I prop my dusty feet on the edge of the front yard swing and lay back on the hard seat. A stack of unread magazines falls to the ground with a thud beside me. I’m too full to read right now. I’m visiting my grandparents in Butler, and we’ve just finished up lunch. I can hear the familiar piano keys signaling the opening credits of The Young and the Restless drifting from the small television set in the living room and that’s my cue to stay outside. Nini says I’m too young for soap operas.
I hear a click and the front door squeaks open.
“Mail man ain’t run yet has he, Miss Puckett?” asks Granddaddy, stepping out onto the front porch.
“Wellllll, he don’t usually show until ’bout 2:00, nohow.”
I shake my head in agreement, sitting up, hoping he’ll take the hint and sit down next to me.
He does, of course.
We sit in silence, watching the heat waves dance on the long stretch of highway in front of the house. A cricket jumps from one crispy blade of grass to another, making a quick series of clicks as it flies. If I listen hard enough, I think I can hear a car, but those are rare. There are only a handful of houses on our road, stretched few and far between like on a Monopoly game board.
Granddaddy crosses his legs and leans back. He reaches for his wide-brimmed hat and lays it on his knee, taking his knife out of the front pocket of his striped overalls. He smells of sunscreen, although his arms are tanned like leather from years of working in the sun. He runs the blade of his pocketknife over his fingernails.
“Tell me a story, Grand.”
“Tell me about when you were little.”
“I’m ‘bout out of stories, gal.”
A few minutes pass before he begins.
“Ole Man Tom Garrett – Deddy said him and Martin worked on the railroad and would come to Butler on the weekends. Tom’d get off the train if he could and sell fish. Tom was a muscled up man, a great big ole’ fella. Anyway, they were both out there one evening, laughing and having fun, both drunk. The Marshall done decided he was ‘gon lock Ole Man Tom up. Anyone would’ve known they couldn’t. Tom put up such a fuss, the Marshall wound up gettin’ ’bout 15, 16 people to try to help. Finally, Tom jus’ gave up and walked on over to the jail hisself. Well, when he rested up for the night, he tore that door right off the cell and carried it to the courthouse square.”
I interrupt. “The same courthouse that’s there now?”
Granddaddy nods. “He carried that door down to the square in Butler and held it up and he yelled justa loud as he could, ‘Fellas, It’ll hold chickens, but it won’t hold ducks!'”
Granddaddy never looks at you when he’s telling a story. He stares off into the distance, across Culverhouse Road and towards the old barn, but I know he’s looking much further than that to a place I’ll never be able to see except through his stories. I often wonder if the way I picture the stories in my mind is anywhere close to what it really looked like.
“I can’t believe he was strong enough to pull the door off the wall,” I say.
“People ‘usta be stronger than they are now.”
Granddaddy closes his knife and puts it back into the front pocket of his overalls. I watch him as he walks the length of the dirt drive to check the mailbox, small clouds of dust rising from his feet.
I believed him then, but it took me years to really understand it.
People were stronger then than they are now.
There are very few ducks in this world full of chickens.