“You see my finger?
See my thumb?
See my fist?
You’d better run!”
He shook a muscled fist in mocking threat, and we made feint to run, watching the twinkling blue eyes under the salt-and-pepper flat-top for the next joke. Forty-something years of dairy-farming made Grandpa’s hands thick and strong, and the rough-handling of life left him laughing.
“How are you, Grandpa?” we’d ask. And maybe he’d been hugging his heart-shaped pillow after that long-ago bypass surgery, or maybe he’d been fumbling for a pain-pill, or maybe we’d just watched him struggle to transfer from wheelchair to recliner on neuropathic feet. But he wouldn’t let-on that he was hurting: “If I was any better, I’d be twins!” he would grin.
Cue remark from one of the grown-folks in the room that one Grandpa was quite enough to handle!
When my daddy was a boy, Grandpa’s hands beaned a bull between the eyes with a fence post, because said bull dared to chase my dad. In my memories, those hands dig fence posts, grab my toddler toes, hold Grandma’s hand — across the yard, across the parking lot, in the car, in their chairs at home.
He always joked that Grandma let him be the boss once a week — Fridays, usually — if he behaved himself. But behind the raillery was romance. He kept the nickel she gave him when they met — “Call me!” — for long years afterwards, so that he could even show it to me, the eleventh of forty-six grandchildren.
We approached his seat at the head of the long table in the kitchen where his eight sons and five daughters — our parents — had eaten their childhood meals with reverence, “Yes sir” and “No sir” ready on our lips, pleasantly apprehensive of his teasing, but certain of his love.
“Why, it’s the prettiest girl in Mississippi!” he’d exclaim. (I was the only granddaughter from Mississippi.) “It sure is good to see you!” When I was tiny, he called me “Stacy Lucindy.”
In the hospital two weeks ago, he was still glad to see me, but he didn’t reference Mississippi or my name. The IV pole had a faulty line and kept beeping and beeping, the room was hot, my baby hungry. I let other people do the talking — habitual for me — but didn’t follow the conversation very well.
Then he asked it: “What did you marry?” Classic Grandpa. I don’t remember what was said that inspired the question, but there it was. He knew me, and recognized my little family with his usual teasing. We caught the moment on an iPhone screen: an old man in a hospital bed holding my baby’s hand. Root, meet fruit.
It must take time and distance to be able to sum up a life. I’ve had one full day and the distance between Florida and Mississippi. There are too many things to say and too few words.
My baby won’t understand all the ins and outs of the large family tree from which he springs, but I’m pretty sure he’ll know that his mama had a good grandpa.
Because she did.
©2017 by Stacy Crouch