The Story Behind the Poem

My Papa was a major figure in my life. Living most of my childhood 3 miles down the road from him and my Grandma was a treasure that my own children have not yet received for themselves. He attended many (most?) of my athletic and dramatic events and told The Best Stories at a moment’s notice. His beard made all of us kids afraid for our infant years, and then, it just made him him. I drove in the camper truck on vacation with him and pestered him about how many minutes I had slept (I had no idea ten-year-olds could nap!). I left for college and got married and lived a couple hours away. He came to visit (always driving the back roads) a few times in between my visits home. Then one day, we visited him. In the hospital. I read him my favorite chapter from a book he and Grandma had shared with us (That Quail, Robert, by the way). My husband gave him the gift of a photo, his long beard blowing in the wind, his body superimposed on top of Mount Everest–one milestone he had never accomplished. And I saw him once or twice after, although it was not my old Papa who sat before me but a stranger. A stranger who had stolen my Papa’s beard and eyes. The last time I saw him he was laying down, still and cold. Four months later, my first child was born. And through my rejoicing of that new life, I also mourned the loss of my favorite Papa never getting to meet his Hoosier grandson. And that grandson never being tickled by that great beard or having his food stolen by those worn, brown hands or hearing the laugh rise up from his belly. I’ll never forget him. 

Much love to you, Grandma.

The Colors of Papa

by Sarah Steele
July 2010

Papa was all the colors of Earth.
From the top of his head to the bottom of his shoes,
those colors tell me of his love.

His yellow hat, straw and prickly,
resting on his head,
shading his eyes from the hot sun.

His white beard, long and scratchy,
collecting food (often mine!),
tickling my face and belly.

His brown skin, wrinkled and brawny,
declaring his work ethic,
endowing him with the nickname “Injun.”

His red shirt, flannel and cottony,
making him easy to spot,
keeping me warm through his hugs.

His blue Dickies, patched and dingy,
protecting him from rough ground,
holding together with Gramma’s love.

His black shoes, worn and dusty,
dancing around us little ones,
plodding all over the rich farmland.

Papa is all the colors of Earth.
From the top of his casket to the bottom of his grave,
those colors still tell me of his love.


Who is the loved one you have lost?