I only knew my step-grandfather. I have been told I met my father’s father and my mother said her real father came by the house once, but the only grandfather I knew was my mother’s stepfather. We called him “Granddaddy.” When I think of Granddaddy, I think of his love of fishing. When we visited him and Big Mama (my grandmother), he would usually take my dad, brother and me fishing on his favorite fresh water lake.
The irony of all of this is his best friend, my real grandfather’s brother, would join us. While my real grandfather was a wanderer (which is the nicest thing I could say about him), his brother was one of the kindest, most loyal people you will ever meet. And, to make the irony complete, the brother was married to one of my grandmother’s sisters until she passed away.
But, this is about Granddaddy. He was a gruff man, one of few words, but I have seen him cry at weddings of his grandchildren. He dearly loved my cousin who had Autism and lived with them for a brief time. His house was also open to my mother’s oldest sister (and another cousin) when her husband was in Vietnam. He was bricklayer and house builder. His hands were very worn and he could pick up a catfish bare handed as he removed the hook. If you know fish, a catfish can slice you open with its sharp fins. When he fished, he would use two rods and reel out of the back of the boat. It was not a fancy boat, seating only three in its ten foot length, but it was his.
My favorite memory was the day the fish were hitting big. I think we hauled in over 150 fish between the two boats – my older brother would be in my Great Uncle’s boat. Granddaddy probably hauled in 80 by himself. He was so quiet when he fished, you could not tell by his demeanor when he was catching fish, even when he was having a very successful outing. This was the day his teachings of how to clean a fish were practiced over and over again. He was very patient as he taught my brother and me how to do it. And, we ate what we caught – fried fish, hush puppies, collard greens, corn bread, etc. Those were feasts, especially after a long morning on the water.
Granddaddy loved my grandmother, but they would have a tete-a-tete on occasion. Big Mama would get mad at him and he would say “Madame” and proceed with his defense. When we heard “Madame” we knew it was not a fun conversation. We also knew he was outgunned. My grandmother could talk, so she would not let anything go without colorful discussion. She would win almost every argument, but even when she was right, he did not want to hear anymore.
One time, I deserved his wrath as before one of our fishing trips, I knocked over a basket of crickets in his house. My dad was the one who carried out the fussing, but I know he beat Granddaddy to the punch. My mother later told me Big Mama heard crickets in the house for months. Granddaddy would only shake his head and curse under his breath.
Granddaddy died of lung cancer. The last few months of his life he could only speak with a rasp, as his doctors actually damaged his vocal chords with some of the tubing he had to swallow to breathe better. He dared not sue them as they were only doing their job. Having been a bricklayer, he knew first hand that mistakes could be made and you fixed them and moved on. He was not a litigious person. He was a hand shake person. But, to his death, he was always thankful for our visits as they meant so much to him. And, vice versa.
Big Mama lived for fifteen more years after his death and she missed him greatly. No more Madames. No more fish fries. No more yin and yang. They were quite the pair. My grandmother, the character who had character, and my quiet, decent, and hardworking grandfather who loved to fish. Thank you Granddaddy. Thank you both. I remember you well.