I was young, maybe four- or five-years-old when my Papau first walked me over to the weeds growing along the creek bed in late summer. Little yellow flowers grew from the leafy green area in the shade, but we weren’t on a mission to sniff the flowers.
“These here are poppers, Wren.” He pointed one of his big, thick fingers at the small, green, pickle-shaped thing hanging underneath the leaves. I crouched low and looked at the oddly shaped plant piece.
“What’s it do, Papau?”
Very carefully, he picked the pickle-shaped popper off way up at the tiny little stem attach it to the plant. Very carefully and very slowly, he laid it in the palm of his hand. “Now touch it, very softly, with your finger,” he instructed.
I did as he told me, and dang if that little sucker didn’t pop. The outsides popped out and rolled up and little pieces of inside flew in all directions. I laughed the laugh of a tiny little country girl who just learned a fabulous new trick.
“Want to know a secret, Wren?” He asked, the familiar mischievous grin in his eye.
“Your Grandma hates poppers. Every summer around this time, I walk over here to the creek and I pick her a few. You have to pick them carefully up by the stem. If you pick them too low down on their body, the heat of your hand makes them pop. I carry them by the stems and ask her to hold out her hand. She knows. Every time, she knows. She hates it, but she does it anyway. She squeals. I laugh. It’s one of our things.”
“Can we do it now, Papau?”
“Of course we can.”
He took the time to teach me how to pick the poppers, a few of them popping away before we had a chance to carefully carry them back to the house. I held our pickings behind my back, and he let me ask the question.
“Grandma, can you hold out your hand, please?”
The look that she shot my Papau is one I will never, ever forget. A fake-mad, but truly glee-filled look spread across her face, her own mischievous look sparking in her eye.
“Now why would I do such a thing,” she asked, playing along.
“I have a surprise for you!”
“A surprise! Well, okay then,” she exclaimed, holding out her hand, laughter already rolling from her body.
I gently placed the poppers in her hand and told her to touch them. She tried two or three times, her finger pulling back before the heat of her body could make them pop before she successfully exploded each of the green pods in her hand. The three of us laughed and laughed together. She faux-scolded me for faux-scaring her. She faux-scolded my Papau for teaching me such a thing. We pretended to be sorry.
For years and years, Papau and I took Grandma poppers in the late summer.
They’re gone now, spending their first summer together wherever it is they are in the afterlife since Grandpa passed in the winter of 2010. As I paused during a difficult run this evening, wheezing over ragweed or a late summer cold, I noticed a patch of poppers in the shade alongside the country road on which I run.
I carefully took a picture of one, and then I got the wise idea to take a video of one popping. The best poppers are big and fat; they pop almost immediately upon touching, and sometimes you can’t even rest them in the palm of your hand for the heat of your body sets them off right away. I found the perfect one. It was a beautiful green, big and fat, the perfect one; it would have made my Grandma howl with laughter.
I went to pick it off the plant, but my fingers were too low. Dang if that sucker didn’t explode right there in the air, sending the insides in every direction—including a piece that hit me right in the corner of my left eye.
My Papau used to give me a kiss right on the corner of my left eye when I was leaving to go somewhere, anywhere.
They had a good laugh tonight, together. So did I, and it gave me the gumption to finish the last uphill section of my run.
These seasons without them, this first year of seasons without her, remind me of all we did together. I miss those moments, but I am so, so glad to have had so many moments with them, together.