September 30, 2005

my grandfather (+ haiku)

my dad's dad managed to drink himself to death before i was born making him, sadly, a man i could never meet. a true country doctor of an absurdly tiny missouri town, even 50 years after his death his name is hallowed and revered by the oldsters. i've met a number of people who, upon finding out i was his grandson, have said things such as "your grandfather was a great man. he delivered me on his kitchen table." and, "if it wasn't for your granddad, i would have died. he took my appendix out in his living room. i miss him. we all do."

people very close to him nearly always describe him the same way, "he was a very kind-hearted man, but with a cruel streak." words that could probably be ascribed to me (perhaps minus the kind-hearted part).

he was also, strangely, the town gunsmith. an avid outdoorsman, he built his own boat and would retreat to the minnesota wilderness for a month every year to fish, hunt and generally remove himself from the world that was. i've never seen a picture of him that didn't involve the out-of-doors, or some sense of adventure.

in a family deeply-steeped in oral tradition, i (surprisingly) only know a couple of stories about him. this is my favorite ...

one day my dad was milling around the house when my grandfather burst in, and like a demon possessed, headed to the bookcase. he jerked out audubon's "birds of america" and tore through it. he'd stop occasionally, study it intently and then tear through it some more. after a few minutes he stopped on a page for a long time and nodded twice.

he gave my dad a determined glare with a far-away look in his eye and said, with absolute resolution, "THAT'S what it was! it was a ... GOD ... DAMN ... CORMORANT!" presumably accounting for some freak wayward bird in the middle of a not-supposed-to-be-here missouri countryside.

to this day, whenever i see one, the first thing i always think is, "there's a goddamn cormorant."

this is a well-known story to my close friends. so much so that my first girlfriend wrote a haiku related it the other day. i took the liberty of flipping the first and last lines, resulting in a poem that i am certain my grandfather would love:

blissful autumn day
gliding through sparkling water
goddamn cormorant