Remembering the “Texas Termite”

Tuesday night, while cleaning up the random files on my desktop, I found this:

As I’m writing this, my grandpa is performing his “crack the egg over the knee” bit, trying to distract me.  I watch him try to spread out the fingers of his right hand across my knee. The tip of his pointer finger is missing, the mark of a table-saw mishap thirty years before, back when he made his living slinging hammers, building houses, including the one I live in now. His other fingers have been bent by age and arthritis, and he can no longer straighten them. Since the Alzheimer’s set in two years ago, he has become more and more fascinated by this. He’ll often grab my hand, comparing it to his own.

I had written it May 13, 2009. My grandfather passed away September 6, 2011. What struck me about the passage was that I had thought to write it in the first place. A few folders later, composed an evening earlier, I came across a half-written poem, its focus that same moment:

It isn’t magic, just a trick of touch

The tips of my grandfather’s fingers, stretching out

Like spiderwebs across my knees.

“Cracking eggs,” he says.

Looking back now on those words, to witness that brief exchange again, years later, I can’t help but feel loss sitting like a heavy brick on my lap. Each sentence, each line, taps against a heart that is still tender in places. And it isn’t all sentimentality that has me sitting here at my desk at work, crying like a child, emptying out a box of Kleenex. It is something else.

When I think of my grandpa, it’s hard to see him as a little boy in overalls, his eleven plain-faced sisters in their handmade dresses looking over at him and his younger brother, Glenn.  The stories shared of his youth spent on the farm have all become fragmented and foggy with time. Distant and unreachable are the many details that made up his life. My grandfather’s love was quiet. He didn’t shower us with gifts or compliments. Instead, he listened. He watched. He made us laugh.

I do know that his handle on the CB radio was “Texas Termite,” that he had ears that stuck out farther than mine. His laugh was raspy and always made me think he was choking on something. He made the best beef jerky. When I was a little girl, he took me with him to his BBQ stand and let me hand out the bags of chips and chipped beef sandwiches to the customers. He was funny. He was goddamned funny.  He wore denim, always denim. Maybe some flannel here and there.

At my grandmother’s house, my grandpa’s red chair, arms and seat worn from years of getting up and down and up again, sits empty.  When I go visit her, I don’t feel right about sitting there.  I want to save his place.

Today is Thanksgiving. My two brothers, my two sisters, and I will all lie around on my grandmother’s living room floor like sloths. We will feel fat and sleepy. And, most of all, thankful. Thankful for all the “cracked eggs,” those delicate emotions of shared experience.

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