“How much do you weigh?” Granddaddy asks.
It’s fall, 1985. We sit at the breakfast table — a perfect circle of glass covered by a flowery tablecloth made of plastic. Between us, on this perfect circle, is a plate of biscuits stacked in a pyramid, a plate of bacon stacked in a greasy, messy pile and homemade strawberry jam with real strawberries in it. You can see the strawberry seeds through the glass that contains it. Granddaddy shakes out salt and pepper on the fried eggs that are already on his plate.
“According to your scale, I weighed 172 this morning,” I say.
“Eat up, then,” he says and pushes the tower of biscuits in my direction. I butter a biscuit with real butter and spoon the goopy strawberry jam on them before dropping two pieces of bacon on top that form an X. I eat the biscuit and make myself another, just like the first. Granddaddy sops up egg yolk with the last of his biscuit. With his plate clean, he looks up, satisfied, as if he’s accomplished exactly what he’d set out to do when he got out of bed this morning.
“How much do you weigh?” he asks me.
“I weigh 195 pounds,” I say.
“You weigh no such thing.”
“I still weigh 172, Granddaddy.”
“Hmmm,” he says.
After breakfast, the biscuits having cemented us to our chairs, we watch a hummingbird outside the window, its tiny wings beating a blue-green blur. And then, as quickly as it appeared, it’s gone.
Granddaddy pushes back from the table, the chair squeaking against the linoleum floor. He stands over me. Blocking out the overhead light, he is a shadow.
“How much do you weigh?” he asks me with a natural curiosity as if asking me for the very first time.
No to Hope
It’s an October Saturday afternoon in Mississippi. I’ve been raking dry leaves and gathering them in a dusty pile. Three years ago, all of this was underwater from the Jackson Flood of 1982. People floated down the state capital’s streets in canoes and rowboats. Granddaddy stood his ground. We called and told him to evacuate, to come on up I-55 and stay with us in Oxford.
“I ain’t going anywhere,” he’d told us. And he didn’t.
When I was done raking, I stopped. Granddaddy had been watching from the patio where he sat spitting Redman into a plastic cup. He hefted himself out of a green lawn chair and surveyed my work. Or what I called work. I was, after all, a city boy from a college town. Granddaddy had been an agent with the department of agriculture before retiring.
“You call that done?”
I started to nod my head in the affirmative.
“That ain’t done.” He took the rake from my hands and combed it through the Zoysia grass. With every stroke, he picked up clumps of dead leaves that had been invisible to me.
“Like this,” he says. “OK?”
“OK,” I say and pat at the grass crumbs like I’m petting an animal at the Jackson Zoo.
“Hmmm,” he says.
Eventually, with neither of us happy with the progress that’s not being made, we go inside and watch football until the Annual Bob Hope College Football Special comes on.
Granddaddy looks at me sitting in the recliner chair and his face lights up.
“Well, why didn’t you tell me you were coming over?”
“You should have told me. I don’t think we have anything to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You got to eat, you’re skinny as a rail.”
“We’ll eat in a bit. OK?”
He doesn’t seem to listen to me, and opens the refrigerator door and gets out cold fried chicken.
“We’ve got this chicken,” he says, “but I don’t know if it’s still good.”
We eat the chicken and it’s fine, it’s better than fine, it’s wonderful, it’s finger-lickin’ good, my apologies to Colonel Sanders. As it grows dark outside, I watch the light of the television flicker against Granddaddy’s face. Bob Hope makes a joke as he announces each football player. The players seem to laugh whether they get the joke or not. Granddaddy doesn’t move a muscle. In profile, he reminds me of a cigar store Indian. During a commercial break he says to the room, as much as to me, “I never did care for Bob Hope.”
Grip of Death Match