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of possum hunts and compassion

Imagine having the compassion to change everything in your life because of love; because it would heal a family, because it was the right thing to do. Curtis Pugh gave up nights on the town, drag racing and following Frank Sinatra shows to marry a strong, kind, widow, with five children. Pauline lost her beleaguered first husband, and father of her children, as a victim of a liquor store robbery. I know what you are thinking, find me a young romantic who hasn’t fallen on the sword of good times for salvation of love. But how many freewheeling spirits give it all up to change not only their lives, but the lives of six others and generations to come? When Curtis married Pauline he didn’t just marry the love of his life, he became a father, a healer and savior.

Curtis Pugh traded the raucous life of a young man in exchange for the love of a whole family. When he married Pauline he also adopted her four daughters, and son. It wasn’t a happy ever ever tale, at least not at fist. The Pughs, despite hard work and love faced more hardship. Their son, Jerry, passed away from leukemia as a young man, before the age of 16. Pauline, no stranger to grief, with as Curts her compassionate bedrock, worked hard to raise the girls in a loving home.

He once told me a story about his ‘wild days’: “We’d drink a little and go out running in these old cars... they were tin back then and when we’d go ‘round a curve too fast and one or two of our cars would roll over...” You’ve never seen a smile like that, I promise. “We’d just get out, dust ourselves off and all together push ‘em back over!” Curtis had a chuckle which was infectious in the best possible way. It was hard not to laugh at the mental image. I heard Duane Eddy’s Rebel Rouser playing in my imagination and saw classic cars, men in white under shirts and work pants racing around dirt roads, laughing and carrying on. “... but that’s all over now, the day I married Paulie, I never wanted a drink again.”

And he didn’t. He spent the rest of his life impossibly devoted to Pauline and her girls. They had another daughter, Robin, 11 grand children, five great grand children, three great great grand children and an immeasurable impact of kindness and compassion on their world.

I didn’t know Curtis in his rebel rouser days. Fast forward a few years later, he and I would spend quality time possum hunting. At dusk, the two of us would stake out from the house, armed with only flashlights, prematurely boasting about what was to be the biggest possum hunt ever. We walked down the over-grown middle of the gravel drive so our shoes didn’t crunch on the rocks. We’d creep past the old red woodshed, resting on its side like it had been there long enough to be tired, our landmark for entering native possum territory. I don’t remember how many we ever caught. Light is a powerful weapon against possums just as night is the enemy of sleepy young scallywags. I don’t remember how those hunts ended, but I suspect it was with me on his shoulders fast asleep.

I don’t know a lot about sacrifice. Not granddad’s kind. Sacrifice is different than compromise. That’s not self depreciation or humility, its honesty. How many young men in my generation opt out their care free lives, into full time caring for others? Curtis Pugh made a choice in his life which has profoundly, profusely and positively affected four generations so far. I know the example he set will continue to be my golden standard of kindness and love for the rest of my life.

When I think about his choices, I wonder who saved whom...

Goodbye Grandaddy, you will always be one of the best men I’ve ever known.