I watched DaddyTroy during dinner. Careful not to blow my cover, I shared equal glances with everyone. Not that he would have noticed. The whites of his eyes were dingy from years of field dust and the smoke always trailing from the Winston’s kept in the chest pocket of his coveralls. He has always worn coveralls. I couldn’t imagine him in jeans. I wonder the last time he wore a t-shirt.
There’s a hair that sticks straight out from the spot on his nose where a cancer was removed. He doesn’t pluck that hair anymore, and that is just one of dozens of ways that he is letting go. He’s not darkening the white spot just above his forehead anymore. He’s become indiscriminate about the caps he wears down for dinner. Now they’re all greasy around the rim. I guess he’d rather that then comb his hair.
Growing up, his old brown comb was the first thing I grabbed for out of the shower when I stayed with them. Grandmommy had a little pink one with a handle. I’d use that one if I was taking a bath, but if I was taking a shower in DaddyTroy’s bathroom, I’d use his. I preferred baths, so sometimes I’d sneak over and steal his comb before taking one.
I’ve begun to lose touch with him. He’s been fading since her passing. He’s beginning to let go of the portion that’s left. She’s gone, and now he’s leaving. I can tell.
I knew the sound of his joy. It was the sound of whistling, old manwhistling, whistling “Johnson Had An Ol’ Gray Mule,” whistling “Hey Hee A Door’yer.” No one even knows those songs much less what they mean. That’s why they make my friends laugh.
Robert was eating Lucky Charms and, out of nowhere, he said, “Nobody gets a hand on me Lucky Charms.” I always feel the need to reciprocate in times like that, so I just started singing “Johnson had an ol’ gray mule, his name was Simon Slick, and everywhere that Johnson went the mule was sure to kick—and he’d say, ‘O’nkee, onkee, onkee, onkee…’” We folded over in laughter. Of course, he’s easy. He’ll laugh at that one every time. And he knows where it came from.
The other day I told DaddyTroy that it’s time to get back out to the lake, time for a family fish fry. He didn’t even hear me the first time I said anything. I wondered. He gave me this sideways look when I said it again. It almost had life to it. We were out back near the old candy garage. It looked like it could topple over in a windstorm. The wood was rotting all over, and I could see where mice were getting through.
There’s an awning that comes off one side of that garage to cover the boat, and that’s where the sink and counter are where he always cleaned the catfish. I could still see old flecks of scales from perch and crappie. Or were they imagined?
He just smirked as he cocked his head sideways and smacked the side of his mouth like he does when he’s not sure what to say. Then he went for the boat. When he turned and started toward it, I saw his step quickening, and I heard him for the briefest of moments start to hum something and then catch himself. I wonder if he’s scared of what might come out, or if he’s just forgotten the melody.
I guess we could all go on being upset with him that he doesn’t take care of himself any better, and he’s let the floor in his room cave in on one side. That room was added on after Grandmommy gave birth to my mother. The house was small as it was, and they really benefited from that extra bedroom. It was built from the wood of an old church that had been torn down next to property that DaddyTroy’s parents had owned.
All those years, since 1952, it’s like they had been sleeping in their own little chapel. If being dunked in a trough of ordinary tap water can represent salvation, then I suppose having a bedroom made of authentic church wood has got to mean something.
I can’t blame DaddyTroy for letting go. Grandmommy was the best I could’ve hoped for in a grandmother, and I can see it clearly enough. His will, now, is to be going on to her.
by Blake Edwards, March 12, 2006
An incomplete chapter among incomplete chapters for a book never finished.
Troy Howard Griffin died on December 9, 2006, at 83 years old
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