I must have been 5 years old when I went on my first "date." I remember feeling like a princess. Riding on the metro train and then being taken into the big city of Atlanta. I remember sitting on a high bench at a bar in a restuarant and having a strawberry sundae. And I remember feeling loved.
I remember putting my toes on the edge of the diving board and being so scared to jump in. Almost jumping, and then backing away. I remember him catching me when I did finally jump and being so proud of me for having been so brave.
I remember going to visit he and my grandmother in their home and wondering if he could see our car as we turned into Lake Junaluska assembly from the front porch of their home, where I knew he was sitting in his rocking chair waiting for me.
I remember how he smelled like Old Spice and mouthwash, how he would wink at me as he crossed the room, how when he talked, the sides of his mouth never parted, and how he loved my grandmother.
I called him Preacher Pa, but as a little girl, I would say "Pepa." My Preacher Pa, Art O'Neil, Jr., was one of the greatest men I will ever know. He had strong hands, kind eyes, and one of the sweetest voices I've ever heard. As a child, I would visit him at Simpsonwood, and I felt as close to a princess as a girl can feel. He had a picture of me on his desk (or was it a bookshelf?) and I knew that I was special. I've always known that I was special to him, I've always known that he was proud of me, and I've always known that he loves me. Always. How does someone get so lucky to have that sort of influence on their life?
On June 24, 2011, I gave birth to my sweet Sallie. I knew it was coming because we had scheduled a c-section, so the morning of, I styled my hair, put on my makeup and jewelry, boxed up my homemade cupcakes (for the nurses) and headed to the hospital. We were there at 6:00 in the morning, and by 9am, I was holding her in my arms. I had given life to a person. I had delivered a person into this world. I had (my body had) created this tiny human being then after months of growing and nurturing and loving, she was born. She had been created. As I held her there in the hospital, I knew without a doubt that God had been in charge of this little life since before she was even conceived.
Less than 2 months later, my sweet Preacher Pa, decided to stop his treatments for Kidney Disease. I witnessed his body becoming more frail and when my big strong grandfather had to have help into and out of bed every day, I knew that it was time. I watched as he prepared for the coming weeks. I was there when he made his funeral arrangements and chose which hospice company would come and what he wanted to be done with his body. Like me, preparing for my c-section, he was preparing for a birth also. The hospital bed was brought in, candles were lit, his favorite hymns were being played, and friends and family were coming by. Within just a couple of days he began to whisp away. He began to sleep longer and longer and on August 30, he fell into such a hard sleep that he couldn't be awaken. I was there that evening. I didn't want to leave my grandmother. My dad had just left to take Nathan home and I was nursing Sallie. I remember my grandmother sitting by his bedside and whispering in his ear. Directly, she stood up and went to the door and when she came back to his bed, it was noticeably more quiet. His snoring had softened and was becoming more shallow. I'll never forget her saying, "Y'all come here, I think he's dying..." and as we all stood around him - my grandmother; my cousin, Rachel; my uncle; my mom and I holding Sallie, his spirit left his body. After all the years of growing and nurturing and loving - he was born! He had been created into the spirit of God. As I stood there at the hospital bed of one of my favorite people, I knew without a doubt that God had been in charge of his life and had been in charge of his death and that my Preacher Pa was in heaven.