Kentucky Stories of Loss

Should I Fall

Who did you lose to Covid 19? My Granddaddy

Granddaddy and I were not afraid of snakes.

When he killed a copperhead, I stood beside him as the axe fell upon the diabolically beautiful body, flecking its diamondback with bright blood. Looking at the faded photo of Granddaddy and five-or-six-year-old me glorying in our spoils (my baby brother, on the verge of tears, stands in the background), I imagine I remember it.

I was proud, not the least bit horrified, without an ounce of compunction. I was chosen.

With Granddaddy, it wasn’t about whether I was pretty, whether I was ladylike, whether I was all that a little girl should be. I need not be a bunned beauty in a cotton candy tutu twirling round and round. It didn’t matter that I was never graceful. I accompanied him on adventures because I was worthy, brave, alert. He never doubted me.

When I was with Granddaddy, it was about being of and in the natural world, unmown grass, wild daisies, sky blue robin’s eggs magically appearing if I just looked hard enough. We shouldn’t touch them, he said, for if we did their mother would abandon them, and they’d never hatch. Horrified that a mother might abandon her young, I resisted the urge to run my hands along the eggs’ smooth surfaces.

It was trudging up the hill from Grandmother’s and Granddaddy’s boxy cedar-sided house, turning right, wading in the dewy, chiggery grass, heaving open the heavy metal gate with what he let me think was joint effort, disturbing the dusty yellow slate soil as we walked down the barren hill to the springhouse and old barn.

Grandaddy was born in that house in 1922, his children were raised there, and he remained after Grandmother died in 2011 until 2019 when he was 96. But the old barn was older. It was built in 1904 and still bore his father’s signature – Harrison 1904. I never knew the age of the springhouse.

As I understand it – and so much I long to know has been lost – Grandaddy’s family were dairy farmers. The six Houser boys headed out in the pre-dawn dark to milk the cows and calves lodged in its stalls. By hand, of course. As a child, Grandaddy’s hair was so white that his mother – who died when I was an infant – more than once feared that he was missing, only to spy him in the chicken coop, his feathery hair blending with the downy plumage.

The cows and chickens were long gone when I scurried up the rickety loft ladder with its missing rungs. I wasn’t fearful, for Granddaddy’s strong bronzed arms would catch me should I fall.

But Granddaddy’s last years were ugly. He resented his children for ripping him out of the house of his youth and fatherhood and grandfatherhood and great-great grandfatherhood when his propensity for falls, broken hips, and an increasingly addled mind led his children to proscribe the independence and adventure that defined him.

He turned on his sons, thrashing, throwing punches, spewing hatred. But he luxuriated in the doting affection of his daughters. The week before his death, he had been diagnosed with Covid, though my mother insists that in his 100th year he beat Covid. His quarantine had been lifted a couple of days before he died.

But the correlation is undeniable.

My mother likewise consoles herself in the knowledge that the last word he uttered was his pet name for her: Annie.

I imagine that in his final, peaceful moments we were on an excursion, me skipping ahead, him guiding the way from behind.

A selfish wish.

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