Papaw and Me


(Published in Morsella Magazine, Issue 1: Augur – April 2018)

By Melissa Face


When I imagine my grandfather, Papaw, I picture a heavyset man climbing down from his Kenworth after hauling a load to Florida. He is humming an Elvis tune as he walks in through the door, embraces my grandmother (and her latest hair color), and asks, “What’s for dinner, Bobbie?”

I imagine these details when I think of him, but I remember virtually nothing about my grandfather. That has always bothered me.

“Don’t you remember the time he bought you a tricycle?” my grandmother asks. “It was a nice red one with a horn.  He knew you were going to be tickled, but you looked at that bike, put your hands on your hips and told him it was not the one you wanted.”

“I didn’t!” I said, horrified by this tale of my younger self. “What did he say?”

“He threw his head back and laughed! He said, ‘I’ll be damned!’ And laughed. And laughed. He took that bike back and got you the one you wanted. Don’t you remember?”

I wanted to say I did. I wanted to remember the sound of his voice, his laugh, something about him. But the story didn’t conjure up a real memory, only a stinging guilt for being a brat about a special present.

My papaw was a larger than life character with a fiery personality. He could cuss you up one side, down the other, and hug you five minutes later. He never had a formal education, but he was street smart, creative, and industrious. He liked haggling, driving his rig, telling a good story, and surprising his family with impromptu trips.

“It was nothing,” my grandmother continues, “for him to come home from a haul and tell me to get some suitcases packed. I would tell him okay and ask him when we were leaving.”

“We’re leaving at six in the morning,” he’d say. “We’re going to California!”

“And I would stay up all night, washing and ironing clothes, and packing sandwiches in a cooler.”

“It didn’t bother you to have to leave so suddenly?” I asked her.

“Not at all. That was life with Howard. Constant adventure.”

It seemed that extraordinary situations found him, much more frequently than the average person. These situations weren’t usually of his choosing, but he wasn’t the type to walk away from conflict.

Papaw narrowly escaped a fist fight once when a man’s car engine caught fire. His instinct was to grab a Coke from an onlooker’s hand to douse the flames. The sodaless man was ready to swing, but Papaw quickly put him in his place.

And another time, on a trip to New York with his family, Papaw tried to talk a man down from the top of the Empire State Building. It was 1964, before the highest level had been fully enclosed.

“Take it easy, buddy,” Papaw said soothingly. “You don’t want to do this.”

The distraught man faced my grandfather and let go of the railing, just as security reached for him. The man flipped backwards, a terminal sequence of spins that ended his life and my family’s vacation.

I’ve heard these stories about my grandfather since childhood. Papaw died tragically when I was four, and tales of his life have been a big part of mine even though he couldn’t be.

Perhaps my genes have given me what memories cannot. I have a fiery temper, a potty mouth, and a tendency toward impulsivity. They may not be the most desirable personality traits, but I like that they keep me connected to him.


Ride the Bull

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On our last night in Atlantic City, my family and I sat in a bar and watched the night scene unfold. We observed awkward interactions between males and females as they guzzled liquid courage and did their best to appear taller, stronger and more attractive to the opposite sex. It was quite entertaining.

Then, in the middle of the floor, staff members unveiled a large, dark object. It was a mechanical bull! I had never seen one in real life before. The line grew quickly as brave souls stepped up to challenge the ominous beast.

I so badly wanted to be one of them, but I wasn’t feeling the least bit brave. I was feeling overweight, self-conscious and insecure. And as much as I wanted to ride the bull, I feared being laughed at if I fell off. I would look ridiculous and feel humiliated.

So I watched others fall off and saddle up a second time, and as I watched, I wondered what happened to me. Where did my confidence go?

When I returned from my trip, I knew it was time to make a change. I had dieted and exercised before. It wasn’t my first weight-loss rodeo. I had counted fat grams, cut carbs and reduced calories. I had even bought a treadmill, practiced for several 5k races and worked with a personal trainer. Despite all these efforts and all that change, I hadn’t seen any more than a 10-pound loss in about 6 years. It was disheartening to say the least. The one thing I hadn’t changed though was my attitude; I was simply going through the motions. It was time to get serious.

I was uncomfortable: in my clothes, in my skin and with my life. I turned down social invitations because I didn’t have anything to wear and shopping for new clothes was depressing. I refused opportunities to speak publicly because I was afraid that people would be critiquing my size instead of listening to my message. My weight gain was interfering with my life: socially, professionally and romantically.

When I first began my new, healthy lifestyle, it was all-consuming, an obsession not unlike when I quit smoking. I thought about food constantly – not in the sense of depravity and longing for an off-limits item, but in the sense of planning. Eating well requires constant preparation in terms of grocery shopping, lunch packing and restaurant dining. I made peace with my new obsession and decided to kick my extra pounds with the same gusto and persistence that I used to cease my smoking habit.

