Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Granddaddy's Diary

I didn’t ask for anything for Christmas this year, but I received a family treasure I thought was lost.

On Christmas morning after the gifts were opened, my father off-handedly remarked about a diary he found in my grandfather’s books. You see, I had been looking for this diary since
Granddaddy’s death in 2000.

It was something he was working on at my request. I wanted to keep a part of him always, and the one thing he taught me was that as long as there is family to keep memories alive, no one is ever forgotten.

On his 85th birthday, I had given Granddaddy the diary to record his history, and he was thrilled with the gift because he had so much history to tell. I inscribed it: “This is to keep you memories in. You never know, I might write a book about you one day.”

Granddaddy always nurtured my desire to become a writer although everyone joked that he just wanted to be immortalized. I don’t know about that, but he did give me something any writer would sell his soul for – a treasure trove of characters that even William Faulkner could not conjure.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents – they lived just next door. I would polish my grandmother’s furniture while Granddaddy would sit in his chair and read. He would read everything he could get his hands on – religious books, novels, biographies, even celebrity tabloids especially The Star.

He could tell you about any Hollywood scandal since 1945. Once he told me that when he got to Heaven the first thing he would ask was who killed President Kennedy and did O.J. Simpson really kill those people.

Granddaddy also told the best stories. He would talk about growing up with his nine siblings and the trouble they would get into. He used to say that he hoped God forgave him for his wild youth. However, I don’t think tying my Uncle Aubrey to a bull and letting him loose will get you tossed into the pits of hell.

He talked about his cousins and aunts and uncles – all of them so outlandish they sounded like cartoon characters. He had an uncle who would color his hair with shoe polish and by the end of the day, it was smeared all over his forehead.

There were the drinkers and the fighters and the gamblers. There were also the preachers and the healers and the businessmen. His life was a saga, and it screamed to be written down.

“I regret so much for not keeping a diary of my life but my loving baby granddaughter asked me to now,” he wrote.

Granddaddy began writing, starting from his earliest memory. There in a worn, bound volume of line paper with a cowboy featured on the cover were my grandfather’s thoughts and dreams and precious memories, and I can’t read a word of it.

He never had the best penmanship, but it will take a handwriting expert to decipher that chicken scratch.

For years, I have been hoping to find it – wishing, imagining the treasure inside. I am left like Gerald Rivera looking in Al Capone’s vault.

Granddaddy still deserves to go down in history as one of the greatest characters Eudora, Mississippi, ever produced, and I plan on immortalizing him just as he would have wanted. But they won’t be from his memories, they will be from mine.

I will remember Granddaddy driving me to Aunt Laura’s store to buy ice cream sandwiches. Or taking all the grandchildren to Miss Lucy’s (the neighborhood meanie) house on Green River Road to leave ugly notes in her mailbox (always the instigator).

I will remember him for chasing us around the yard with his lasso and pulling out his cane and rocking chair every birthday. I will remember him as a wonderful grandfather, but more importantly as the best playmate a kid could ever have.

I wish I could pull out the wisdom and family secrets from that old diary, but alas, it was not meant to be. In a way, I am glad – he always was bigger than life. The legend will live on.

1 comment:

Dana said...

I want the first copy you publish! Oh, fine. The second copy.

You sure know how to turn a phrase.