The summer I turned eight years old, Mr. Doc died. Doc was my surrogate grandfather and next door neighbor. It was Doc that taught me to drive a tractor, to spit, to whittle. Together, we made my first sling shot and my first cane whistle.
Doc was a huge man, at least in my memories. He wore black shoes and Dickie work clothes (blue or brown) and, when outside, a worn, frayed straw hat. His hair was close cropped and woolly white over watery blue eyes that always held the beginnings of a smile. Well, they always did for me.
When he retired from farming, he bought a few acres from our family and built a small house for his wife, Montaree (we called her Montie) and him. There they planted a garden, raised a few pigs and taught me everything an eight year old needs to know about life.
Tell the truth. Plant your watermelons after the full moon in May. Stand up straight. Don’t interrupt. Always shake hands. It helps to take a nap after lunch. In the heat of the day, find a shady spot and talk to your neighbor. Always carry a pocket knife. Most shows on TV are useless. Do one thing at a time. A Milky Way candy bar tastes better if you share it with someone you love. There is value in sitting in the shade and listening to the mockingbirds. Everything is better if you can eat wild plums while you do it.
Every so often, we would go outside, he and I, and climb in his old Chevrolet truck. A mile up the road was the small store where my Grandmother had worked before she died. The purchase was always the same- a handful of penny candy for later and a Milky Way candy bar for now. We would sit on the store’s front porch and eat the Milky Way before it had a chance to melt. Never has a candy bar tasted so good. We would sit there, in the shade of the porch, an elderly man and a small boy. We didn’t say much to each other while sitting there. Some things are just too important to talk about.
It has been 30 years this summer that he has been gone. No one else looms so large in my early childhood memories. I am who I am, largely because he was who he was. And sometimes, I wonder if, 30 years from now, anyone will think of me, now, in the way I still think of him, then.