I recently wrote this short piece for a specific purpose that didn't pan out. Rather than allowing it to succumb to the slow fire of time in a folder somewhere, I'm posting it here. Writing it was a therapeutic exercise, allowing me to organize the memories and put them into a meaningful framework. I'm glad I finally wrote it all down.
I never met my mother's father, but I have seen him. The photograph is grainy, the obligatory black and white of the forties or fifties—I'm not sure when the photo was taken. He looks like what one would expect of a Kentucky farmer who survived the thirties: leathery, stunted, unfathomably tired. The camera faithfully records the thinning hair, the hollowing eyes, the unraveling formality of his only dress clothes. Shy and embarrassed, he looks slightly away from the camera, down and to his right, his hands clasped loosely at his waist while he waits silently for this awkward moment to end.
His hands speak to me the most.
I imagine those hands milking cows, slopping pigs, steering tractors, hoeing weeds. They're out of place on his small frame, enlarged and gnarled from laboring dawn to dusk every day of his adult life. A short life, as it turned out. His stomach killed him—an ulcer or a disease or an infection. My mom told me once, but I can't recall.
I passed much of my childhood at the house he made with those hands, visiting my grandmother, alone among the hills of the sun-drenched farm they carved from the wild green of Kentucky hills. With the nearest neighbor half a mile down the rutted gravel road, her only security was the .22 revolver under her pillow. It sufficed. To my knowledge, she fired it exactly once in self-defense, from her front steps into the night sky. Once was enough. They never came back.
I must be five or six. At the south end of the house, I spend hours tracing my fingers along the furrows of mortar my grandfather smeared around stones, layer upon layer, until a chimney stood there.
His handprint rests in a large patch of mortar. I press my palm against it, the absence of the hand laid there decades before dwarfing the flesh and bone of his daughter's son.
It's very hot. My grandmother calls me to the well in the front yard, also made by my grandfather. This is a treat for me, a ritual for her. She smiles and tells me to lower the bucket like I've done a dozen times before, even though she has indoor plumbing now—flush toilet and all. The outhouse he constructed in the reaches of the back yard all those years ago is just a rickety reminder of how far she's come, too much of it alone.
I lower the bucket until I hear the hollow splash, feel the increasing water weight drawing the rope down. "Pull," she whispers. I labor at the task, but my grandmother is patient. When the dripping bucket finally emerges, she maneuvers it to rest on the side, stable on the stones, and softly dips the ladle in. A scoop of water gushes into my cup, filtered cold and clear by the deeply dug earth, protected by a ring of rocks stacked by a man I never knew.
The water glitters in the sun, smelling of rain and grass and freshly plowed soil.
My grandmother tilts her head a little, wears her familiar, kind, slightly sad smile. "Drink," she encourages me. With a quiet laugh, she tousles my hair and gently grips my shoulder.
At his hand-dug well, in front of his handmade house, standing by the love of his life, grateful, I drink.
What my clients say
Kerry has done a great job copyediting for us. In addition to editing the manuscripts, he has also tagged one manuscript for our typesetter and done some minor fact-checking for another. His estimates have been accurate, and his work has been on time and thorough. He knows Chicago style well, and I would definitely recommend him for editing. I am always hesitant to try new people, as I have been disappointed in the past, but Kerry has proved himself, and he has now been added to our list of freelancers, which is a very short list.
- Amber Henderson, Managing Editor, AdventureKEEN