As I share this time with cancer survivors and those celebrating the memory loved ones lost at the Ride for the Roses, it seems appropriate to share a memory of my grandpa.
The fogy greenish water in the sheltered cove offered a reflection of the gentle sun setting over Smith Mountain Lake. I loosely gripped my fishing pole as sounds of the girls preparing dinner floated from my grandparent’s lake house like an aroma. I yawned. My hands were grimy with fish slime and worm dirt, so I meandered up the idyllic wooden stairs to the basement where I put my fishing gear just inside the door on the vinyl floor. Needing only my hands and mouth for the burger waiting upstairs for me, I scrubbed generous amounts of my grandma’s fragrant French vanilla soap between my fingers. In the mirror I could see into the guest room where Grandpa perched on a chair brushing an oil canvas.
I stood beside him watching a barn door appear, one weathered plank and rusty nail at a time. The scene was all in his head; he merely projected it onto the canvas with expert straightforwardness. The rustic door began to take on a course, granular texture. Finally, Grandpa turned to me. The focus in his eyes was almost melancholy. “I have something to show you. On a very special day I will give it to you, but not yet,” he said, walking toward a small wooden cabinet and pulling out a pocket knife. When he put it in my hands, the weight surprised me. It was not a dead weight, but a solid, muscular one waiting for direction. Sharpening had worn down the blade, but it was still as long as my soft childish hand. Although I could see the rippling lake water, countless campfires, where Grandpa had sat carving or slowly stroking a wet stone with long wistful motions, glinted through, as I looked down, not at, but into the stainless steel.
Its handle balanced the blade perfectly in weight and allure. Black masculine coffee flowed through grooves in the rugged brown of Indian skin. It felt as tough as the steel it complimented. “Case” was etched into a metallic oval, which was firmly inlaid in the center of the handle. The wood was from a piece of the barn in my grandpa’s painting, natural, and gnarled. It left an impression in my hand that I would remember until that “special day”. I anticipated the time when owning it would make me more of a man. Only outdoorsmen with class like my grandpa and dad could brandish such a tool. Surely Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley carried one like it.
Over the next few years I saw that knife maybe twice more. My grandpa became very ill, and lung cancer took him soon after. I saw my dad cry.
One year later my fishy hands chucked a fishing pole and tackle box inside the basement door of the lake house. It was dinnertime, but before I could get my hands on a burger my grandma pulled me into her bedroom. Somberly she produced the Case pocketknife. “Your grandpa wanted you to have this;” she choked back a tear. I said, “thank you”, but did not need to say anything, because it was not a gift from her.
The barn door painting hangs in our living room. Tacked to the rustic wood are a map of the lake and a post-it note reading, “gone fishin.”