When I first met him, it was early morning. He picked me up in his old truck, and we zipped off to Brewton, Alabama. The truck smelled like the backside of a filthy goat.
He botched my name. He called me either Shane, Sheen, or Seen. The Irish spelling didn’t register in his brain. He finally settled on calling me, Jeezus, because of my beard.
I called him Brother Jim.
His religion was food. He believed in slaving at the stove, and he wouldn’t fix his own plate until everyone had too much on theirs.
“You’re looking puny,” he’d say. “Getcha some more.”
And then I’d go back for seconds, thirds, and dessert.
He fried his catfish whole, smother-fried his dove, and whatever he did with squirrel was heaven on a fork. He barbecued like a fool, made his burgers too thick, and his creamed corn gave my life purpose.
He took me fishing, I caught several bream. He’d squeeze their bladders, making them squirt urine on my face.
He told jokes, long ones. He full-mooned me whenever he saw me riding up the driveway.
If you knew him, you’d know he had his share of problems. He made mistakes. Still, I don’t know many folks who held that against him—though I’m sure they’re out there.
There’s always someone waiting to tell you how horrible your truck smells.
I remember the Christmas he pulled me aside and said. “Boy, I wanna pay for your college. How much you need?” His eyes, serious as an aneurysm.
I didn’t know what to say. I’d been paying for school since eighteen. I was like a lot of fatherless boys, I took classes and worked full-time.
All I could answer was, “Why?”
“Because, dammit, you married my daughter, and that makes you my blood-son.”
Then he hugged me and told me to think about it. I did. In fact, I still do. Because he’s the second man to ever call me son.
He didn’t pay for my school—I wouldn’t let him. Because the sad the truth was, we weren’t blood-kin. I didn’t deserve half of what he gave. Coolers of shrimp; five-gallon buckets of tomatoes; birthday suppers; and hundred-dollar bills tucked in my pocket when nobody was looking.
I deserved what everyone else had—a father-in-law who couldn’t stand me, who thought I was naive. What I got was Jim Martin.
His old truck still smells like hell. And I should know.
After he died, I bought it.