In the light, in the dappled light breaking up the understory in the forest behind my grammy’s house, I see my granddaddy standing at the edge of the pond.
He cautions me to stay back. “The fish don’t know you,” he tells me. “Let them come up; I’ll tell you when.”
The catfish and brim in the pond know my Granddaddy. They know his orange and yellow and green plaid shirt and his mechanic-blue work pants. They know the straw hat that shades his eyes. They know when he and his white plastic bucket arrive at the bank they will eat well. The catfish know, rain or shine, hot or cold, he’ll come.
I reckon neither brim nor catfish will know the liver spots on his hands until he lifts them out of the water, off the hook, and sets them in the gray bucket that we’ll carry back up the hill.
I know my granddaddy. I know how the vinyl seat of his pick up truck sticks to the backs of my legs in August. I know how that turkey leg that he’s left on the dash of the truck forever reminds him to persist even when life gets hard, even when you feel like giving up.
Whenever I come back to this place, he will be right there wearing the same fishing clothes, taking a day off from golf, and setting down the draft of his Sunday sermon to fish with me. My Granddaddy.
Even now, almost twenty years after he has gone home, as he called it, I know that where there is light for me is in this patch of forest, this portal that still ties me to my granddaddy and the things we shared even when I was wild, ridiculous, and unruly. Even then, he stood in my life doing practical things like getting the fly unhooked from my pants, my shirt, my hair.
And for him, I put my own worms on the hook, dug my fingers into stinky Catfish Charlie. For my granddaddy, I did not flinch when it came time to find a big rock to knock our fish out cold before skinning them. He did so to reduce their suffering.
Wherever he is, there is my light.
My granddaddy is the kind of man who paused from his work to let the song of a whippoorwill transport him backward or forward, but certainly away to someplace easier. Who believed that a rainbow can only ever be a flourishing display of the Glory, the love of God for God’s people.
On the last day I saw him, there was full moonlight shining through his hospital room window. Tubes and lines and ivs crisscrossed his body, and he tried to give us all time to realize that the light he saw and the light we saw were no longer the same.
Yet. In the moonlight, he reached for my Grammy. “It’s a beautiful night for love,” he said to her in a voice too suggestive, too romantic for a dying country preacher.
She laughed and pushed his flirting hand away and then sat down on his bed and let him hold her around the waist. He was eighty and still in love. Even on that day, the light in his eyes and the light in his heart made everything okay, even as he made his way home.