I Believe I Did

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“You ain’t gonna be able to find that snake by the time he gets here with a gun. Even if you find him, he’ll be too far away to hit ‘em good.”

“He’ll get him, Tom. You don’t know him like I do.”

Our leisurely mule ride in Butler interrupted by a snake making his way across the hot pavement, this one with the obvious signs indicating danger. His coloring and the notorious triangular head send a spastic shiver throughout my body.

“Watch for snakes,” Nini would yell as I’d run out barefoot, the slam of the screen door like a single firecracker interrupting her warning each time. Shoes weren’t something I deemed necessary at their house.

As I race back to alert Granddaddy, I tell myself Tom’s not right. But he’s 92 now. His eyes are slightly clouded from cataracts. And his hands. I love his hands. They tell stories and bear the markings of a man that worked hard every day to support his family. “They bother me more than they used to,” he’ll say as he holds his wrist and tries to stretch his fingers out straight.

“There’s a snake Granddaddy.”

The nightly news is on full-blast in their living room, nearly deafening to me, but he’s got his arm propped to where his hand cups around his ear and he’s reading the text that runs along the bottom of the screen.

He rises from his corner spot on the couch and walks to the back of the house.

“A poisonous one, Miss Ash?” asks Nini from her chair.

“Yes, ma’am.”

A few moments later, Granddaddy re-emerges with his shotgun propped under his right arm. He brushes his hand against the top of the gun and tiny specks of dust are illuminated in the last bit of sunlight streaming in through the storm door. Gone are the days he uses it to turkey hunt; his eyes, ears, and hands don’t bid well for that anymore.

“You ready?”

He asks me to drive and I slide into the driver’s seat of his pickup. We’re the only ones in the family with legs so short that we have no choice but to sit mere inches from the steering wheel. Of course, Granddaddy taught me how to drive in a dusty field beside the house, so I don’t know any different. I’ve always liked to do things the way he taught me to do them.

We pull over when we see flailing hands pointing from the mule.

__

In To Kill A Mockingbird, I’ve always been drawn to the chapter where Atticus shoots the mad dog because it reminds me of Granddaddy. It’s such a simple feat, Atticus shooting the dog, but the admiration Jem and Scout gain from watching their father be the hero makes the scene my favorite.

After Atticus leaves, Miss Maudie exclaims to the kids, who stand perplexed by this skill they were unaware their father possessed, “If your father’s anything, he’s civilized in his heart. Marksmanship’s a gift of God, a talent – oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin’s different from playing the piano or the like. I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things. I guess he decided he wouldn’t shoot till he had to, and he had to today.”

“Looks like he’d be proud of it,” I {Scout} said.

“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents,” said Miss Maudie.

__

I think back to the day he taught me to shoot. He taught me to shoot a gun in that same field where I learned to drive, but I wasn’t much bigger than the gun when he decided it was time I learned a thing or two about it. He’d placed an empty milk carton so far that I begged him to bring it closer.

“Granddaddy, I don’t think I can…”

And when I hit it, I still remember the smile that spread across his face.

He never doubted me.

___

And so I refuse to doubt him.

“He’s way over there,” they say. I search hard, but I can barely see the outstretched snake camouflaged within the leaves and sticks along the far side of the bank.

Granddaddy’s face is traced with tiny lines that all come together at the corner of his eyes when he smiles. I notice they do the same as he squints.

“Do you see him?” Tom asks as he points and tries to direct Granddaddy in the right direction. Granddaddy just shakes his head and continues to squint.

Seconds pass. I hold my breath and clasp my hands together tight. Old age can take a lot away from someone, but I don’t want it to take away something Granddaddy has always been able to do better than anyone else.

And then, softly, Granddaddy says, “I see him.”

In a quick, swift motion, he raises the gun with one hand, his curled finger tightens over the trigger, and the blast echoes between the road banks.

It’s the most effortless thing I’ve ever witnessed.

“I THINK YOU GOT HIM,” Tom practically yells in disbelief, and everyone around us laughs at the sarcasm; it was an obvious hit as the snake was in two pieces now.

“Yeah, I believe I did,” he says.

I exhale and look over at Granddaddy, who’s already lowered his gun. He is walking back towards the truck to put it up. And I think to myself how I don’t believe it is possible to love someone more than I love him right there in that moment.

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2 thoughts on “I Believe I Did

  1. Ashley, this piece is OUTstanding! I am sitting here at 6:27 a.m. with a pounding heart, choking on simultaneous laughter and sobs. You have QUITE the talent for writing, a talent I never had the pleasure of experiencing until now, because I never had the pleasure of teaching you. This”offering” has MADE my day!

    • Thank you, Mrs. Anderson! I do enjoy writing, especially about my grandparents. Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed it — quite a compliment coming from you!

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