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A Prince Of A Fellow

"You got a good wife. You know that?" he asks as a team of four contestants struggles to come up with answers on America Says, the program blaring on The Game Show Network. "She's a good girl," he states matter-of-factly, and loudly.

"Aw, she's alright," I respond.

"No, she's a good girl. I'll take her back if you're not nice to her."

"Take her," I say. "You'll be begging me to come and get her in less than a day."

He chuckles. "No, I won't. She's a good girl. You know that, don't you?"

She is his daughter and my wife and, frankly, she's traversed a few years since she was a girl. But "sweet Regina," as he likes to call her, will always be his girl.

We're watching game shows while Regina and her brother and his wife visit their stepmother in an Intensive Care Unit in Macon, Georgia. The second team struggles to fill in the blanks and the game rolls along.

"That Regina's a good girl, you know that?" he asks. "And you know why she's a good girl? 'Cause I'm her Daddy!"

"Nope," I argue back. "Because I'm her husband."

He's Arthur Meeks, my father-in-law, and a neurological disease with a hard to pronounce name - Alzheimer's - can't change the fact that he's a prince of a man, no matter what. Sure, we repeat the same banter over and over, and he can be stubborn as a mule, refusing to take a shower or to finish his supper, only to go directly to the freezer to scrounge around for some ice cream. He's always had a sweet tooth and he does love his snacks. It's good to see that Alzheimer's can't take everything from a person.

It's funny how he really is the same fellow in ways beyond his penchant for snacks. Anyone who has ever met him would describe him as friendly, outgoing, even gregarious. You walk in his house and he's going to speak to you, and he's not just going to speak, but to talk with you. While he may not remember your name, he'll be glad to see you and will do his best to make you feel welcome.

No one could have asked for a better friend or neighbor. After retiring, he often drove people to doctor's appointments and for treatments, often taking a whole day to transport them to Macon or Atlanta from his home in Warner Robins. Kids from his church would tell about him dispensing peppermints from an endless supply tucked in his pants pockets. "We love Mr. Meeks!" they told me once while visiting our home during a Youth Choir Tour.

And now, the minute he finishes reading his morning paper, he hustles it over to his neighbor so she can read it. He'll pester you non-stop to make sure you've gotten enough to eat and when he's enjoying his snack, he'll want you to have one as well. "Is it warm enough for you?" he'll ask, over and over, just to check that you're comfortable.

He's been a man of a quiet but deep faith. A lifelong Methodist, he loves his church, Warner Robins First United Methodist, and the people who are a part of it. The other day, he remembered that I'm a preacher and he asked me if I liked my church. I told him I did.

"You're a Methodist, right?" he queried me.

"Yes, sir," I answered.

"So am I!" he blurted out, proudly and happily. "All my life! Adrian Methodist, that's where I grew up."

Adrian is a little town that straddles Johnson and Emanuel counties in rural Georgia. Mr. Meeks's childhood home was easy walking distance from the Adrian Methodist Church and that's where he spent his Sunday mornings as a boy. Those memories run deep.

And, he's always loved his family. He's the proud father of his son, Mickey, and Regina, and he adores Junyth, his wife of 45 years. He's laughed and joked and played with five grandkids and he's welcomed Vicky, Mickey's wife (I know - it's confusing!), and me into the fold and made us feel like we've belonged from the start. Now, even as that stinking Alzheimer's makes names and relationship a little fuzzy, he lights up when familiar faces appear at the door. No matter what, he's never happier than when he's surrounded by the family he cherishes.

The game show lurches toward its conclusion and the contestants vie valiantly to take home the $15,000 grand prize. They come close, real close, but they can't quite pull through.

"You got a good girl. You know that, don't you?" he asks.

I smile, because she really is a good girl. And she had, and does have, a really good Daddy.

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