(this is a true story)
I was eight years old and my brother was four. Every summer we visited our grandparents at their modest brick home in south, south Georgia.
My grandfather delivered mail and was the local Baptist Preacher. He had zero education of any kind. A great part of the Southern Baptist religion is that they don’t require their preachers to attend seminary. If you’ve ever been to one of their services, the “no education” thing is quickly apparent.
He liked to take us fishing. My brother and I loved fishing. It was truly the one thing we looked forward to doing while visiting.
Grandpa had a late 60’s blue Volkswagen beetle. Because I was older, I jumped into the front seat and my brother complained about sitting in the back. He always complained because he thought I was spoiled. He was right. My parents liked me more, but that wasn’t my fault.
He still loved me though, almost to a fault. Sadly, he always wanted to be me. To this day, I’ve never understood that.
We pulled out of the garage and headed to the pond. The drive was about 15 or 20 minutes from the house. The gravel roads were bumpy and Grandpa was a slow driver. It felt like it was taking forever and like the gears were barely shifting.
We drove through the minuscule downtown area that had only a couple gas stations, a grocery market and a farm supply store. The rest of the trip was south Georgia rural. We passed by a lot of broken down houses with rusted appliances and stacked garbage in the front yards.
There were trailers everywhere that looked inhabitable, yet I could see that people were living in them. This was so different than my spoiled life back in Florida. My house was huge and clean. I had never really seen poverty. I was used to my cold air conditioned house.
The radio in the beetle didn’t work so my grandpa would sing.
“When you go down in the bellum, you put your money in your shoe. ‘Cause the people in the bellum gonna’ make a mess out of you.
When you go down in the bellum, don’t look them women in the face. ‘Cause the women in the bellum will make you disappear without a trace.”
My brother laughed when he sang, but I just sat there confused. I always wondered what a “bellum” was. I always wondered what was so bad about the women there. I always wondered why my grandpa sang this song with a smile. He would even look over at me during the singing and it made me feel odd.
I was getting bored so I opened the glove box. My eyes nearly jumped out of my head when I saw it laying there. There was a beautiful, silver revolver sitting there. My eyes popped out of my head. I wanted to grab it, but I was scared.
My grandpa reached over and closed the glove box while looking at me sternly.
“Why do you have a gun grandpa,” I asked.
He pointed to some men sitting on a porch of one of the dilapidated house we were passing by and said, “See them nigger, porch monkeys up there boy? I keep a gun because you never know when you gonna’ need it.”
Again, I was confused. I remember seeing those black men on their porch, just sitting there minding their own business. I was eight then and I didn’t understand color. Even though I was spoiled and white, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about people yet.
This memory stayed with me for years and often haunted me. It took me a long time to figure it out.
We didn’t catch any bass that day and it was hot. It was 95 degree, 100% humidity hot. I can still taste the sweat dripping down my forehead.
We got back to the house, grandma smiled and gave us sweet tea. She was always smiling and always making sweet tea.
My grandpa told me to take a shower in his bathroom. I remember the cold water felt so refreshing. I remember the strong smell from the Irish Spring soap bar, I liked that smell then.
Grandpa came into the bathroom and opened the shower door. I told him there was no shampoo. He said I could just use the soap. He said he would help me.
That was the first time my grandfather touched me.
Again, I was confused and I knew something wasn’t right. That was the last visit I remember with my grandpa, even though we went back each summer for the next 4 years or so.
I do remember him taking me fishing again, but he took me alone without my brother. I don’t remember ever catching any bass. It was always hot though. I will never forget how oppressive the heat was.
I’m glad it was me and not my brother. He was so young and innocent, I remember not wanting his laugh to change.
One day during my senior year of high school, I was called in to the office. My mother was there and she was crying. She said that grandpa had died. He had a heart attack. We drove to South Georgia that day and stayed a few days for the funeral.
I had to take a shower in the same shower where it first happened. I couldn’t remember how many more times it happened and I didn’t want to. There was still Irish Spring soap, but this time I hated the smell and it made me vomit.
We went to the funeral. I didn’t cry, not one fucking tear came out of my eyes.
He was gone and I was glad that fucker was dead.
Maybe one day I will tell my mother. I wonder if she knew?