The scent of hand lotion on bony time gnarled fingers running through my hair as the most beautiful voice in the world gently lofted my brother and I into another world where the Red Fern Grew..
The fingers were my Grandmother’s.
My Grandmother’s name was Emmy.
Emmy Estelle Gassiot. She was of French stock on her father’s side, but her mother, Judith’s features betrayed an East Texas Native American’s high cheek bones and proud nose with deep set dark eyes. No one talked about that. I thought it was terribly savage and wonderful…so noble and authentic. I was of the earth. I was something strong, beautiful and special, it was my secret.
Sure, I stood tall as a Whiteman in this world, as I was high born in my mind through my Grandfather’s English roots…Robert Payne Almond whom begat my Gramps, Robert Samuel Almond.
An Oak of a man.
The rings of time, of the ages all wound around a solid core built of the finest values and deepest love. He was a Mommy and Daddy’s boy. I never knew that. I knew he loved and revered them, but until my Mother, Carolyn Ann shared his letters with me, I didn’t realize he was a sporting young man who was passionate about BASKETBALL of all things! LOVED his Mommy and Daddy and was never shy in expressing it.
I thought I was the emotional one in my family. Always so messy…the younger one, David Paul. No wonder he loved me so much. He KNEW. He knew the feelings I had, though he could never quite voice his true understanding, just some simple words of kind encouragement and a firmly generous guidance.
Everyone but my Grandparents would roll their eyes in true dread when my name came up. They never knew what wild words would roll out of me. So innocently issued, so impossible to take back.
In the quiet moments of the evening when Granny’s lamp cast it’s long rays up onto the canted ceiling of her master bedroom, my older brother, Robert Jon’s slight movements sent creaks from the core of the upholstered swiveling chair he plopped into for each evening’s reading of the bible and later some work of fiction as he lounged next to Granny’s aluminum paned picture window blacked-out by the sun’s retreat a couple of hours earlier. He wasn’t one to clamor onto our Granny’s wide bed and be “loved on” and whispered to.
I could never get enough.
I was a sponge, I loved my Grandmother so demonstratively and thoroughly that any time she had those work worn fingers free, I’d gladly make them busy. Stroking my hair, cutting fruit with her trusty white plastic handled paring knife on the drainboard, making me hot cakes, showing me how to plant seedlings of my favorite flowers, and weeding the monkey grass that bordered her front walk’s length as we swept the acorns away from the oak blackened concrete each morning.
“Daaaaaaaay-Vid!!” she would call.
That love that was never expressed anywhere else to me.
So pure, so perfect, so mine…my Granny made my tortured little mind seem like I could keep living for a little while longer. The rest of my life so miserable and self-defeating. My father had me convinced I wouldn’t make it to my teens with my loser ways, and my “shit for brains”. At Granny and Gramps’, I was someone. They had my picture taken with them and my own name listed along with theirs in the North Richland HIlls Baptist Church family directory each year.
I never sat for a family portrait except then.
I existed to them.
My words came from somewhere.
Big Dan and Little Ann met their fates where the Red Fern Grows…and I wept. Deeply. I know RJ did as well…though he’d never let on. The squeaks of the chair betrayed his hurt. We were frozen in grief, and in awe of the pain that the words coming from my oracle, from the woman I loved the best, from my moral compass, from my dear, sweet Granny could burn and burn so badly.
Oh why did they have to end like that?
It is why I snuggle so deeply with our little girl, our sweetest puppy, Miss Dusty. I want to take in every little puppy breath and hold her little heart next to mine. To take in the little Frito smell of her softest of soft ears as I rub them gently to sleep on her beautiful head…my time gnarled fingers, my work worn hands.
My Granny’s little boy’s hands.
Now I have a sweet demascus steel hand hewn paring knife I bought at my favorite family owned hardware store in the Shibuya district of Tokyo many years ago…and each time I take fruit in my busted-up fingers to slice a sweet bite, I do my Granny’s work.
I am proud of who I have become, and I doubly feel all hurts I have caused, and savor each sweet passing moment as I march steadily along to my own fate, as Big Dan, Little Ann, and my own sweet Granny did before me.
Look at your hands, count the scars, remember the pain, remember the gifts, and think of those that cherished your breath.