Austin Crow: Big smile, sitting down, “Hey, Coco, how are you?”
SD: “Hey Austin, I’m fine, and you?”
AC: “Oh, I’m good, I’m volunteering at the Baptist church, so that keeps me busy. You’re almost done with college, huh?”
SD: “Yeah, almost. Kind of scary!”
AC: “I know! I remember when you were a chubby little baby! You were always so cute, and just a twinkly in your daddy’s eye.”
SD: laughing, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
AC: “So how is your love life? Is there a young man around?”
SD: “No, you know how it goes, my love life is a comedy. Who need men, anyway, right?” Laughs nervously like every girl who is the last in their family to get married.
AC: Crinkles Brow, “You know, Coco, it’s time for you to start finding a man to take care of you.”
SD: Shocked “Take care of me?”
AC: “Yeah, you know, a man to marry and take care of you when you have babies.”
SD: “You know, I’m doing just fine on my own, I don’t need a man to take care of me.” Gets up and huffs off like a brat.
Austin was a simple man, too. Simple and Southern. He held doors for ladies, would put his jacket over a puddle if you asked him and held his wife’s hand as they took their evening walk. He believed fiercely in God and never missed a Sunday service. He loved his babies and the happiest days of his life were when his grand and great-grand babies were born.
The above conversation happened every time I saw Austin starting at age 22. It annoyed the shit out of me. So many times I stood among my cousins, the strong, independent one with all the good dating stories, red wine in one hand, the other hand waving around as I told another comedy. And we would plot what to say to Austin the next time he told me I needed to be taken care of. The winning story was always to shock him by saying, “No, Austin, I don’t need that, I’ve found a woman to take care of me.”
I didn’t understand why he thought I was incapable of taking care of myself. Why can’t I make my own money? Why can’t I support myself? I won’t die if I don’t have the love of a man, my life is pretty awesome without, right?
But what never occurred to me was that he didn’t understand me. Austin spent 80 years learning that men should be the leader of the household, that is what God wrote in the Bible and that’s just the way it is. He did it, and he did it well. He married young. He took care of his wife and his babies. And he loved.
The thing is, he only wanted for me what he had himself. A good life, a life of love and simplicity. And he never said any of those things to spite me, or make me feel like I was a failure. He said it because he cared.
I only wish I had come to that realization sooner.
About six hours ago, Austin Crow passed away in a hospice bed with my aunt and his son by his side. It’s how he would have wanted it, with his babies in his arms, and he is now in the only place he would rather be than holding a baby.
I wish I could go back and thank him for caring about me so much. He was a sweet, old fashioned Southern boy who just thought that a man’s place was taking care of a woman and his family, leading the household.
Thanks, Austin. We could all learn a little something from you.