Two things were certain when I visited my Grandfather, Pappy. He would tell me corny, over used jokes, and if there was anyone visiting, he’d squeeze my shoulder and say, “This is my grandson. I learned him how to fish.” He would then launch into a story about how we caught thirty-five fish the last time we were at the river, and then say something like, “And I’m talking about good sized one’s too.” He’d demonstrate the size with his hands.
Sometimes, he felt the need to reminisce about the first time he took me carp fishing. Below the dam near his house on the Yellow River, years of erosion cut a hole into a wide rocky area. Large carp lived in the hole. They weren’t good for eating, but they were fun to catch. My first carp weighed eleven pounds. After landing it, he pulled the hook out and started to let it go. But I was so excited, I wanted to keep it. Never had I caught such a big fish, and I wanted to save my trophy.
After a brief debate, he relented on one condition—I took it home with me. Two years later, he still asked me when I planned to get that fish out of the freezer. My guess is, the fish was long gone, but he enjoyed reminding me of it. In fact, for the rest of my life he brought up the carp Eddie left in the freezer on regular intervals. His jokes and stories were like old reruns. If you missed one, fear not. It would be aired again in the near future.
No one could tell a joke like Pappy. Though I didn’t hear a new one for the last thirty years Pappy was alive, he still had a way of keeping my interest. He’d lean over and say, “Do you know what I saw on the highway on the way home? I looked up and there was a head rolling down the center lane. When it got closer I heard it singing, I ain’t got no body, I ain’t got no body. I ain’t got no body…and ain’t no body got me.” It was a play off an old song.
The first time I heard this, I thought it was a highway accident, so the punch line caught me off guard. For the next three decades it was a rerun, but it still kept me listening. Not only did he keep my interest, but each story kept anyone in the room listening attentively. Perhaps it wasn’t the anticipation of hearing the punch line or conclusion, but the enjoyment of watching Pappy laugh heartily at his own words. He made you want to laugh, even if the story wasn’t funny.
Another story caught my childhood mind off guard on its first showing. It was only a few days before Christmas, and Pappy rushed into the room with a newspaper. He held out a picture of an awful crash, where a car ran through a railroad guard and met its demise. The vehicle was unrecognizable. Only a tangle of metal remained. “Did you see this?” he exclaimed. “Santa was taking the sleigh out for a test run and got hit by a train!”
I was shocked. Too young to read, I could only look at the heap of metal in the black and white picture.
“Looks like Christmas is canceled this year,” he said.
“No!” I protested. My sister quickly joined my lamentation. Then suspicion hit me. He didn’t seem upset. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with this tragedy. In a moment of revelation, I declared, “That’s not really Santa!”
“Oh yes it is. Just ask your Grandma.”
We flew into the kitchen where Grandma sat talking with my mother. “Did Santa really get hit by a train?” we said in unison.
“Don’t listen to your Pappy, he’s just teasing.” Good ol’ Grandma. She never had the heart to participate in my grandfather’s reindeer games. With the myth busted, we returned to debunk his news story. It took several more trips to Grandma before the doubts of the story subsided enough to ease our concerns. Every year after this, Pappy would save a newspaper and show us Santa’s wreck with a twinkle in his eye. I often wondered how many months ahead of time he started looking for carnage in the paper.
For the last decade, Christmas has limped along without his animated stories. Though I miss Pappy, I rarely feel sad when I think of him. Instead, it brings back fond stories that I tell my children. The memory of him warms the holidays, and he comes alive in my heart when I speak of him. It’s almost like he isn’t gone, but just out of sight. I suppose, in a way, that’s true. He indeed waits just out of sight, but that reunion will one day come. It’s as the Psalmist once said when he lost a loved child, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” This is the hope of every believer. The memories are token treasures to enjoy until the time when the real treasure is revealed.