I don’t know that there has ever been a more loving, charismatic, and joyful being. I’m sure there have been some that are equally as meek and loved as he was by his family, but none greater in character, heart, nor personality, that I’ve ever met.
Luckily for me, he became apart of our family when he married my grandmother in April of 1973. She lost my biological grandfather years earlier, and so she remarried. It’s unfortunate that I would never get to meet my biological grandpa, but 24 years after their marriage on January 23rd, 1997, he would become the grandpa, my “Papa Tommy” that I simply never could have imagined.
The day I was born was a wait that ended up a long time in coming for him, as he would later explain to me when I became old enough to understand. Papa had one son, “Little Tom” as he was named after him. Little Tom first had twin daughters, Amber and Nicole, and then a third daughter a few years later, named Krystal. Then on our side of the family, he had two “children” that he came to love as his own when he married my grandma, one being my dad and the other his sister, Teresa. My Aunt Teresa started having kids before my parents, the first one coming in the late 70’s just years after Papa joined our family, and the last of 3 in 1987. All three were girls, Stephanie, Brandi and Cortney. During the run of grandchildren that continued on from the first girl to the last, Papa ended up the proud grandfather of 6 girls.
He loved and spoiled them all, not favoring one over the other when they were all together nor apart, and they will all speak on my behalf and tell you there’s never been a more loving and proud man of his grandchildren. You would think that a grandpa would get exhausted at times entertaining and playing with 6 young girls when they all came together at family gatherings, but for him it was the complete opposite. The moments spent with his grandkids were what he lived for. Once the first of the girls left the toddler stage and were able to play with Papa, they became his “sidekick” on the weekends, and once you were old enough to be strapped in that car-seat in the front of his ole’ Chevy truck, you were hauled around with Papa to any and every place a kid could possibly want to go. Toy’s R Us, Chuckee-Cheez’s, the park, the mall (the girls’ favorite), it didn’t matter, he was sometimes more ready to go than we were.
Yes, I finally got to join the lucky bunch of rug rats in January of 1997, when I, his first grandson, was born. My parents were his last chance to have a grandson, and luckily for him and I, I became the 7th grandchild and the first boy. I would later come to find out from all in my family, how much he loved me from the first day I came into the world, how much I meant to him as a baby, and how much more than just a family man my Papa Tommy truly was. Although I and my 3 cousins (Steph, Brandi, and Cortney) were technically just his step-grandchildren, I don’t think any of us have come to except that as anything more than just biologically true. He loved all 7 of us just the same, we were no doubt his pride and joy.
Once I was about 5 years old and able to start riding around in the truck with him and the girls, I began to learn just how much he loved spoiling us, and we all just wanted to be with Papa all the time during those days. The first thing I remember of my most treasured times with him were those Saturday mornings, when he would come to my house and pick me up, usually already with Amber, Nicole, and sometimes Cortney with him (the other girls were older and aged out by then). I’d come outside to see all my older cousins piled in his front seat, a bunch of young girls beaming with excitement, their moods radiating off of his. I would begin to brighten up too, as I did every Saturday morning that he came, for I knew it would always be an adventurous day ahead with Papa, no matter where we went.
“There’s my little buddy!” Papa would always say to me every time he came. That’s the one thing about him that he did to make me feel so special, I was absolutely his little buddy. From what I can remember growing up, he called us all “his little buddies” but I could tell for some reason, that when he said it of me, he loved it more than anything else. It wasn’t that he loved me anymore than any of the girls or was more proud of me, it was that out of all his beloved grandchildren, I was his one and only grandson. And with me being the youngest by quite a few years, as all the girls began to turn into teenagers and spend more time growing up and chasing boys, I was privileged to be the last grandchild that would spend those long Saturdays riding around and making memories with Papa Tommy. I was barely old enough to understand what being his little buddy meant to him as a child, and now as I reflect back on it I, I still can’t express how much pride he took in me, and how much he loved me.
