He was the kind of man who always had a little bit of dirt under his finger nails after a hot shower, his wrinkled skin was tough and tan bearing the sun spots of years in cotton fields and cow pastures, building roads and bridges, and doing any work he could get his hands on. He had that silver hair that he always smoothed over with a comb and a little bit of stubble that never quite got removed with his electric razor. His accent was the kind that was thick, adding “r” to the end of any word that didn’t. He cut off his own left hand with a chain saw and managed to drive himself to hospital “cause the other feller was too weak stomached to finish the drive”. He survived a brain aneurism, a bulldozer collapsing on his body for 8 hours, and getting struck by lightening… twice. Tough doesn’t even scratch the surface of who he was. He taught me to drive a stick shift, how to cull a chicken (that’s a kinder term), and how to feed a baby calf a bottle.
He was strong as an ox, fearless in every way. I never saw him flinch and he never allowed my sisters or me to think we were hurt. He was Dock Plunkett, my grandfather, and the kind of man that makes you wonder how anyone could ever be afraid at all. “Lauuuuura… get on over there and see bout’ makin’ me a ‘mater sammich”, he would say when we would come in the house from checking the cattle. “And if there’s a little onion, put me a few slivers of that on there too.” I would do anything he asked because his life was spent making sure he left a heritage that gave me anything I asked for. Some summers my parents would drop us off for a week or so in this little farm town bordering two North Alabama Counties. It was a place known for the smell of chicken houses, cow pastures, and accents thicker than molasses. This little town could be considered the poster child for a true Southern farm town, but it was where he was.
His home wasn’t just his, it seemed that the whole community considered it their own. They never had much, he and my grandmother, but everything they had they shared; folks just knew they were welcome without asking. The refrigerator always “had plenty, why don’t you get you some”, whatever that some was. His house still sits on the county road that that my Great Grandfather built. It’s a little white farmhouse with a front porch that just dares you to eat homemade ice cream and watch the cars pass by. He would sit by my grandmother on that porch, the two of them would just whisper to each other, and she was the only person on this planet earth that he could hear due to that previously mentioned lightening strike. They always made sure we had plenty to eat, the push up popsicles always fully stocked in their freezer and endless cans of Vienna sausages and moon pies, all washed down with a “co-cola”. He would make every visit spectacular, fearlessly allowing us to do all of his jobs with him. We understood the jobs that were a little too dangerous for us because instead of telling us, he would just drop us off at the house.
But the visits, whether weekends or week long, would always come to an end. I would crawl up in his lap while he was sitting in his remote controlled recliner. He would bounce me on one knee and sing a Baptist hymn and tilt his head to the side nudging me to give him a kiss on the cheek, but that last hug, the one that meant good bye, those brave, tough eyes of his would fill up with tears while he hugged and kissed our three faces. I, the sensitive child, always leaned in and asked what was wrong. With his tough, strong voice he would whisper to me, “Naw Hun, it’s just a little bit of onion in them eyes of mine.” He would give me one more tight hug and let me on my way. Maybe it was me or maybe it was those ‘mater sandwiches with the sliver of onions on them that made him cry every time we left, but he managed to have a little onion in them eyes of his until I was sixteen, when those eyes grew too tired to cry anymore.
Today, this man we all loved so dear would have been 93 years old. He is forever one of my favorite people to ever walk planet earth. We all loved you Papa Dock, thank you for loving us so well in return.