My Dear Grandson,
It seems as if my most recent missives to you are so heavy and dark. I apologize for that. It reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “A life is not all roses or thorns.” I’ve been poking you with thorns now for awhile so let me show you some roses. Another saying she had was, “Fish and company both stink after three days.” Now that one might take you a little living to truly understand, but suffice it to say it relates to my stay here in this hospital.
You see, I ain’t in the part where people are who are hurt or sick temporarily, or who need surgery and that type of thing. No, I’m up here in the part for the long term patients. That’s what I am, a long term patient. I even got to wear the clothes they give me. Say one day you was to go on a trip down to the Gulf, and when you’re there you see a shirt you might want to buy for me. That’s all fine and good. But you could bring it to me, assuming I ain’t out by then and you even want to come visit me… and if you was to give me that shirt you bought as a present I couldn’t even wear it. Nurses would tan my hide if I even put it on. They’d rather me have no shirt at all than to have one a loved one give me.
Lots of folks up in here ain’t got no loved ones. I’m so happy I got you, and Roose. Without the two of you I might go crazy. Roose is coming to visit with me next week and he’ll give me all the lowdown on what’s going on with you, so it will be like I had two visitors and not just the one.
The thing about the fish statement is that some of the fellows up in here get on each other’s nerves, so they got to keep us separated. We just get tired of being around each other, every day, in such cramped quarters. Aint’ no one of us can ever just get up and go nowhere. Sometimes there’s even fights that break out. Now you wouldn’t think a bunch of hospital patients could work up much of a fight more than a bunch of Girl Scouts, but you’d be surprised. The staff can’t be all places at all times and sometimes the tempers they flare. Aint nobody wanting to be here, so sometimes some one might say something to make another someone mad, or even just look at him wrong. Before you know it they’ll be down on the floor, one atop the other with fists flailing. Takes more than a nurse when that happens.
I just realized I’m getting into the thorns again. Seems like sometimes they start to overcrowd the roses. They sure do stick out and it’s hard not to run up against them. But let me balance all this out a little with some lighthearted fare. Then next week I’ll visit with your great uncle Roose and then you and I can talk about that in the next letter.
There’s this one patient up in here by the name of Clyde. Clyde ain’t too bright, and some of the other fellows like to go and make fun of him. Sometimes it gets out of hand, but most the time it’s just them being mean. One day there was a bunch of us down in this room watching a TV show about outer space. It was one of them documentaries about the stars and how far away they are and what they’re made of and such as that.
Well, some of us was getting a little restless and wanting to turn the channel to something else. That’s when Clyde pipes up and says, “We aint’ never been to the moon.” Now he didn’t mean that we, our particular group hadn’t never been to the moon. He meant that no one, not one person, had ever been there. So some of the fellows get to laughing at him and he starts out on this trail saying why there ain’t no real proof about it that can’t be proved otherwise.
It went on a little till this nurse comes over and just turns the TV off. Don’t let us watch it no more that whole day. That just simmers some of them right down, and they go out to find something else to do, not that there’s that much. Clyde, he just sits there kinda smug like he done proved his point. I don’t believe it sometimes neither, tell the truth, but then when I get to thinking on it, I do believe it.
Anyway, the whole affair got me to thinking on outer space and man’s place in it. Didn’t have much else to do, so I might as well sit there and think. They say the universe is really big, BoDean, and I believe it is really big. Not too sure it’s quite as big as they say, but I know it stretches out quite a ways. Wonder what’s on the other side of it? If there is something else out there, then what is it and why ain’t it considered part of the universe? If nothing, then… well, what’s nothing? I can feel the limits of my thinking knocking right up against the inside of my head when I get to going on about this subject.
My friend J. Dean used to say there weren’t really no stars out there. That the black night was just a blanket that had some holes in it, thrown over the whole thing. Just some pinpricks the angels put in it. Course he couldn’t say with his little theory how the moon moved around. He’d just say cause it did. Course he said thunder was the angels bowling and lightning was them looking for stuff with flashlights. Sure seemed like them angels was awful busy sometimes.
Makes me wonder where heaven is. Everyone seems to think it’s up and the other place is down. I got to thinking ‘bout that, too. Guess there ain’t no way to know till we get there. There was this preacher used to come around Hooker County every spring when I was a kid, went by the name Tibbs. Pastor Tibbs. I remember one time he said he didn’t rightly know, but there was evidence that the bad place might be way down below us in the middle of the earth. If the earth is a big ball, and I got no reason to expect it ain’t, then the bad place being down don’t make much sense anyway, cause what’s down when the whole world’s just a ball floatin’ around out yonder in space? So maybe down could mean in the middle of the earth.
