Monday, January 23, 2006


Grandaddy died on Saturday. In his memory...

“Belle’s the only one with any sense in this God damned family!” Granddaddy bellowed to no one in particular. A turtle’s head popped up from the fresh water shallows of the lake, heavy, concentric circles marking its appearance. “Come and sit over here by your Pappy,” he said and motioned to the empty space next to him on the deck swing. I picked up the ridged Folgers coffee canister of fish food and sat down slowly, careful not to spill the brown pellets.

“You’re doin’ real well down at my paper, darlin’. Good thing because there isn’t another God damned thing that you’re qualified to do, no suh…” his voice trailed off and he took a sip of Scotch. He extended the glass in my direction, but I wasn’t thirsty. With me, he was frank: Granddaddy treated me like a man. “I think you should keep on, show these bastards how it’s done. Keep pluggin’ away and in another ten, fifteen years I’ll make you Editor-in-Chief. How’d you like that?”

I didn’t look at him. We faced the lake and drifted upward into the moist, twilight air and—just for a moment—I suspended disbelief and worries and everyday life. Then we came back down, the balls of my feet touching the wooden deck. I wanted to push us back up, I wanted to push for the both of us—

“I want you to spell ‘parallel’ for your Pappy,” he said, a smooth palm now resting on my forearm.

“Granddaddy, I know how to spell and I know that I could keep on writing for you but, I’m moving. I’ve made up my mind.” I looked over and his eyes were fixed on nothing and I pushed us back up because he was too old and too distracted to do the practical things anymore.

“I said, spell the word ‘parallel.”


“You’re goin’ to be the youngest editor that joint has ever seen,” he grinned, genuinely pleased, punching the air with his index finger. “They all misspell ‘parallel’—my reporters, editors, the boys in the back shop—”

“I’m moving to New York City,” I said flatly.

Granddaddy stopped the swing. The oak tree and its curtain of moss above us stopped moving. I felt dizzy.

“Let me tell you a little something about this place you’re so anxious to leave,” he began, pacing his speech and temper. “We are 1,200 miles south of Park Avenue for a reason. I decided to establish my family in this town because your Pappy likes being the boss, likes doing as he pleases.

“I see you at the paper and you’re the same way. I’ve always given you what you wanted, when you wanted it. Maybe your ol’ Granddaddy’s a patsy, I don’t know. But, I can’t keep on. If you go up there and leave me and the paper, things are going to get real hard, darlin.’ Your Pappy won’t be able to help you.”

“Don’t treat me like a girl,” I said.

“Damn it, you can’t just pick up and move away!”

He had a way of presenting the modern-day, American South as if it were 19th century Gallic society—albeit a bastardized version. For Granddaddy, it wasn’t just the pace of life or the rhythm of speech, but the social structure. Money wasn’t so much earned as it was inherited. Down here, wealth wasn’t acquired through brilliant ideas—it was maintained in estates and property. Staying in his good graces would be far more lucrative than chasing a Northern dream.

“Belle, God damnit, what are you going to do?” Pappy said, this time his voice betraying more concern than anger. “I’d try to give you a name or two but they all died on me, all my contacts are dead. That’s what happens when you get to be my age. There’s only one but, no suh… he’s so damned liberal I don’t want you knowin’ who he is,” he said and then drew a long, slow sip from his glass. “I gave him his first job—youngest beat reporter I ever hired—and now he’s up at the Grey Lady, chief of the editorial page. Think he worked his way up from the Village Voice or somethin’ like that, hell, I can’t keep track. All I know is ol’ Chris Randolph went and turned into a bleeding heart, Yankee Democrat on me. Can you imagine, in good conscience, livin’ like that?”

“The sun’s leavin’ us,” I said, knowing better than to press the subject. “Why don’t we feed your fish before it’s too late?”
I put the canister to the side of the swing and stood in front of Granddaddy, giving him my hands and forearms for balance. Our arms twisted together as only the young and old can manage to do and he pulled himself up to a standing position. I looked into those eyes, so full of quiet, blue secrets, and recognized that he was everything: I would never again be quite as whole.

He surveyed the water. “Now, I want you to look out for Nathan. He comes runnin’ when he knows there’s food. Yep, there he is—oldest, fattest bass in my lake. Greedy bastard, isn’t he? You know, I named him after that blood-suckin’ lawyer uncle of mine… Comes around at feedin’ time and then he vanishes.” Pappy scattered the fish food, wrist bent, fingers pointed in: for a moment, he was the King of Mardi Gras tossing chocolate and gold-foiled coins to the crowd.“You love me all the time, don’t you Nathan? Not just when it gets dark and there’s no one else and you need to be tended to…” Pappy said softly. He tossed the ridged, metal canister into the grass and then reached for my hand. Together, we watched the last of the bass swim from the clear shallows into the deep green of the distant lake water.

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