower of interrogatives with patience, to the older man’s relief. My elephant’s child, he thought, shaking his head with amusement. Oh, Paulie, what are we going to do wit’ you?
“What did you want to know?” Just then, his cell phone rang. Dratted technology. He reached for it, and was bemused when Paulie grabbed it first and stared at the caller ID. He recognized the number and sagged in relief. “It’s just Mamère Amelie”.
Paul took it from him and answered it, quizzically surveying the little boy. He explained to his daughter that no, her grandson had not yet arrived, and yes, Paulie was fine and he was fine and that she should just quit worrying. “I’ll call you when we see him; just go on and help Cherry get dinner ready for when we get back.”
He chuckled at her pretend-meek “Oui, Papa” and hung up.
“Paulie, what was that all about? Why did you grab t’e cell phone?”
The little boy sat on the edge of the plastic chair, legs kicking, staring at the ground. “Well …”
“Denis said you were old.”
Paul nodded. “Yes, I am. Your big brother is right about t’at.”
“And he said old people die. But Papère –, ” he said, all in a rush, “I don’t want you to die. You — you haven’t taught me everything you know!” He finished, still not able to meet the old man’s eyes. “And I’d miss you. You’re my vieux-papère. Mine. I don’t want God to have you yet.”
God. Ah, I t’ink I understand. “Did Denis tell you that when God calls me, I have to go?”
Paulie nodded earnestly. “Oui! So I t’ought if I answered t’e phone first, I’d tell God he’d just have to wait because Paulie LeMercier needs his vieux-papère. And t’en I’d hang up. So t’ere!”
If it had been anyone else but Paulie, the older Paul would have thrown his head back and laughed until he cried. But he knew this was deadly serious for the little one and he wanted to help him understand.
“Cher, it’s not t’at kind of a call.”
“One day, when it’s time, I’ll die, yes. But I don’t believe dying means that I end. I think we continue, only differently.”
“But I won’t see you. You won’t take me shrimping or show me how to whittle,” the little boy said earnestly, eyes screwed up against threatened tears.
The old man put his arm around the little boy. “I understand, Paulie. I miss my Papère aussi, and my papa et mama, and my Nonc Pierre, all of them. It’s okay to be sad when it happens. But you must go on. A little bit of me will always be wit’ you. Did you know you look just like me when I was your age?”
“You do. And one day very long from now, you’ll sit with your great-grandson, and maybe he will be named Paulie, too, and you’ll tell him what I just told you. And he’ll carry on for me and you, and my Nonc Pierre and his uncle — all of us will live through him. And until that day, we live through you.”
Paulie looked at him. “When you go — wherever you go — will you remember me?”
“I promise, cher. How could I ever forget you?”
“I won’t forget you either. I promise, too.”
“Good.” Paul tapped him on the shoulder. He gestured down the concourse. “Look who’s here.”
“Andre!” The little boy jumped up and ran to his brother.
Paul glanced up and saw the departure board. One day soon, Bon Dieu. I know t’at. But not today, eh? He stood carefully and headed slowly toward his great-grandsons.