My grandfather, Pacaw, was a walking rack of bones,stooped-shoulders diminishing the six foot frame of his youth. A chain-smoker, he was never without a hand-rolled cigarette. Taking a small cotton drawstring bag from a red flip-top can of Prince Albert Tobacco, he centered loose tobacco onto a cigarette paper,licked the length of one side of the paper, then rolled it. Once complete, he put the cigarette in his mouth, cupped his hand around it, and lit it with a match while he inhaled. Though I was fascinated with the process, I always feared he’d suck the fire down his throat. I yearned for those little cloth tobacco bags and tobacco cans but wisely, Mother denied me that prize. Mother had told me so many stories of him, I watched him intently, always hoping he’d do something fantastic or say something interesting. Unfortunately, he’d smoked his whole life leaving only the shell of a body and a few embers of personality that sputtered and died before bursting into full flame.
Pacaw ate a few bites of bacon and eggs, then lit up a smoke and visited while the rest of us finished breakfast. He joined us at the table for other meals, but hardly touched food, smoking as we ate. A few times, he launched into a tale of his youth, the stories I was rabid for. Unlikely to say much the rest of the day, he spent summer afternoons on the front porch, reading paperback Westerns. Despite the suffocating Texas, heat he was never without his coat and gray felt hat. I was mystified to see him sitting in his straight chair, legs twisted corkscrew style, both feet resting on the floor.
I thought him quite grumpy, since he wasn’t partial to slamming screen doors, or kids racing by him while he tried to read in peace. Mother must have wanted us to know the man she knew, because one hot afternoon, she pulled up a chair and called us to sit with them.
“Daddy, do you feel like telling the kids the story about you and Everitt and the ducks?” He seemed pleased and set his book face down on the porch.
“I reckon I can. I was over at my friend Everitt’s house one day. For some reason, his mama didn’t like me much, so I pretty much tried to steer clear a’her. Well, we’d been to the barn to get Everitt’s cane pole and was headed for the creek, when we noticed that Miz Maxey, Everitt’s ma, had let her flock of ducks out. She was real proud a’them ducks. They was a mama duck with ’bout a dozen ducklings just ahead of us. They was just tiny little things, probably was gonna be their first time in the water. Mama Duck went right on in with her brood a’follerin’ her. They swam just like they’d been doing it for years. Just as they was about to get to the other side, one of us (I think it must’ve been Everitt) chunked a piece of wood in the crick. Them and their mama ducked under and come up on the other side. I was on that other side and chunked it back across. They ducked under and come up on the other side again. It was so funny, I guess we’d done it more than we realized ‘fore we noticed not too many ducks was a’coming up. We never thought about we was wearing them little ducks out. We was standing there worryin’ over what we’d done and didn’t notice Miz Maxey headed our way, mad as hops. She’d seen what we was up to and I took off. Last I knew, she was a’whalin’ Everitt, and yellin’ after me, “Run, you little devil, run! I’ll git you next time!” I felt just awful about them little ducks, but I sure kept my distance from Everitt’s ma for a good long time!”
He was a person with thoughts and feelings just like me after that day.