The death of my grandfather came as a surprise. I was on my back porch swing sipping on some tea when my mother stepped outside with tears welling in her eyes.
“What’s wrong,” I questioned.
“It’s your grandfather,” she replied.
I knew what happened before what she said next.
She spoke through falling tears. “He passed away this morning,” she managed to choke.
These words hit me harder than the crisp, morning air. My grandfather was more of a role model than anyone else I ever knew. He was the one who taught me everything: how to start a fire, skin an animal, or even brew the best cup of coffee anyone has ever tasted. He was more than just my grandfather, he was my best friend.
I could not believe what was occurring. I sat staring blankly into the Tennessee forest surrounding our house. Within my prolonged gaze, something caught my attention, but I couldn’t focus on it. I swear I saw someone watching me, but it was probably just my mind fooling me. The mind is a powerful thing, and it tends to be at its strongest when you are in distress. So, I shook the thought from my mind.
The sound of my mothers trembling voice brought me out of my endless stare.
“Drake,” she shouted. “Are you listening to me? Did you just hear what I said?”
“Yes,” I managed to whisper.
“Were going to your grandparents house tomorrow, we have to go through his things and prepare for the funeral,” she explained.
I nodded, still in disbelief. My eyes turned from my still sobbing mother back to the forest. My best friend was gone. Tears began falling from my eyes. Now we would have to head all the way to Shady grove, Florida just to go through his things and look at his dead body lowered into the ground. It was too much, too much for this morning that I hoped would bring about a good day, to a good night. Now, all hope was washed away; just as the tears washed the salt out of my eyes.
I stood up from the swing and walked toward the tree line. I don’t know why, I just did. That’s what my instinct was telling me to do. Maybe it’s because it was what me and my grandfather used to always do. Whenever we would spend time together we would always take long walks through the Florida forest and talk about life. So, it was only natural to do so. As I approached the tree line, a sense of clarity washed over me. It was like something was telling me everything was okay. It comforted me unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, besides my grandfather of course. I smiled. I actually smiled as I entered the forest, the cool autumn breeze sending the smell of dirt and greenery into my nose.
I looked into the sky towards the horizon where the sun was almost completely risen. Most of it was covered by the roof of tree branches coated in colors of orange, red, and brown. I found my sitting tree, a tree with a platform built on it by me and my grandfather one summer when he came to visit a year after we moved here. I climbed up and sat in one of the two chairs. I looked in the empty seat next to me and imagined my grandfather sitting there telling me one of his many tales. I took a deep breath of crisp air as a tear escaped my eye. I sat there for an hour or two going over the event that just occurred. Then I drifted off..to a deep…sleep.
I woke to the sound of my mother yelling at me from the backdoor and crickets chirping. I was covered by the ever-hanging treetops and the red glow of the sky from the setting sun. I must have been out there at least seven or eight hours. I stood from the chair and headed down the splintered, wooden ladder. I raced through the forest toward my house. I jumped onto the back porch and headed through the door. My mother greeted me with a hug and complained about my absence, but understood that I wanted space. I went to my room and played video games and goofed around on reddit until I got tired enough to go back to sleep.
I awoke to my mother calling to me from the kitchen and the smell of warm biscuits. I put on some comfortable clothes, packed my bag, and headed downstairs. I saw my mother pulling hot, fresh biscuits out of the oven.
“Smells good,” I said.
“Thanks, it’s your grandma’s recipe. I thought it’d be appropriate if I made them this morning,” she replied.
I agreed and nodded. I sat down at the table and stretched my long legs. Even though I was only eighteen, I was tall. My mother put a plate of biscuits and honey if front of me and I dug in. After breakfast we packed the station wagon with what seemed like a months worth of supplies even though we would only be staying for two weeks.
“It never hurts to over prepare,” my mother had explained as we put the last of the items in the trunk.
We drove down to shady grove in about nine hours. As we entered town I saw the old park I used to play in as a kid and the bakery me and my grandfather used to visit every saturday morning. I wondered if Rodney was still the owner. A lot had changed since the last time I was there. but, at the same time it seemed all the same. We passed the old general store. I was saddened when I saw the sign that said “Sorry, we’re closed permanently”. We went down a familiar road surrounded by oaks and pines covered in spanish moss. As we approached my grandparents house, which was in the middle of nowhere, a wrenching feeling entered my stomach. I realized when I walked through the door, my grandfather wouldn’t be there waiting to give me a bear hug. He wouldn’t be there to offer me his famous cup of black coffee. He wouldn’t be there to tell me stories or jam with me on the guitar. All of this hit me like the heavy walls of my heart collapsing on top of me.
We pulled into the dirt driveway and stepped out of the car. My grandmother walked out and greeted us with warm cookies and hugs. We walked inside and sat down, munching on the treats. We spent a long while talking about my grandfather and what he meant to us. There was something about the way my grandmother spoke that brought concern to me though. It was like she was talking out of fear instead of grief, almost as if talking about him would cause some sort horrible thing to happen. As she spoke about him, her lips and hands trembled. It seemed as if someone was watching her, waiting for her to say the wrong thing. She spoke very slowly and carefully. We asked what was wrong, but she said she was just upset about her husband’s passing. But this wasn’t my strong-hearted grandmother. I knew she would be devastated about the event, but she wouldn’t be like this. Not her.
Somehow my mother forgot to pack some supplies, so we decided to head into town after a short nap.