It worked. My persistence paid off, and I am fifty pounds lighter than I was a year ago. This journey toward getting my life back has been incredible. I feel energetic, social and happy. I love my life, and I feel that I am living the way I always should have.

Now I have the confidence to take risks and do things that scare me a little. I enrolled in an exercise class at my local recreation center; I improved my 5k finish time by two and a half minutes, and earlier this year, I read one of my essays in front of my students and fellow faculty members at a school assembly.

I have made some serious progress, but I’m still a little afraid of the bull. I could fall off. But missing out on exciting opportunities is even scarier to me. The next time I’m in Atlantic City, I’m going to get in line and ride that bull. And as for the rest of my life, I’m grabbing that by the horns, too.


Previously published in Sasee Magazine  – August, 2017

I Pressed the Button

Delaney and PGPS


By Melissa Face


I ignored my ringing phone, a number I didn’t recognize anyway, and hopped in the shower. A few minutes later, my husband popped his head in the bathroom door.

“You missed all the fun,” he said. “Our security alarm has been going off. It wouldn’t take my code, and the police just left a few minutes ago.”

“That explains the unfamiliar phone number on my caller ID,” I told him. “It must have been the alarm company, and I ignored it.”

My husband, Craig, went on to explain that the alarm started screaming, and it wouldn’t accept our 4-digit code after several attempts. And because I didn’t answer my phone, the police were automatically dispatched.

Three Prince George County officers showed up at our house, questioned my husband, and asked for proof of identification. Once they were confident we were indeed the homeowners, they came into the foyer and chatted for a while with my husband and our two children. After a few minutes, they wished us a nice evening and headed on their way.

Craig and I were glad that they had left on a positive note. They didn’t seem annoyed with us at all. Still, we were stumped about what had happened. We wondered what triggered the alarm, and we considered that perhaps it was malfunctioning. I decided I would call the alarm company the next morning.

When I was getting ready for bed that evening, I noticed a small, black object on my pillow. It was the remote to our security system. I keep it in the drawer of my nightstand in case of an emergency. Someone had obviously accessed it.

Craig and I called our children into the bedroom for questioning. “I didn’t do it,” said our six-year-old, Evan. “I promise. I know that’s only for emergencies.”

“I not do it either,” said three-year-old Delaney. Then, she took off down the hallway toward the playroom.

My husband and I exchanged a knowing look and went after Delaney. She denied pressing the button several more times before finally admitting she had done it.

“I’m sorry,” she squeaked. But it was clear that she really didn’t understand what she had done. Craig and I agreed that we would try to find a way to help her understand that alarms are only for emergencies, and we cannot waste the time or resources of law enforcement.

About a week later, I decided that I would take Delaney to the police station so that she could apologize in person. But first we stopped at our local bakery and bought fresh doughnuts to take with us. I wanted to have her apologize for her actions and also thank the officers for responding to our home so quickly.

When we arrived at the station, the receptionist took our information and asked us to wait in the lobby. A few minutes later, four officers stepped out and introduced themselves.

Delaney was a bit overwhelmed by the sight of several officers in uniform, but she quickly got herself together, told them her name, and explained why we were there.

“I pressed the button,” she said. “And I sorry.” The officers were very appreciative of her apology and the treats we brought with us. They gave Delaney special coloring books and her very own badge to wear. She chatted happily with them and told them all about her brother and some recent boo-boos she had gotten.

Before we left, a staff member took pictures of Delaney with the officers and later that day, the pics were uploaded to social media with a really nice caption about our visit. It turned out to be a very positive experience.

I wanted Delaney to learn responsibility for her actions, but I also realize she is only three. It’s hard to tell if it was truly a teachable moment or if she thinks that pressing the alarm button is a great idea – one that will result in another awesome field trip to the Prince George County Police Department.




Old Dog Smell

dog lover

Old Dog Smell – 2009


“There’s nothing wrong with a little dog smell,” Granny used to say.

She was referring to the less –than-pleasant odor of Waylon, the hound who spent his days in the field running rabbits. He often returned from the hunt dripping wet or caked with dirt and ticks. And boy, did he get smelly. Waylon would then subject everyone to his mustiness by barging into Granny’s kitchen on Sunday afternoons. Granny gave him a cookie to get him back out the house, and he learned quickly that the easiest way to receive a tasty snack was to come inside.

“Here you go, Wayla Boy!” Granny said as she tossed a cookie onto the sidewalk.

He’d trot toward the cookie, and sometimes he ate it; on other occasions, he buried it underground with the rest of his reserves.

But even after he had gone back outside, much of him still lingered.

“Gosh, he stinks,” my little sister giggled as she pinched her nose shut. “He needs a bath!”

“Naw,” Granny said. “He’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with an ole’ dog smell.”

