Hidden Places

My father’s parents, before they died, lived in a rural area off Possum Kingdom Lake, just outside of Graham, Texas. They owned a chunk of land anchored by a double-wide trailer and a shed out back where my grandfather could build what seemed like anything. It was full of saws and drills and clamps and sawdust and was irresistible and terrifying all at the same time.

The trailer had at least three porches, not counting the carport. From the smallest one out back, I watched the blackbirds roost in the huisatche trees near the shed, but otherwise that porch went unused. We spent most of our time making peach ice cream and chasing wild kittens on the side porch and sitting in the splintered swing out front, watching the green and brown water of the lake glisten and stagnate in the blistering summer heat.

The back porch was a hidden place. You had to sneak behind the dining room table to get to it and then wedge open a door that creaked like it hadn’t been opened in fifty years, and even then only a kid the size of a green bean could slip through. Tethered to the porch was an old pitchfork-style clothesline leading the fifty feet towards the shed. There were burrs in the grass that kept you from venturing out there, and the possibility of snakes, and more than a little fear of the man who kept the shop.

I loved my grandfather but I was scared of him, too. I’m a fifth generation Texan, which means some of my forefathers’ hot-blooded, rustic-independent spirit has been buried under my love for designer shoes. My grandfather, however, was a tribesman of that earlier, unfenced Texas, where men still surged across the flats and hills and bluffs carrying nothing but sweat and leather, and later, the impenetrable grime and haze of oil, and beat the land into submission. They were proud, and untiring, and sometimes dangerous, and often honest to a fault. They lived fiercely. They may not all have had the vocation, but in spirit they were all cowboys.

Like most kids, I got in the way a lot, especially in a place where the most exciting thing to do was walk the gravel road to the lakeside snack truck and buy a frozen Twix and a Sunkist. There were more than a few times my grandfather mowed me down with a stare and a yard-long stream of dip spit. But there were hidden places in him, too. He called me Suzy, for example, which had been forbidden by my mother since birth. He built me a jewelry box, and a clock in the shape of an outhouse, and a pencil holder made of two blocks of wood with holes drilled into it for the pencils. All three of those are still in a box in my attic. And when I was seven or eight, he hung a swing from two pieces of yellow braided rope in the scrap tree in the front yard. I sat on that swing for hours. I’d talk to myself and pretend and sing to the rabbits and the turtles sunning themselves on the lakeshore and the tourists zipping by in their speedboats. Summer after winter after summer I would go back and that swing would still be there. I had a lot of cousins (and obviously, Aunt Brookie), but I always believed that no matter who used it, that swing was just for me. It was my hidden place with my grandfather.

When my grandfather died, I was a dangerously stupid nineteen-year-old college freshman. I was so busy with classes and boys and trying to figure out where the next drink was coming from, I never processed his loss. It’s been more than fifteen years, and I’m only now realizing how much I miss him. He wasn’t an ideal man. He had many faults and many faces and I’m lucky to remember the ones that I do, but he lived with fire and he loved with ferocity. I see his picture or sometimes just look at my dad and I remember the blackness of night and the screaming of the cicadas and the tree frogs, the wet-fresh smell of the lake under the sickly sweetness of Skohl, and I understand a little more about my commitment to hard work and sweat equity and taking no bullshit. And that some parts of me, of us all, are hidden, too.

Yee-haw, y’all.

Smooch -s

p.s. It’s funny the places writing takes you. I’d almost forgotten about that swing until I started writing this. And suddenly I realize it’s the center of my memories of my grandfather, and I miss him more than I have in a decade just sitting here, thinking of it. And I feel closer to him, too.

p.p.s. Yes, Possum Kingdom Lake is one and the same as the really awesome Toadies song that you’ll now have stuck in your head for the next hundred days. You’re welcome. -s

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66 thoughts on “Hidden Places

  1. “he lived with fire and he loved with ferocity” – that is beautiful and bittersweet.
    I so much enjoy reading your blog. And I’m glad you remembered.

  2. oh, my grandpa is full of these types of hidden memories too…I’m still pretty darn sure he loved me best 🙂 and isn’t that the perfect kind of grandpa? the one that makes you feel special in a sea of people?