He said if you was to dig a hole clear down, eventually you might hear the very groanings of the departed wicked. That thought scared me to no end. There used to be this real deep pit over by the Champs Mansion. They said they had used the dirt from that pit to build up some dam somewhere way back when. It was set up in this hill so it would drain all right when it rained, but it was real deep. Course our folks all told us to not go near it. Well, after that sermon, us kids went over there and climbed down in it, and we laid ourselves down on the ground with our ears planted in the dirt to find out if we could hear anybody groaning. After a few minutes, all of us trying not to squirm around too much, Tom he lets out a yell that he thought he could hear someone way down below. Sounded like a whimper, he said. We all tried laying where he was, one after the other, but I didn’t hear nothing. J. Dean said he wasn’t sure but he might have heard something. But he was the agreeing kind, it seems.
So I wonder, on my way out, stepping through the veil as they call it, will the last thing I see with these old eyes be the attic or the basement? Sure hope I’m going up.
I can’t wait to see my own Granddaddy again. Mom and Dad, too, of course, and my brother Jim I told you about, the one that went and got killed in the war. I guess I’ll see my wife again. Now don’t get me wrong. I know she was headed up. It’s just if I get there, up that is, she might still steer clear of me like she done down here. Your mama says I’m going down, but please don’t you believe that. I want you to believe what your mama says on other things, all right, but not that. She takes no count of me, but I think if we meet up there – and I’m sure she’ll be there – all will be fixed up again. Leastways I hope so.
I want to tell you about your mama, things she won’t tell you, but I don’t want to just come right out and spill all the details all over the place. Makes it seem messy. She’s a good woman, an excellent woman, and she would have made an excellent wife, just like the Proverb says. Her truck drivin’ “friend,” your daddy, didn’t know who he had found. Now I don’t want to make you think you’re made up half-bad and half-good, so I’ll just leave it at this… your daddy didn’t recognize what was right in front of him. He had himself a real prize. She loved him, she did. But he couldn’t stay still, I guess. Couldn’t focus, maybe.
So you got his part in you and your mama’s, and the way I see it, if you can just stay focused on the good things, you’ll turn out all right. Don’t never run off on a good woman. But, anyway, I wanna tell you all about her different somehow. Maybe it’ll all come out while I’m talking about other things and people. If you got questions, you can write me back when you get old enough.
In the last letter he sent me, Uncle Roose told me you sleep a lot, just like a baby should. I can’t wait to see him next week. Ill get to asking him if you are still sleeping a lot. It’s been so long since I even seen a baby. Can’t remember the last time I held one. It would probably do my condition good to hold a baby. I’d sure like to hold you.
Roose tells me your mama calls you an active baby, that is, when you are awake. I never seen any other kind of baby but an active baby. You come from a long line of active babies, I know that. I asked Roose to try and sneak a picture of you in the mail up to me, but he said your mama saw right through that. Said he took his camera with him to visit you and told her he wanted to get a picture. She kinda looked at him and said, “No.” Just like that. Just, “No.” He asked well could he take a picture of you with him that had already been taken. Said she just sighed and then stayed quiet for a few minutes and finally said, “Uncle Roose, I done told you I don’t want him having nothing to do with my baby or with me. I ain’t never gonna change that.” Of course, the “him” she was talking about was me. Sure wish I could see you.
I also sleep a lot, up here in this hospital room. More than I should, I guess, but I don’t have that much to do, really. The staff, the nurses, they hardly ever come in here. They feed me all right, but not like I’m used to eating. Everybody gets the same thing. What I want don’t never matter.
They do let me get outside up here, get some fresh air. I see a lot of other patients out when I do that. I ain’t friends with none of them, though some of them I guess can be cordial enough if I tried to approach them. I guess I don’t see the point, since I’m getting out of here sometime. Some of them have what I have, and some have other things. It’s a terrible thing to just sit up here waiting.
The other day I was outside in my favorite spot. I didn’t have that long to be out there. After I walked around a bit to stretch my legs. I leaned up against this wall where it’s all warm. The sun hits it and just warms it right up and it feels good to lean against it and soak in some of that warmth. Seems like I get cold a lot easier than I used to. Must be from getting old.
So I was standing there and looking out at the blue sky over the trees out yonder. Can’t see too far, but there’s some wispy little clouds hanging up there out to the south, little whispers of white breath hanging there like they ain’t got nowhere to go, and I realized there wasn’t nothing between you and me, that is if your mama had you outside right then. Yeah, there was buildings and such, but if I could aim my words just right, and not take account of no breeze cause words ain’t moved by the wind I reckoned, if I could send them up toward them clouds they might just shoot out and spread out and land right on you. So I did. I looked out and I said, “I love you, BoDean’” and something else I can’t say right now.
I breathed in that sweet fresh air after sending you those words, and I hoped you would breathe the same air someday, that something good from me might make it to you, that I might just then be breathing some of the air, just a little portion of it, that my own daddy and granddaddy breathed years before. Maybe someday we will all be together and there won’t be no throwing words to the wind but saying them right to you. Right now, throwing them will have to suffice. That, and this letter. Which, I hate to say, it seems I must end.
Know that I love you,