I’ve been meaning to send this to someone and realized after they commented on a post that this might be the easier way to get it to them. I wrote this last year for a creative writing class, and promptly cried when I finished it. I miss him so much. I guess today is my day for memorial posts… Oh well, such is life.
The Way I Remember
I remember the cab of the truck, always smelled of gasoline. It was an old truck. It sputtered occasionally, was sorely dented, and painted a mismatched patchwork of blue and gray, but there was nothing wrong with it, nothing to account for the smell. It served us well, those early mornings on the dirt roads of rural Wyoming. Most days I sat in the middle of the bench seat, between him and Uncle Burt, or good old Jimmy, but not this particular day. It was dark, the faint light of predawn glowing red on the horizon, and though I usually slept late, today I was happy to up before the sun. Today Grandpa was taking me fishing.
I can’t say for sure how old I was, more than five, less than ten, and I can’t say how much of this memory is truly real, but only that I remember it. My Grandpa Ray (just Grandpa to me) was a solid man, who looked old but laughed young. Though he’d lived in the city for more years than I could imagine at the time, his clothes gave way his roots.
He wore faded denim overalls, the blue still dark in the creases of the fabric, but elsewhere near to white; its tarnished brass buttons bespoke an age greater than my own. His red and blue plaid shirt was thick, not flannel, but warm enough for a late summer dawn in the mountains. His cowboy boots were good strong leather, dark shining brown when polished, but today they were scuffed and scratched, caked in dried mud and grass. The baseball cap that concealed his bald dome was navy blue, and stitched in gold upon it was the image of a warship, U.S.S Craven it read. The hat, I later learned, was the memento of a reunion for the ship’s crew, decades after World War II had brought them together to ply the waters of the Pacific. The clothes changed many times on those trips, but I cannot remember one without that hat or his boots.
Seated next to me was the tackle box, stocked well enough to give any fisherman pride. A lure for every situation: plain silver spinners in three sizes, brown and green and gold as well; flies that bristled black and umber, some tied with feathers from a bird I imagined to be most exotic. Less exciting, but equally (if not more) important, were lead sinkers: 2 weights of clamp-ons plus the big cylindrical ones; plastic bobbers in red and white; barbed hooks and clips to attach them; and baits of strange color: from the neon green sticky stuff we never used, to the bloody red of salmon eggs (which we did). Next to the box also sat a tin, filled with soft, rich smelling soil brought from his garden at home, squirming thick with hand dug nightcrawlers, caught special for this trip.
In his pockets he carried three knives: the wickedly sharp folding Buck knife he used to clean the fish, its dark wooden handle polished by his hand; the thick, red Swiss Army knife he used to cut the line or whittle back at camp or perform any of a hundred little tasks which might arise; and a smaller Swiss Army that was to become mine that day.
And finally there lay in the truck bed our most important tools: the poles. I remember mine but dimly, a cheap affair with plastic casing the reel, and a button to release the line, but his entranced me. Twice the length of mine it seemed as though it could bend in half without the least worry. The reel unspooled when he cast with the ease I imagine in a spider descending on a thread. And when he reeled in a fish the golden arc which pulled the string spun with a speed and ferocity that indicated perfection in my mind. I dreamt of the day when I could graduate from my ugly childish reel to one as graceful as his.
We rode along the bumpy road to the river quietly, I still waking and he enjoying the sounds of morning. We rode far into the forest, till the road became but a set of tire-tracks burrowing through the tall grass. When at last we reached the fishing hole, a secret one known only to our family, he assured me, we climbed from the cab to stand in dim light on the river bank. That was the day I cleaned my first fish, with the new knife, all my own. I laughed at his jokes, and the way he would pop out his dentures for my amusement, and discovered that bugs could leave their skins hanging on trees. And that is how I best remember him, who meant the most to me, before the cancer and the hospitals and the tears.
Eyes that shone with laughter;
silken copper hair; a smile
Venus herself would envy;
yet your image brings no joy.
Instead, the obvious pleasure
you once took in life
only highlights the injustice
of your death. That you
-who could dance in a storm,
or frolic in a prison cell-
should be entombed
in the dark, uncaring earth
so young, has shaken my faith.
So I weep before your grave;
seeing upon the tombstone,
roses not half so lovely as you.
I’m posting this (now that I finally have somewhere to put it) in memory of Amelia Butler, a very dear friend who died much too young. I hope that it does her memory justice, and that it will serve to remind everyone to stay in touch with those they care for. We hear it all the time: to say “I love you” or “You are special to me” every chance we get, because tomorrow does not always come. And while most of us acknowledge this sentiment, few enough of us really appreciate it. The last time I spoke to Amelia I was out of town on business and it was my last night there. It was late, and I was tired. I ended our conversation somewhat abruptly and promised to call her the next day, when I got home. I forgot. I called her a few days later, and left her a voice mail. I wasn’t worried, we had a habit of playing phone tag for weeks on end. It was a few more weeks before I found I’d missed my last chance to talk to her, and that will haunt me forever. So please, if you read this and have someone special to you that you haven’t told lately, call or text or email them; just don’t miss your chance.