"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.
Back in March, in this space here, I wrote about the aftershocks surrounding the passing of my wife's grandmother. It was not that great of a time for anyone, as those sorts of things tend not to be. Nobody that grandmother touched has fully recovered from her loss. She was a loud, beautiful woman and will always be missed, and that makes sense because she was a marvel. But one man has been saddened more than most: Paw-Paw.
Paw-Paw's real name is Willie, and Willie Paw-Paw is fucking dope.
Willie Paw-Paw was her husband. They were married for about a billion days. In the twelve years that I knew him before her passing, I never saw him without seeing her. I think—or at least I thought at the time—that his existence was conditional, his own being tied to her light and her love. I hope someone says the same thing about me one day.
At any rate, maybe a month or two or three after her passing, I found myself alone in a room with him at a family gathering. In the middle of an awkward talk about whatever, he stood up and said he had to leave—that being around his children and grandchildren was still too hard because they were all so closely tied to his wife. He felt better being alone, he explained, though he seemed to be using the phrase "better" in place of "less like I feel like I'm falling into a hole of nothingness forever." I told him that I remembered feeling the same way when my grandmother passed and that it's the worst, but that maybe there was something to be done.
I reminded him that, for all the time that he and I had been in the periphery of each other's vision, we'd never really spent any time together. So, a solution: I asked him to dinner. He lives near where I work, so I asked him to go to eat with me after I got off one day. After a bit of hesitation, he agreed. And so we started.
We scheduled to meet at Luby's (old people fucking LOVE Luby's, but also I love Luby's because on Wednesdays they let kids eat for free). I showed up with my family ten minutes early. He was already waiting at the door.
The first few times we went, it was slightly weird. Something tiny would happen that would remind him of his wife and he would get very sad and teary-eyed and sometimes cry and my wife would mirror his actions and then we'd just sit there quiet and odd while my sons threw mashed potatoes at each other or stole handfuls of mints from the waiter station. It felt strange, but it also felt right. So we just kept on showing up, occasionally laughing and also occasionally seasoning chicken fried steaks with tears and long stares.
We've been meeting up once a week for several months now. And, I mean, man, things are completely different. There are still every-so-often rare low moments, though they occur less and less. Willie Paw-Paw has proven to be a bright, gregarious, funny man. "You couldn't find someone to lend her a napkin, let alone money," he said one day, speaking of a family that'd asked him to borrow dollars.
I have grown to care about him greatly. My sons are always excited to see him. "OH FUCK, IS TODAY LUBY'S PAW-PAW DAY," they shout Wednesdays after school. And my wife has absorbed him completely.
I don't know how long we'll continue to meet up, but I do know that I hope it's for a long, long while. For his sake and for ours too.
I'm saying, have you ever seen an 80-year-old man hold a nine-month-old baby? That shit is like a miracle unto itself.
Some music suggestions inspired by Wednesdays with Willie:
1. The Four Tops, "It's The Same Old Song"
2. Jimmy Ruffin, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted"
3. The Temptations, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"
4. Eddie Holman, "Hey There Lonely Girl"
5. The Originals, "I'm For Real"
Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.