July 23, 2008
It was late, the night before the fourth of July barbecue, I was sitting on the tailgate of his truck. He came up and sat down next to me saying, "I'm worn to a frazzle" as he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his bald head. I asked him if this made him so tired why do it? He looked toward the fire where he burned the hickory to get coals for smoking the meat. There was a huge group of people hanging around listening to my Dad and uncles telling stories about when they were young.
" 'cause they all love it so much and it brings them together."
"But you can see everybody any time." I said. I was only eleven or twelve and existence seemed timeless then.
"You'll get it when you're older."
I asked him if he enjoyed all the work or just did it to get everybody here, he told me that it was a little of both because, "One, you never know when folks ain't gonna be around anymore, and two... you just cain't get good barbecue anywhere." I laughed, but he looked serious.
He told me about how he and my Grandmother walked the property line when they moved over here from "the village" and how he felt like he was doing something good for his family by settling down and trying to get some "real roots" stuck in the ground.
That kind of thing didn't didn't stick with me at the time. He told me about building the house and how he liked working second shift because it gave him the mornings to work around the place and he was at the mill during the heat of the day. I didn't really understand about "shifts" and just nodded my head. Then he went into a long story about going fishing in Florida and how much he enjoyed it. He went on for quite a while about the place they stayed and the type of fish he liked to catch, but I had never heard of a grouper before, and couldn't imagine what it looked like or why you would enjoy "fighting like mad to get it in the boat." He started telling me about some nice fish he caught down at the pond behind his house but they "Weren't fit to eat" so he threw them back.
Somewhere along in there one of my cousins came running by with a huge pack of bottle rockets and I jumped up telling him that I would be back in a minute. He called after me to "Have fun! But don't break nothing, or hit no cars!"
I became enthralled with the fireworks and never made it back to the tailgate. Years later when he was sitting in his wheelchair after having both legs amputated because of diabetes I asked him how he was doing. It's a common question that you ask when you go to visit someone.. he looked up at me and said, "I'm worn to a frazzle." Then he smiled, I sat down on the porch next to him and wound up spending about five hours listening to him as we finished that conversation we had started all those years ago.
I have played that conversation over in my head a million times, I have sat there in my mind and talked with him for several hours at a stretch. The man was full of wisdom. He worked hard and provided for his family with no complaints. He put his faith where he wanted to and was comfortable with what people thought of him. The peace of mind that he carried with him is something that's so elusive it becomes a pain deep in the pit of your soul.
At Christmas time and the Fourth of July I always think of him sitting on the tailgate of the truck talking to me, or him and my Grandmother talking at the same time and volume when you asked them a question. All you could do was just look back and forth between the two and try to keep up, because they were not going to slow down. The day he died I was quiet, I didn't say a word through the entire experience. When I feel overwhelmed I will go out on the porch, sit down in a chair, take a deep breath and say "I'm worn to a frazzle." He shows up every time, now with my Dad, Donald, and Granny.. They just laugh at me and always say, "Boy, you just need to get on with life and don't let things bother you so much." It always makes me smile...