Highway 31—a long time ago. I don’t remember which tropical storm it was. But the weatherman said it was going to be bad.
So, my wife, my in-laws, and I left town for the safety of Keego, Alabama.
My father-in-law, Jim, drove the truck. I sat in the passenger seat, eating my weight in roadside-stand boiled peanuts.
My wife and mother-in-law rode in an Oldsmobile ahead. Both vehicles were loaded with every wedding photo, heirloom, and piece of fine China my mother-in-law owned.
We drove through rural Alabama, watching the peanut fields fly past at sixty miles per hour. Weather reports blared on the radio.
My father-in-law turned down the volume.
“Tell me about your daddy,” he said.
It was a straightforward question. But for me, it was an uncomfortable one. I stuttered through a few words.
Brother Jim said, “I don’t mean to pry. Ain’t gotta talk about him if you don’t wanna.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It was that I usually didn’t. In fact, I’d gone so long not talking about Daddy, sometimes it was like he’d never existed.
That’s just the way death works sometimes.
I tried to open my mouth and say something, but nothing came out.
Brother Jim said nothing in return. He ate boiled peanuts from a plastic IGA bag. The truck got silent.
“My daddy used to take me fishing,” I finally said.
It was a pathetic, and juvenile thing to say. It didn’t sound very adultlike. I felt ridiculous for saying such a thing. I might as well have said: “Little Seanie make a poopie, mommy.”
But Brother Jim made no response. He only ate peanuts.
“What I mean is,” I went on in my grown-up voice, “My daddy used to take long fishing and camping trips, we’d fish all day. I’d get sunburned, so would he. We were both redheads. I miss things like that.”
And I kept talking. I told things I’d nearly forgotten. I talked about the black licorice he used to buy. About how sometimes, he would swallow his tongue purely for entertainment value. This made Daddy famous among my friends.
“Swallow his tongue?” said Brother Jim.
It was really something.
We rolled into Keego. Brother Jim’s childhood home was small, located in the sticks. He and I unloaded luggage.
That night, the storm hit. It wasn’t a bad storm, but it knocked out the electricity. Brother Jim cooked a big supper in a dark kitchen.
Lightning flashed outside. Thunder sounded.
We ate by candlelight. And when Brother Jim asked the blessing, he said, “Thank you, Lord, for bringing Sean into our family.”
The next morning, Brother Jim, woke me. Early. He took me to a pond which was surrounded by cattails. He handed me a fishing rod.
We got sunburns together. I caught a tiny bream. He slapped my back so hard I almost went numb.
He smiled and said, “Hold it high, so your daddy can see it.”
And I did just that.
I count myself fortunate to have known a soul as precious as Brother Jim.
The same goes for Daddy.