My grandfather was gutted.
If he were to be believed, my grandfather had survived bloody and brutal hand-to-hand World War II combat. But grandpa was a pathological liar who spent his time overseas building bridges. There are many photos in a shoebox bequeathed to me by my grandmother attesting to such.
His stories not only elevated him to war hero status. If one were to believe him, in between fierce skirmishes on the battlefield, he served as General Patton’s personal chef. The claim was that somehow word had gotten to the General of Grandpa’s finesse in preparing Italian food which Grandpa swore was George’s weakness. He also bragged that he was a licensed NASCAR driver who drove the circuit until his car erupted in a fiery blaze which he barely escaped to the delight of an adoring crowd. And at some point in his heroic lifespan he had been appointed mayor of a small town in Georgia which needed a man like himself to rid it of crime and villainy.
Despite these amazing feats of heroism, somehow in his sixties he found himself felled by the power of the Holy Spirit in the form of a gigantic dove. This encounter left him in a perpetual hollow state of religious frenzy which was tough for anyone who really knew him to buy. I guess it was hard for people to imagine a guy who couldn’t go two consecutive sentences without somehow working in the phrase “goddamn sonofabitch” suddenly becoming holy and worshipful. I was an impressionable twelve at the time and when the story of his religious conversion was relayed to me all I could envision was my grandfather sitting in his red Chevy pickup with a person-sized technicolor talking Disney dove next to him telling him to go out and preach the word of the Lord.
Losing my grandfather to this alleged bird spirit and coming to the realization that a great deal of what he had filled my head with throughout the years was total crap, were dramatic blows to this ginger. Given the unsatisfactory nature of the paternal arrangements my mother seemed intent on making, for as long as I could remember he was my number one go-to guy and the only man on whom I could safely and consistently rely. Until his religious conversion, our adoration appeared to be mutual.
I was grandpa’s little B.B.–short for ballbuster. Though I had no idea what that meant, it felt like the right name for sure when grandpa used it. The history of redheaded B.B. and her grandpa plays out in both my memory and in photographs. We are working in the vegetable gardens, holding up our wooden snowshoes standing in front of a snow bank that is taller than us both, petting my domesticated rabbit, Blackie, that we spent hours searching for in the woods when “someone” accidentally left the hutch unlocked. There are pictures of us building a hunting camp, one of us really working and the other wielding a miniature hammer and grinning from ear to ear in a pair of snappy bell bottoms. Perhaps the sweetest photo is a freshly scrubbed ginger wearing a fluffy pink robe and slippers, sitting on her grandpa’s lap holding a grey and white kitten, head thrown back, laughing. Grandpa is also laughing with both arms wrapped around Buttons and I in a tight embrace.
It’s a picture that doesn’t just tell a story with a thousand words. It defines a relationship without needing words. And then the bond was gone. Taken by something or someone I couldn’t see or understand.
Until my gutted grandfather pulled up in our driveway in his red Chevy pickup towing a camper. On the doors of his truck were magnetic signs that indicated he was a “Campground Minister” and referred to he and his new wife as reverends. Suddenly the image of the dove in my head became much clearer making this ginger slightly wiser and, as the saying goes, unfortunately a great deal sadder.