I remember on Sundays, for about 3 years straight from the time I was 8 to 11-12 years old, my parents and I would go to his and grandma’s house after church, as she would cook lunch for us all. By then, I wasn’t spending many Saturday’s riding around going to Toy’s R Us and such places with him anymore, partly due to growing out of that stage and other Saturday activities such as hunting with my dad in the fall and rec-league basketball in the winter (Papa came to all the games, of course). So Sunday’s after church were his favorite, because he always got to see his little buddy, and I only wish I could have realized how equally shared in that privilege I was too, looking back on it now.
The funny thing about him I and our whole family could never forget, is how much black pepper he loved to put on his food. Corn, butter beans, garden peas, hec probably even yams or cranberry salad dishes (Yuck), he would always load it up with pepper. Grandma would always have chicken pastry on Sunday’s as the main dish, because she knew how much Papa and I both loved it and so we always had to have it. By the time he got done peppering his down, the pastry was more black than it was white; so, just to be like him, I would start putting lots of pepper on my food too. He told me it would make me get big and strong and put on my hair on my chest like him, and just as he would, I’d eat it all with a smile on my face. I just wanted to be like Papa, and now that I’m old enough to realize, I know there was nothing more in the world that made him happier, than those times like that with his little buddy.
When I was around 7-8 years old, Papa had me come to his work one day at the Superior Essex Power Cable Company in Tarboro, NC. He had persistently “reminded” my dad for months to bring me one day so he could show me around the plant (and partly to show off his grandson to his employees). Finally, that day came when me, dad and even grandma came in to his office one day around lunch. You would have thought he was having the best day ever when we came in his office and he sat me in his spinning chair by his desk. He was probably almost that happy everyday, he always seemed to love the plant and what he did there. All he ever told me about was how he got to ride the golf cart around inside the plant, and that when I came to see it, he would let my DRIVE it around in there. I had highly anticipated this among making the visit, as I had never driven anything before, and all the better way for him to spoil me by letting me steer it around his work.
Surely enough, we did just that. It was one of the coolest of all the memories I ever had with him, driving that golf cart around the plant sitting in his lap as he helped me steer it the least he could, showing me his belief that I could drive the cart “on my own”. He was a supervisor of some sort and weaving around the high walls of cables and checking that all of the people were contently doing their jobs was probably something he did everyday. I’m not sure of how exactly high-up his role was in the company, I just remember him and my parents telling me that he was “Boss” at work, and he kept everybody straight.
He could have been the head manager for all I know, but what was clear to me about how those workers I met acted around him, was how much they liked seeing him when we came by on that golf cart. Papa introduced me to every person we rode by that day, and in the instant of his presence, the brightness in so many of their moods shone instantly. He knew them, better than any regular old manager would know the people who work for them. He joked, laughed, and carried on with them about something with every meeting and I could just tell, reflecting back now, how he was so genuinely liked in that plant, and anywhere he was with those who knew him. With Papa, he made you feel like you were his best friend. His personality carried such joy and just made you feel good anywhere he was, whether at his work or at family gatherings with all of us.
Papa Tommy loved us all so deeply, and I think he loved spoiling us all (especially me) just as much. The perfect example of this, was his Christmas tradition that he upheld from the time I was old enough to remember until 2010, when I was 13 years old. The Saturday before Christmas, he would take all of us to the mall for the day. It was always Cortney, Brandi, Stephanie, our mom’s, and I. I remember riding to the mall with him and he’d play Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer over and over again because that was the only one I wanted to hear (we never listened to any of the other songs on the tape until I was at least 10), and he’d sing it just as loud as I did most of the way there. After we all had lunch together, he’d give the grandkids each one-hundred dollars to go spend on anything we cared to shop for in the mall that day. We’d all split up and that was his big Christmas gift to each of us, before the individual presents that were to come from him and my grandma on Christmas Day. The thing was, there secretly was no “cap” on my one-hundred dollars, as Papa stayed with me the whole day as we’d bounce around the mall between the toy stores and any other department I wanted to go to. He would buy me about anything I wanted in there that was reasonable if I could convince him I’d use it for something. He didn’t do it just to spoil us, he did these things to teach us what it means to give, and to show us how to take care of the people you love. And he simply loved us. That was the kind of grandpa he was. We were indeed very lucky to be able to take that money he gave us and go spoil ourselves; but really, the things like that one day out of every Christmas season spent with us, spoiled him more than I ever realized back then.
