I remember it like it was yesterday. My grandmother (Gram) asked me to go out to the barn for something. My grandparents' barn was now half greenhouse and half darkened storage facility. A big boat used to fit in there. On this warm, summer day, it was nothing but sand and tools hung on a wall. There at the farthest corner of the barn was a small room. Once a closet, I suppose. Still lit by the light of a single bulb. Still ignited by a long chain hanging down. I heard this sound. Tapping. No it's clacking. A low electrical hum and then the rifle shot chain reaction of fingers pushing down keys and letters being hammered into simple stock paper.
As a boy, I had one true idol who helped me (mostly) grow into a man. At home with only Mom, it was my grandfather (Pappy) who taught me what I needed most in life. Pappy grew up having two distinct and long-running careers. His first was on the trains that traversed the Southern United States. A hundred years ago, these slabs of steel were uniting our disparate states. Pappy rode the rails for nearly 20 years. Being a railroad man served as his education. He learned to be polite. Tip your hat and simply nod to those who passed you. He learned to be respectful of all those around him, as respect only came to those who showed it first. He learned to be on time and always willing to work to gain experience. These experiences were the lessons life doled out to each and every one of us.
After leaving the trains behind, Pappy became a forester. Another 20 years taking care of acres of arable land, vast thickets of untouched woods and the same Georgia pine trees that once rode the rails with him. There would be no shoveling coal this time, instead Pappy learned more about the land. He then continued his study at home in his garden. Pappy learned patience from studying those trees and the myriad of details that could translate the smallest spark into the largest fire. In his house there hung a temperature gauge to study and an old wooden dial that would report changes to barometric pressure.
Along the way he met Gram, a schoolteacher, and they raised two healthy strapping lads who were bound for college and greater vistas. Pappy never pushed too hard and always was a mountain of patience. As a mischievous young boy, I tired of climbing all the same pine trees he nurtured to grow in the front and side yards. So, I set out for a bigger adventure and crawled to the top of Pappy's extensive grapevine. Somewhere around placing my foot carefully like a Wallenda and beginning to walk down this precipitous edge, Pappy caught sight of me. I heard him yell at me. That was something I never heard him do before. I was so shocked, I tumbled from my perch into the loam and leaves below. There for just a minute, I could not hear anything. My mind reverberated with the shock of seeing my grandfather angry. In all my days, I never experienced or saw him like this. And I swore to myself that I would never anger him again.
After crossing this line, my education began. I watched Gram cook and Pappy dutifully wash and dry every dish. So, I did that too. Sunday Dinner would normally descend into men sitting around the table, women in the kitchen. I worked in the kitchen, helping put away items and taking care of the washing and drying. Pappy would sit in a big brown chair and read the newspaper front-to-back. Since that chair was hallowed ground, I dutifully sat on the floor and devoured everything he tossed down. Occasionally, he would get out his banged-up guitar and play a little. This would lead to him telling stories which I voraciously collected. I have to qualify this, but Pappy's stories were the stuff dreams were made of. His days of riding the rails became my adventures, my pushing the limits, and my devotion to detail. As much as they were rooted in youthful folly, to hear Pappy roll through them speeding up and slowing down like the trains he was riding at the time provided its own implied lesson about taking life in moderation and always having faith that there was another whistle stop waiting on down the line.
Years later, I am standing there in awe of my grandfather at a typewriter. He did not see me in the darkness and I never told him about how I watched him there hunting for just the right words. When he passed away, my family gathered all these papers together and assembled small books to hand out at the funeral. There is a little blue book simply embossed with "Pappy" that was my lesson plan on how I am still learning to be a man.
Mik Davis is not known for his use of the capital I in writing and rarely writes personal compositions. He chooses instead to act as a conduit for thoughts, feelings and ideas about how music, literature, art or movies may make YOU feel.