He was a happy kid. He grew up with nothing, out in the sticks. His daddy was a turpentiner. His mother was a baby-machine. He had marvelous tales about the old days.
But they were nothing compared to his best story, about how he died—twice. He told that one often. Especially around redheaded freckle-faces.
It went like this:
While in his forties, on the operating table, he died. Three whole minutes. Doctors thought he was a goner. He came back. Then it happened again.
“Heaven is real,” he told me once. “I seen it with my own eyes. And you know what I learnt? The secret.”
My eyes were the size of tractor rims.
He asked if I wanted to learn it. I didn’t even have to think. You bet your cotton balls I did.
“Come here,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
He wrapped his arms around me so hard I heard my ribs creak. He held me that way for two minutes. No words. He smelled like cigarettes and Old Spice.
“THAT’S the secret,” he said. “And that’s how you change the world.”
Despite his poverty-stricken upbringing, he was jolly enough to make Santa look like a jerk.
He knew funny songs, complicated jokes, and he was bad to cry when the spirit hit him. Like when he talked about his mother. Or: when he talked about how he met his wife as a teenager—at a rat killing party.
Later in life, he worked as a salesman to keep his family fed. He sold everything from life insurance, to turkeys and vacuums.
“Vacuums was the worst,” he once said. “Had to lug’em to doorsteps before you even knocked. It was something awful, but you’ll do anything to feed your young’uns.”
He smoked like a fish and talked a purple streak. If you were lucky enough to catch him on smoke break, you’d see him do both.
I got an email yesterday.
It was his daughter. A heart attack. He wasn’t even supposed to live this long. He was nearly a hundred. I suppose happy things generally last longer than miserable ones.
His daughter went on to say that, in the end, he’d become tender. He got so he couldn’t watch the news without crying. They had to unplug his televisions.
His daughter brought the grandkids to see him before he passed. He couldn’t do magic tricks with his stiff hands, and his stories were hard to follow since his last stroke.
But she overheard him asking one of the boys if he wanted to know the secret to life.
The kid said yes.
So, he showed him how to change the world.