In 2006, Papa received his first liver-transplant from the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. When he arrived back home after the surgery, I gave him a picture I drew of us, just as stick figures with squiggly hair, that said “Welcome home Papa, I’m glad you’re back and hope you’re feeling better, Love your Little Buddy”. You would have thought that just seeing me again and me giving him that completely healed him. That radiating mood he had on a room had spread to all of us who were there at his and grandma’s house. The big hug he gave me from his chair completely hid any physical ailment he was feeling at that time from me. Being only 9 then, I was just glad that Papa was back with me again, and my God was he too.
He remained as bright and loving as any could be.
In 2008, that liver he received failed him, and this time I went with my parents to Jacksonville for his second liver-transplant. The few days before the procedure would take place, he spent every moment with us doing everything we wanted to do. When he didn’t have to be at the hospital having tests run in preparation for the surgery, we were out to eat, touring the city, and one day in a huge arcade/restaurant in which he took me around to every game I wanted to try, and stood right there and watched me play them as many times over as interested me. I’d never seen such a place in my life before, and how glad I was that he was there with me to show me what a bigger part of the world and life was all about. Through such a tense and fearful situation, I don’t think there’s anyone who could have been so fearless and full of thankfulness, for the moments and family that he had, like Papa was.
Every step of the way.
I shared many, many more priceless memories with Papa Tommy in the years to follow after successfully going through his second transplant. He continued to take us to the mall that one Saturday before every Christmas for the next 3 years, and absolutely continued to love us all unconditionally, and has never stopped since. I know that he hasn’t.
On July 7th, 2011, our family physically lost Papa when God called him Home. He was 66 years old. The tears his memories have caused me to shed on this keyboard as I recall how much of a uniquely loving man he was to all of us, can only begin to describe how much he means to me now.
I never realized how much of an effect he had on people, and how loving, caring, and charismatic Tommy Boyette truly was while growing up as his grandson. Now that I’m old enough to understand how much he truly loved me and the others in our family, I can’t begin to explain the pain it causes that his physical presence is no longer here, and how much I miss him.
As I’ve matured these last 6 years of my life without him being here, looking back on the things he did for us and the pure joy I've realized he got out of these moments with his “little buddies”, I’ve felt closer to him upon learning just how much I meant to him. Even more ironically, I’ve come to appreciate everything about him and cherish the life that was spent with him now, even more than I did as a kid/young teen.
More than anything, I wish I could just spend one more day with Papa, and ask him things about life, about women, about his take on the world that I’m living in now. And mostly, to hug him one more time, and to physically express just how thankful I am for him and how much he shaped my life. Looking back now, my Papa Tommy was undoubtedly the most outgoing, supporting, and loving being one could find in a grandfather, in a person.
Above all, Papa taught me the importance of loving others, especially family. He taught us all this in the way he treated and spoiled us, and in the passionate way you could just sense of how much he cherished life with our family and his 7 grandkids. Even if things in life aren’t the way you always want them, even when you have a lot of work to do, aren’t happy with the amount of money you have or your current job, you can always love the others around you in your life continuously. That’s what Papa Tommy did.
For Stephanie, Cortney, Brandi, Amber, Nicole, Krystal and I, we thank you so much spoiling us and and loving us in a way that was truly enough.
And Papa, I will always, and forever be,
Your little buddy.
Until we meet again,