I tried to piece my daddy back together after he died. At least the best parts of him. I looked for him in others.
I suppose it’s only natural, trying to find substitutes for things you lack—and people you miss.
People like Lyle, who lived not far down the road. Folks called him Smiley. He was the same age my father would’ve been. We became friends.
Once, he asked me to watch the World Series with him at a local bar. I hadn’t watched the Series with a partner since childhood.
A fella at the bar asked if we were father and son. Before I could answer, Lyle had his arm around my shoulder, saying we were. Then he ordered chicken wings.
I ate until I got sick.
Jim was white-haired, and old enough to be my grandfather. He was from lower Missississippi and talked with a soft-drawl. He introduced me to tomato gravy on biscuits.
He was the first man other than my daddy to tell me he loved me. I didn’t know how to answer, so I said nothing.
Jim has Alzheimer’s now. I visited him a few months ago. He doesn’t remember me.
Davey—the alcoholic. Once upon a time, he taught music theory at Auburn University. He smoked Winstons, and a tobacco pipe.
He lived on Campbell Street, in the woods. His apartment was nothing but walls of books and ashtrays. We worked construction together, painting houses.
Once, during a drunken episode, I found him crying on his porch.
He said, “I want you to go to college and make something of yourself, Sean. Promise me you’ll do something with your life.”
I enrolled the next morning. When I earned my degree, I thanked Davey publicly. They buried him in Opelika.
My father-in-law. He had a loud voice and a perpetual grin. He gave me things—drills, lawnmowers, ratchet sets. He took me fishing. He told fantastic jokes which are not fit for repeating.
Once, during a hurricane, when the world felt like it was going to explode, he sat beside me and sang “Up From the Grave He Arose” to take my mind off the weather.
It was him who once told me, “You should be a writer, you know that?”
“I’m no writer,” I explained.
“Then hurry up and become one.”
Well, I don’t know exactly what I am today. But whatever it is, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this without the kindness of people like him.
I’m talking about complete strangers. Those who were not kin to me, but treated me like we were blood. Men who, right now, lay beneath the dirt of Opelika, or under a headstone in Brewton. Who had the gall to tell me they loved me even though I did not return the favor.
I could give a damn about money.
My greatest aspiration is to live long enough to watch the World Series with some kid who feels alone.