The beauty behind ol' blue eyes

Turns out there was a lifetime of love in this simple household task.
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Mar 01, 2014

My Papaw was a farmer and rancher. I used to work with him; we left early in the morning to go work and didn't get home until after dark. Most days, Papaw never saw anyone but me and maybe a few other crusty farmers. But Mamaw still used to iron his work clothes for him every day.

Mamaw would mix up the starch in a glass Coke bottle, which she topped with a metal head that slipped into the mouth of the bottle and had a multitude of holes in it, like a saltshaker. She would sprinkle his pants with the starch and hang them over a chair for a few minutes so they could dry a bit before she applied the heat of the iron to them.

When I was a little kid, I would watch her do this and considered it to be normal. I just figured every old woman in the world did it, because that was all I had ever known. As the years passed, I began to question this practice. Why in the world did work clothes need to be ironed? She never ironed mine, and I didn't see any use in doing this myself. Heck, my clothes were usually so dirty by 9 a.m. that any sign of ironing would be long gone.

One day, when I was about 13 years old, I asked her about it. I wanted to know why she saw it necessary to invest that much of her time and energy pressing clothes that would hardly be seen by anybody and would be filthy in just a short time. Her reply was as sweet of a sentiment as I have found.

She told me that my Papaw was the most handsome man God had ever made. She said he was her best friend and the love of her life. And she took every chance she got to show him off and make the rest of the world jealous that he was hers. She went on to say that you never know when you'll run into important people, and she wanted him to feel respected and confident all the time.

Later that day, I looked closely at my Papaw—he didn't look all that handsome to me. He was a short, skinny man with a relatively big fanny compared to his shoulders. His hair was thin on top and his false teeth didn't line up too well when he smiled. He wore horn-rimmed glasses that were much too big for his face, but all he really cared about was being able to see.

A few days later, I informed Mamaw that I had closely observed ol' Elmo Brown and didn't see him the way she did.

She giggled and gave me a girlish smile that grandmothers just shouldn't be able to express at that age.

"You just aren't looking in the right light, turdhead. He is the most beautiful man God ever made," Mamaw insisted. "Those eye wrinkles haven't always been there. I remember when he had real teeth. He has the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. They are exactly the same color as the sky just before the sun goes down. His entire face lights up when he smiles, and his voice is so calming and full that everyone in nine counties wants to hear him talk."

What? I thought. He was my Papaw. He had always been an old man as far as I was concerned. I never knew him any other way. Did she actually want me to consider that Papaw used to be young?

"I want him to feel beautiful!" Mamaw went on. "I iron his clothes every day because for all these years, he has still made me feel that way—beautiful. He is a man worthy of respect, and I want him to look the part. I wouldn't have it any other way."

This meant nothing to me, except for the fact that I got a little grossed out. So I just decided to forget I had ever asked. Sheesh. Old people.

Over the years I watched them grow older together and pass away. It wasn't until I hit 30 that it dawned on me what beauty really was—and it was Mamaw ironing Papaw's pants each and every day with starch from a Coke bottle that taught me how to see it that way.

Dr. Bo Brock owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.