On Saturday October 6 in the hour of 3am my Pop-pop, Roger Heppes, passed away. In his 90s and suffering under the limits of dementia he had mentally left this world years before the day his body caught up to him. In these instances we as humans find solace in this is how life works if you are lucky, you live a long life and eventually fade away. But even still at the end of a long journey, aren’t you still always a little in awe that it has come to an end? The preciousness and unpredictably of how life wanders in and out of existence will never lose its power over our limited human understanding.
As our family accepts the new state of world that will never know a soul so uniquely made as Pop-pop, just as God makes all his children, I am continually drawn to a sense of gratitude. Being the oldest in my own family and one of the oldest cousins on both my parents’ sides I have been blessed with a relationship with all of my grandparents. If I close my eyes I can tell you how I saw each of them while growing up and what that told me about who they were. My Grandma Jackie lived life big – in bright colors, with a loud voice and even louder presence and this zest that always made her seem more like a kid…. as I kid I remember thinking she is one of the only adults who I could identify with: saying what was on her mind and never afraid to ask for what she wanted. Isn’t that what adult is about?!? My Ganmommy Jackie (anyone guess where my name came from??) I pictured as this perfectly unique blend of proper and completely outlandish. I can see her in beautiful jewelry, perfectly placed sweater and quaffed hair – with a list of rules that she not just prefer we kiddos follow, yet she liked to throw a layup at our basketball games or run around the yard picking up sticks. My Gandaddy was quiet in a crowd, but if you had the time, he was the keeper of some wonderful stories. Starting in late elementary/early middle school I made a point during any big family gathering to carve out time to ask him a question about his hometown or growing up and would settle in to hear the story. To those 22+ grandkids he was stern….. but I loved that I got to see his gentle side that cared about sharing all the specific details so I could clearly see the whole story he was telling right there in my mind. And then my Pop-pop… he was always smiling, always. I loved that he smelled of a strong pipe and with less grandkids on the Heppes side, there was always an available seat in his lap. There were no rules with Pop-pop and if the visit involved presents, his were always the best – usually including a lot of toys and no need for keeping order when opening them. He basked in the light of us kiddos ripping them open and making a mess. Dad always told stories about being out on his bike all day or playing with friends for hours (I assumed my dad grew up in the middle of the movie The Sandlot) and as a kid I remember thinking that Pop-pop always just laughed cause he wants kids to be kids! At the Flaherty’s house we kiddos often were encouraged to eat what the adults were eating or jello – I was never interested in either. But not at Pop-pops, it was usually hot dogs and chips. We were allowed to run around and get dirty with his dogs or chase his kitties and play. I figured that was why he always had a great big smile (one a lot like my Dad – that takes over his whole face and just beams), because he saw us kids having fun. He believed in letting people be themselves and in choosing happy…. and I was lucky to experience it for myself.
The gratitude continued through the weekend as I reflect on my inheritance from Pop-pop. A lover of history – Dad always told me that was something Pop-pop loved too. In fact the Colonel period is the one I probably know the most about and I think a lot of that has to do with the china dolls I received from Pop-pop over the years. Their big pouffy dresses and outlandish hats with feathers that sat gently on their ringlet curls…. I LOVED those dolls and yet it ignited a pretty intense fascination in how people could appear so beautiful and glamorous – but rode horses everywhere! This led to years of reading American Girl Doll books and watching Little House on the Prairie…. and a love for Mount Vernon that I still enjoy visiting over and over today. My Pop-pop was a solider, then had a career in the CIA, and thanks to his wife Rachel’s research my sisters and I could be Daughters of the American Revolution – it is safe to say my love for our beautiful country and my roots here come from him too. Before the fire my parents house had several boxes of photo albums that contained the love story of my grandparents, my dad’s childhood, and images of our relatives that span the country. I have always LOVED these chronicles of Heppes History. True life riches include having the time to savor and capture the details (why I love blogging) and I always looked as these time capsules with hopes I would be as good as they were about telling my own family’s story. Throughout the weekend I enjoyed the beauty of the rolling hills of Virginia (seriously, we actually have rolling hills) and I think back to a time when we only came to Va cause he lived here….. now I call it home for my own family. Pop-pop is seen sprinkled throughout my world.
When I got married I dropped my maiden name Heppes, but kept my middle name because in my mind that was the one that more aptly spoke to my Heppes roots. That doesn’t make a lot of sense you may say -but on my parents’ wedding day my grant grandma Gigi, Pop-pop’s mom, told them to name their first child “Lowry” – a family name. Mom asked “is that for a boy or girl” to which she promptly replied “it doesn’t matter”. So after both grandmother’s called Jackie – my name came together pretty quick “Jacqueline Lowry Heppes”…. and so even though it is officially “Jackie Lowry Bessette” these days – I specifically held that middle name to honor my family’s history and I will always think of my Gigi and Pop-pop when I tell that story.
Pop-pop, thank you for passing along so many of these memories, passions, and a name to me. The story of family is never really over, it continues forward with each of us as long as we remember from where we have come. You may not be here walking the earth, but your sons, your grandkids and your great-grandkids are and carry parts of you right along with them. And just so you know – all of these things I hold near and dear to my heart, but your greatest gift was a son who grew up to be a man that chooses to live every day fully for his family and his faith. If God lets you see us (which I think he does), I hope you can watch his life continue to grow in incredible beauty and love, even out of the hard places – and I hope you feel peace for leaving that legacy for each of us still here.
Rest in peace Pop-pop.