  3. I always think it is funny when they say time heals but the truth is often it does not. Time gives us new perspective and memories on the past but the pain remains. What a wonderful group of memories. Such a lucky grandpa and a lucky girl!!! I really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory with us.

  4. I think it’s human nature – “you never really know what you have until it’s gone” – and in the case of Freshman immaturity, yup, it takes a lot longer for the bell to go off in our hearts and minds…loved this post

    • sadly, i think it took WAY too many years for me to outgrow that immaturity (if, indeed, i have at all). but i’m glad you loved it and am so happy to share it with everyone!

  5. Love it. Beautifully written, I could picture myself there, in the swing and sitting on the porch overlooking the lake. You described everything so well. I’m glad this opened up some great memories for you and allowed you to take some time to just sit and remember your Grandfather. I bet he’d be pleased 🙂

  6. I cannot find words to express how much I love this. I’m Texas, and my grandfather could surely be described as “hot blooded” and “rustic independent.” He is still with us, and I am thankful every day for that, even when he has temper tantrums and I have to count to twenty before I go back in the room with him. 🙂

    • there’s something very specific and very special about being a texan and i’m so glad you feel it, too. and i hear you on the temper tantrums – i remember that, part, too, although it was when i was older, and i admire your patience, perseverance and love for him!

  7. I love this memory and I love that you have such vivid details in all of it. I have a very tender spot in my heart for grandfathers in all of their shapes and sizes- I lost mine while I was also in college- and even though it was hard to process then, sometimes it is harder now. I named one of my boys Lincoln after him and feel it’s perfect. There’s a photo of him in a post I did in December of him and my grandmother in their horseman’s gear on a fence post. I love it. A true gentleman, a horseman, and a great grandpa. Yours and mine aren’t that different- one might just be a little rougher around the edges.

    • there’s something so definitive about that generation – so many similarities no matter how you dressed or what your occupation was. i just went back and looked at that photo (their engagement photo?), and they look so fresh and brave and ready to face the world… all qualities i wish i felt these days! so glad you enjoyed this and to share these memories, too -s

  8. Reading your post brought a flood of memories from my childhood. My grandfather also put a swing up for me (and my brothers) when we were little. Yellow braided rope and all. He passed 2 years ago and the more time that goes by, the more I miss him. Beautiful story!

    • thank you, and i’m so glad you share that memory (or one similar!). it’s so easy for things like that to get buried in daily life (for me, anyway). it’s wonderful to have it all come back again!

  9. You write beautifully about your grandfather. Not perfect yet he manages to leave you with such sweet unforgettable memories. I never really knew my grandfathers on both my parents side. One died before I was born and the other was never married to my grandmother. He married her cousin so once in a while we’d go visit him. Dropped by from Shell’s. Always a pleasure to meet new bloggers.

    • thank you – he had so many sides, and i’m so happy i got a little window into the softer one. so glad you came by and i’ve been enjoying reading along yours, too!

  10. You’ve really evoked a lot of grandpa feelings here. I may have to write a post about my grandpa now. It won’t be as beautiful as yours though.You are so gifted at drawing a picture with your words and bringing the reader right into the picture with you.

      • You’ve got a deal! I’ll be anxiously awaiting your zombie apocalypse story. In exchange, I’ll give you one grandpa story and more of the Hillbilly.

  11. Love this: “. . .which means some of my forefathers’ hot-blooded, rustic-independent spirit has been buried under my love for designer shoes.” And all the rest of it, too. Your descriptions are darn good, I was smelling Texas as I read them. My grandfather was my childhood hero. I miss him. This is a lovely tribute to yours. Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Wait, did I not already comment on this? I thought I had. Something to the effect of “Oh Susan, you blow me away, amazing voice, stunningly written, etc. etc., I’m so jealous that I’m not you and I didn’t write this.”

    For reals, dude.

  13. What a great post! I love how you remembered your grandfather, but I loved that you said at the end how you remembered the swing that you hadn’t thought of in so long and it made you miss him more. That’s the part that got me.

    • i think that swing is something that has been sort of long buried in my memory – that’s what’s so great about writing, the memories that come to the surface!

  14. I so enjoy all angles of your talent susu. Has your Dad read this? If not, he should. Reminded me of my grandpa and my dad, both cut from the same cloth.

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