That’s right. Waylon could do no wrong in Granny’s eyes. She didn’t flinch when he plopped dead frogs, rats, and rabbits onto her porch. She didn’t mind his ear-piercing wail. She didn’t even mind his outdoor-rolling-in-dead-stuff odor. In fact, she almost seemed to like it. She liked everything about him.

But Granny hadn’t always been so fond of Waylon. Initially, he was my grandfather’s dog, a gift from my cousin and a surprise at that.

“We don’t need anything else hanging around this house wanting food,” Granny said. “Dogs are too much work.”

It was too late though. Waylon and my grandfather had bonded. They spent afternoons together out in the lot, the big open space behind the farmhouse. My grandfather messed around with his bottle collection and tinkered with old furniture, and Waylon chewed on twigs. Sometimes, they just sat together on the steps of the chicken house, Waylon sniffing the breeze and my grandfather puffing a forbidden cigarette. They had a special relationship; they understood one another. But Granny did not understand.

A few years later, my grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had progressed into a relatively late stage before it was detected. My grandfather stayed in the hospital for several weeks recovering from surgery and undergoing radiation therapy. Granny took care of Waylon.

I was standing on the sidewalk the afternoon my grandfather returned from the hospital. My dad, mom, sister, and I were eager to hug him and welcome him home. We had to wait our turn. As my grandfather opened the car door, Waylon placed his front paws on the edge of the car and licked his face with tail-wagging glee. My grandfather weakly wrapped his arms around his hound, lowered his head, and wept. They were so happy to be together again.

It wasn’t too much later that my grandfather lost his fight with cancer and Waylon lost his best friend. For several weeks, Waylon hunted for much longer periods than he ever used to. After he ate breakfast, his white-tipped tail would disappear into the wheat field, not to be seen again until the next morning.

I’m not sure if it was ever actually discussed, but Granny knew what she had to do. She fed Waylon every morning, afternoon, and evening. She marked her calendar with his heartworm pill stickers, and she took him to the vet for his check-ups. Granny became his primary caretaker and, with time, his new best friend. Waylon gnawed on acorns while Granny pruned her azaleas. He napped in the sun while she hung out her laundry. They took walks together around the lot. They grew old together on the farm.

It’s probably a good thing that Waylon outlived Granny. I don’t think she could have handled losing him and what their relationship had come to represent. Until her last day, Granny took care of that dog. And he took care of her too. He helped heal her heart.

I will always remember the sound of Granny’s voice as she called Waylon to the house for supper. “Wayla! Come here, Wayla boy,” she hollered. And a few minutes later, he would come trotting up the steps, dirty from his last hunt. But before she sat down his food, she stroked his dusty coat. There is nothing wrong with an old dog smell.


By Melissa Face

I have been in the classroom for 12 years now as a teacher. It has been about a decade, however, since I sat on the other side of the desk, as a student. That changed earlier this month when I signed up for some graduate courses to earn a Gifted Education endorsement.

Like many teachers I know, I was looking forward to insightful discussions, peer-reviewed articles, and crisp, new notebooks. I was happy to buy the required textbooks for the class, and I didn’t even mind the idea of writing a few papers. I mainly had concerns about how I would balance my new graduate school assignments with my already overwhelming responsibilities of teaching and mothering. It made me nervous.

But when our instructor arrived, she introduced herself and told us she understood the demanding lives of adult learners. Her calming presence put the class at ease, including me, until she explained our first task.

For an icebreaker, we had to tell two truths and one lie about ourselves. The catch was that we had to use illustrations and share them with the class for everyone to guess which was made up.

Sadly, it wasn’t the idea of lying that made my heart race and my forehead sweat. I may have lied a couple of times in my life, like when one of my loudest classes asked me if they were my favorite. It wasn’t the lying that bothered me; it was the drawing.

My artistic skills make me feel so inept that I experience what many people do when they are faced with public speaking: a full blown anxiety attack, with a side of clammy hands, sweaty pits, and dry throat. Aren’t icebreakers intended to EASE tension?

I immediately tried to think of things that would be easy to draw: stick figures, hearts, and boxes. And so the exercise became more about me finding a simple drawing than actually introducing myself to the class.

Once the introductory portion of the class was behind us, the rest of the morning was a breeze. And in addition to taking away theories of multiple intelligence and characteristics of gifted learners, I also took away the idea of the icebreaker. I figured I could use it with my students next school year, but with one exception: I will allow students to draw OR write their two truths and a lie. I don’t want to torture anyone unnecessarily, just in case there is someone else who feels the way I do about drawing.

Icebreakers definitely serve a purpose. They are designed for us to become more comfortable and better acquainted with one another. But wouldn’t that still have happened if I had been allowed to write my two truths and a lie?

As unnerving as the experience was, I’m glad it happened. I’m always in search of ways to reach and connect with all of my students. And sometimes, the best way to understand a student is to become one for a while.