“Sudie doesn’t have a father,” I heard a kid whisper at a sleepover at my house one night.
I can’t remember how old I was. I just remember we were all piled up in Granny’s living room on pallets laid out on that red, gold, and black shag carpeting that was either highly flammable or would withstand the flames of Hades.
My friends had been looking through the scores of photos Granny had displayed around on every imaginable flat surface.
There were photos of my family — Mama, Pop, Granny, Uncle Bobby, along with the shrine Granny had to me — but not the first photo evidence of my father.
I didn’t know how to respond to this comment.
My cheeks stung. Of course, I had a father; I wasn’t an amoeba.
However, I was maybe the only kid in my class whose parents were divorced, but mine had been divorced since I was just 5 months old.
I had only seen him once in my life and phone calls were sporadic at best.
But suddenly, other children were noticing there was a lack of a father presence in my life.
The odd thing was, that absence was not something that I noticed.
Instead, I had my grandfather and my uncle around making sure that I was taken care of and safe.
When I got out of school every day, Paw Paw came home from work to stay with me until Granny got home; then depending on how much daylight was left, he’d go back to work.
We spent many an afternoon watching soap operas, Charlie’s Angels, and anything else Granny would call nonsense and complain about, all while eating something sure to spoil our dinner.
We talked about the merits of cats versus dogs, with Pop saying he liked them both equally, but a cat never woke him up in the middle of the night barking at nothing.
He taught me how to play card games, cheating the whole time to get the Tootsie Rolls I wagered. To this day, I’m still not sure if I know how to correctly play rummy.
Bobby was the one that kept me in school supplies and, long before the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, would gift me a big pack of Scott tissue every Christmas, laughing hysterically until he wheezed at my expression over the gift. I have told him recently that would be a welcomed and wonderful gift now.
I was usually found smack dab between the two as they watched whatever sporting event was on TV, asking what a RBI meant, wanting to know why baseball games lasted longer than games of Monopoly, and marveling at how upset my grandfather could get over a football game. I learned all my good bad words in those moments.
It was all grand entertainment and my favorite way to spend an evening.
When they went to UGA’s home games, they always brought me back some red and black paper pom-poms, knowing good and well I was too clutzy to ever be a cheerleader.
They both were my biggest fans and co-conspirators of many things, as most of our schemes involved how to get around the perpetual and highly explosive landmine that was Granny.
Growing up, my uncle and I spent hours, taking care of numerous strays that showed up at our house, and no matter how many critters I dragged in, he would immediately say, “OK, let’s go to the vet and make sure it’s alright.”
The more Granny fussed, the more we ignored her.
“We’d have a dang mansion if y’all didn’t take care of all them cussed cats,” she said one day. “All the money y’all spend on cat food, cat litter, vet bills — it makes me sick to think about!”
Both us would sigh, a sigh that could only be felt by those that had lived with the Redhead Prime.
Eventually we had so many, she probably lost count.
So, between my uncle and grandfather, I didn’t have a moment to realize that my own father didn’t contact me.
It wasn’t until someone would mention him or point out that he was not very interested in me that I would pause to consider the fact.
I had realized when I was quite young, I was just not a priority in my father’s life — maybe that changed for him before he passed away, I will never know.
But what I did know, and what I clung to, were those that were there in my life and carved out time for me.
They weren’t asked to, they just did it.
My uncle could have easily married and had his own family, but he stuck around to help raise me and has remained an active role in my life to this day.
My grandfather thought the sun rose and set on my tater and believed I was the best thing since sliced bread. He pushed me to do more and be more from the time I was three when he taught me how to write.
I don’t think they ever thought of it as filling that father role — I think they thought of it simply as showing up for the child in their life the best way they knew how.
And that was just by being there.
“No, she doesn’t,” another child whispered in response. “But she’s got a Uncle Bobby and a PawPaw, and that’s much better!”
It truly, truly was.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.