My Grandpa Pilkerson, or Grand P as we call him, loves to tell tales about this family member or that. Tall tales. Unbelievable tales. All of us grandchildren loved them, and never believed them. Yet, we’d always hold out hope that just maybe, someday, it would be one of us starring in the grand adventure.
Tonight he told us a tale of daring and strength.
“Grandchildren,” he called, “gather round.”
In our eagerness to hear his latest story of heroes and amazing feats we raced each other, scuffling and scrambling, for the primo spaces at his side. I lost that race to my three younger sisters and settled instead next to his knobby knees. Cousin Mason slid baseball style, “safe”, into the space at the other knee. My two younger brothers landed beside Grand P’s large, bunioned feet barely covered in their worn slippers. As he told his story, we listened, completely focused, our eyes bright and our ears open wide (I swear that during one part Mason’s ears even wiggled and grew). As he spoke, his voice changed for each character and with the story line – rising or dropping, yelling or whispering – he gestured wildly with his gnarly, arthritis-ridden hands, stomped his feet, or shook his walker with its tennis-ball clad feet pointed into the air.
After he finished and the others had reluctantly dragged themselves off to bed, I saw that Grand P looked not quite himself. His skin was translucent, I swear I could see all the veins and arteries, and it had a rather gray cast to it, almost as if he were fading into a shadow of himself.
“Grand P? Are you OK?” I asked. “You seem a bit, I dunno, gray is all.” I shrugged my shoulders, wrinkled my brow and added, “I don’t want you to be gray.”
“Grandson,” he replied, “I’m in a bit of a muddle.” He reached out for his walker, grimacing as he tried to get a good grip on it with his hands, and slowly maneuvered his way up off the couch. Then came his slow migration to the kitchen. Push the walker out. Slide the left foot forward. Slide the right foot forward. Pause. Repeat.
Then came his slow migration to the kitchen. Push the walker out. Slide the left foot forward. Slide the right foot forward. Pause. Repeat.
“A muddle?” I asked as he finally made it to the counter it had taken me only moments to reach.
“A muddle.” He placed his hand on my cheek, it felt cool and papery against my skin. He looked down at me through bleary, bloodshot, pale blue eyes, and continued, “It’s not a beginning and not an end. It’s more of a middle with a bit of a puddle and a puzzle all mushed together. A muddle.” With that cryptic statement and a bit of a sad smile for me, he shuffled off to his own room.
He lived with us, you see, as his wife was long gone, his children grown, and my dad, his son, insisted. I think it was that last bit that caused the gruff between them, but I was happy he was with us and hoped they could smooth things out and get back to their happy places. Anyhow, he’d left and I decided I wouldn’t make sense of his words tonight so took myself off to my room, tucked myself into bed. After some tossing and turning, I finally tripped into a fitful sleep.
Grand P and I were in the woods near our house, the moon was high, directing a yellow-white glow on the dirt path to the lake. I followed as he shuffled slowly down the trail.
“It’s quite simple, really,” he spoke as he went. His quiet words were directed forward, away from me, but in the way of open spaces filled with the mists of the lake I could hear every word clearly, along with each muted thunk and scrape of his walker in the dirt.
“There are rules of course.”
“You’ll find them out as you go along.”
“But you’re ready.”
“Ready?” I asked, “Ready for what?”
“To dream, m’boy, to dream!”
The silence that followed was odd. I didn’t hear his walker anymore. I scrunched my eyebrows as his back as he walked, willing him to explain himself, and found myself hurrying to keep up with him.
“Grand P, what are you talking about? You’re making no sense.” He was almost running now. “Hey! Slow down would you?!”
He stopped suddenly and turned to me. I was instantly struck by his eyes – they were the most vibrant blue I had ever seen. With hands smooth, young, and strong, he tossed his walker into the wet grass beside the path. He jumped into the air, landed, did a deep-knee bend, and then turned around a few times before dancing away, chuckling gleefully.
I was stunned at his youthful grace, yet more than a bit miffed at the lack of explanation. ‘Dream it, live it.’ What hogwash. What gibberish. What the heck did it mean?
“Johnny! Johnny honey, wake up! It’s time for school.” My mom’s voice rang out from the kitchen, rolling through the stairwell and bouncing through the hallway to my room. I sat up in bed and looked around. The sky was clear and blue, the birds were singing, the neighbor’s dog barking. I could smell the most divine bacon so I dressed quickly, went downstairs and sat down at the counter, ignoring the good-natured bickering of my sisters, brothers, and cousins. Somehow today I felt too old for such antics.
Mom placed my food in front of me as usual, and I distractedly thanked her as I stared at Grand P – he’d sat down on the stool next to me and he’d arrived without his walker. I thought for a second and realized I hadn’t heard his trademark slow, shuffling approach, punctuated by the thunk and scrape of the tennis balls along the floor. I checked out his hands, remembering my dream and how they’d changed, and they really did look smoother, younger, stronger. How odd. My eyes shot to his and they were also the vibrant blue I remembered. Perplexed, I scratched my temple with a finger.
“Grand P,” I said, “I had the weirdest dream.”
He winked at me. “Johnny, m’boy, this I know. Thank you!” He grabbed some bacon from my plate, popped off the stool and walked into the living room. Mom and I stared in disbelief when he jumped in the air, tapped his heels together, and exclaimed: “Top ‘o the muddle to you all!”
Mom looked at me, head cocked sideways then some sort of realization seemed to hit. Her eyes widened and glittered with tears. “Ohhhhhh. Ohhhhhhh. Ohhh. You’re a Muddler now. Fabulous!” Grinning widely, she zipped around the counter to smother me in a hug before running out of the room, yelling “Andy, Andy, come see your father! And wait until you hear what Johnny did!”