My wife did a double take when I told her years ago I wanted our yet unborn grand-children to call me “papaw” instead of something else.
As a son of rural Kentucky, I wanted to honor the history of that beloved title. Besides, I knew she wouldn’t like it.
Today, 15 years and 16 grandchildren later, she still doesn’t like the title but has finally, even begrudgingly, accepted it
Her personal preference is “grandma” and that’s OK with me but, try as I might, I could not relate to that term or to “grandpa” because of my own upbringing.
One of my grandfathers was called “Big Dad” and the other was “Granddad.”
One grandmother was just “Granny” and even other adults called her by that name. I don’t recall learning her real name until I was about 10. It was Olive.
My other grandmother demanded she be addressed as Minnie, her given name, because she said she wasn’t old enough to be called “grandmother.”
I remembered that with a smile years later when she died at the age of 100, a few months after telling a newspaper reporter that she was older than dirt.
In actuality, she didn’t like her legal name either, saying there had been only two living creatures in history named Minnie – she and her father’s favorite mule.
The first names of my two grandmothers gave my father a great way to tease my mother when my only sister was born.
For about 48 hours, Dad was telling family and friends that she would be named “Minnie Olive.”
Mom got the last laugh, however, by giving her a middle name that no one could spell.
But let’s go back to “papaw” and why I wear that title with pride.
I usually tell folks who ask why I like it that it’s because of its roots in the rural South and because I believe it conveys more feeling than other names for grandfathers.
Some etymologists say it actually is Irish from the original word, “papar,” which means father. Other word experts say it is a variation of “pawpaw,” the squishy fruit that grows on trees in the hills or perhaps from “papa” like in Italy and other European countries.
One of my young grandsons said recently that “papaw” means a person with silver hair and a boat.
As for me, I hope to live up to the saying that grandparents hold our tiny hands for just a little while but hold our hearts forever.
Keith Kappes is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at kkappes@ cnhe.com.