Searching for a book, my eye wandered
to the shelf below old time radio,
long unlistened to episodes on tape –
The Shadow, The Great Gildersleeve, Red Skelton –
where the forty-one Plymouth model is parked,
true treasure of my diecast collection,
but for the black twin’s missing right headlight
When, I wondered, did that happen, and how?
Was it the victim of a hit and run
by my grandson’s rough taboo make-believe?
Defaced perhaps in a hurried dusting?
Or my own careless photo shooting practice?
My mind shifted into reverse and backed up
to a crisp North Dakota autumn day,
Grandad walking a cornfield diagonal,
I coaxing the Plymouth corner to corner
he hunting pheasant, I hunting whatever
a fourteen-year-old boy learning to drive
hunts – freedom, girls, his buddies’ regard,
Grandad’s arthritic hip impeding his steps,
my over-eager clutch foot impeding mine.
Was it the game he pursued kept him going,
or the game he played with time, still trying
to feel useful, still feeling important
at seeing the feigned smiles on our faces
as we ate roasted pheasant we hated
for its dryness, for its buckshot left behind,
for its pin-feathers not fully removed?
When again have I been as determined to learn
anything through the rhythm of failure,
ease the gas pedal, glide the clutch, kill the engine,
gas-clutch-stall, gas-clutch-rev, gas-clutch jerk forward
wanting the freedom wheels could give me,
but wanting too to be at the opposite corner to pick him up
not wanting him to know I could not master this skill,
not knowing he knew what that mastering meant.
His slowness aided my lack of skill in the clutch,
his lack of crony companions as determined
as he not to give up this vestige of manhood,
shot-gun in hand in search of a pheasant
who has done nothing but scratch out a living
to give his hunting final meaning.
Or was the meaning for him not the game
but the hunt itself or perhaps an excuse
to teach his grandson to drive, an impulse
I understand now that my owngrandson,
much too young to learn to drive, but needing
so much learning only a grandfather
can give, not out of any deficiency
of his father but simply by the fact
there are things only a grandpa can teach,
memories only a grandpa can leave.
© 2013 William Bache Brown