You live by the sword, you die by the sword was somewhat his motto. Until he got sick. Funny he never mentioned the saying again after his diagnosis. Bravado displayed in earlier times must’ve become the clique only when his vice turned into a death sentence.
He’d never meet three of his five grandchildren and only really knew one of them, as the boy was a toddler but the little girl only a baby when their grandpa died. Oddly enough, the boy would later make up a song about his Grandpa John while strumming a toy guitar and wailing away about things they’d done together in the short span of two years. The final refrain was a blunt, And he died.
They’d gone on rides in the truck, the carseat tied in with a rope, and the little one’s frantic mother noticing him missing only after they’d long been gone. Grandpa created a stir by goading him to point at a storybook Cruella DeVille and call her Mama. There was no love lost between the two in-laws, and her dig was dubbing them outlaws.
Few pictures remain of the boy and his granddad in those good days of — perhaps not sobriety, but at least being dry. The man smiling in the foreground of one, with the boy staring back at his thick glasses and reaching out to touch the stiff bristles of his funny mustache. He had become the man he wanted the boy to know instead of the drunken daddy his own son had known, as he claimed from the hotseat at an AA meeting.
Cancer not only attacked nicotine-damaged lungs from 40 years of smoking but a cirrhotic liver weak from another other sword’s abuse over time. He’d never get to watch the kid mature into a 6’ 3” man in uniform, much like his own in the ’60s, with an acoustic guitar in hand instead of a play one. Or see the other four kids grow up to have their own adventures and accomplishments.
His grandchildren stood to learn a lot from him. Maybe not about video games or sports as they might like but how to bait a hook or safely use a 30.06. He’d done so much for the brevity of his short but hard-lived 55 years and physically aged far beyond that span.
He wasn’t an educated man or world traveler but knew the ways from before, when there was no money to throw at problems, just hard work and doing for yourself because you couldn’t afford otherwise. A world gleaned from well-earned experience. One daughter eulogized him as knowing the name of every bird in the trees and plant in the woods.
An old black-and-white Polaroid showed him standing atop the saddle of an Appaloosa stallion named Cloud Chief on whom he honed his farrier trade. Weathered chaps covered his worn Wrangler jeans, probably stiff with the sweat of a long day in the sun and horseshit pried loosed from hooves shod earlier.
He had a perspective on the world not likely found much any more. They’d have known the man he wished them to know, different than the one who raised their parents.
This post follows the prompt “old” from Studio 30 Plus, on an online writing community.