When night time falls on a border town
the wheels of time keep spinning round There's always a loss when the sun goes down
on the days that we remember
We found Big PaPa sitting by the side of the road that led into Maisie. It was a gray December day right before Christmas. He was wearing a bright yellow raincoat and sitting in a cheaply made kitchen chair. He had his fishing pole pointed out over the road with no hook on the end of his line.
When Mama and I approached him he looked up at me with dull surprise as if I had woken him from a troubled dream.
Mama didn't say anything. She was crying without shedding a tear or making a noise. Crying in perfect silence.
Always the curious one, I was compelled to ask, "Grandpa, you ain't got no hook at the enda ya line. How you spect to catch a fish?"
By that time he had quit shaving regularly, a thing that I believed that Grandpas always did, and the white stubble of a three day growth lined his face and poked out of the creases and the valleys of his wrinkled face. His big blue eyes, always bright and piercing before, were rheumy and half veiled.
He tried to answer my question twice but stopped both times. Then, while I helped into the cab of the truck, he turned his head and stared into my eyes. "One these days, Junior. You'll understand. One these days, it'll all be cleah."
The road home was kind of quiet. Mama laid her head against her PaPa's shoulder and rocked back and forth. His eyes were pointing out the cracked windshield, but he was somewheres else altogether. I tried my best to not say anything else, but time got the best of me.
"What kind of fish were you tryna to catch, PaPa."
It brought him back inside the truck, and, after a bit, he answered me with a question of his own, "Who said I was tryna to catch a fish? Don't ya think I knowed enough to put a hook on that line if I was tryna catch a fish?"
That made me laugh. He laughed too then spoke again, " We'll both laugh now, Junior, but you'll be cryin when ya finely understand." We rode in silence again till I made the turn toward home, and he burst out into the middle of a hymn,
"On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise, And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there."
He sang the lines with such power and force that Mama and I felt compelled to join in on the chorus, and I forgot to even ask him about the raincoat. We were still singing when we turned into the driveway and saw Daddy standing on the porch with a coffee cup in one hand staring balefully in our direction.
"You're fishing with Grandpa again, Junior," That what Thurman always said when he caught me daydreaming. We were eating breakfast at an old hotel somewheres in the Gold Country of California. Thurman said that General Grant and Mark Twain had eaten there before us.
I snapped out of my reverie, "So what if I was? You was reading the paper, so I don't know which of was doing the most to advance the general cause of knowledge in this world."
"I just don't know why you don't give that shit a rest. Big PaPa was out his damn mind when he said that to you. Hell, he wasn't even big by then. Looked more like scarecrow in overalls than a full growed man."
We had finally left Reno two days before. Thurmond and Sersie Miller had spent three nights together at her motel before she decided to go chasing back to Oklahoma after the husband she had just divorced. Thurman didn't seem to be upset about it though; he just mumbled something about tying up loose ends.
"He wasn't crazy when he said it, Thurm. It's the only truthful thing he said in those grim weeks fo he died. Said I'd understand it all someday. That kinda shit stays with ya, lingers like an old beans and cornbread fart."
He laughed, I had finally made my stoneface brother laugh at loud. He quickly took it back though before answering, "Iffn I was you I wouldn't linger on it no how. I would wait up till the day it became clear, and I'd slap myself upside the head and say 'Oh, shit," but I wouldn't let it trouble me before then nohow."
"That's the difference between the two of us, Thurm. You'd wait right till the last moment and slap ya head. Me, I don't want end up sitting in a chair wearing a yeller raincoat and tryna to catch a fish out a blacktopped road. Least not iffn I can help it."
A few minutes later, I caught him doing some day dreaming of his own, and I called him on it.
"I was just thinking that maybe General Grant and Sam Clemens sat at this very table and broke bread. I knowed they were good friends, but I wonder what they had to talk about."
I let him chew on that thought for a bit longer, then asked, "Where to now?"
He stood up and dusted the bread crumbs from off his blue checkered shirt before he answered, then said, " I guess it's time to go find us a new home, Junior. Tulare or bust."
I liked the way he said it, so I stood up too and clapped my hands together, "Hell yeah, let's go find out if these transplanted Okies any crazier than them fuckers we left behind us. Our forebearers were called Sooners, I guess they'll just haveta call us Sooner or Laters."
Thurman laughed again. This time he was still laughing as he started up the truck.