I don’t remember a lot about my paternal grandfather. I had just turned nine when he died. What I remember most is how much I loved listening to him play the fiddle and piano, and hearing him sing. I could spend hours sitting in his living room as he played, the music coursing through my veins. One of my fondest childhood memories is listening to him sing and play the old Kenny Rogers song, “Lucille”. Many years later I would meet Hal Bynum, the writer of that song. He brought some homemade soup to my office in Nashville. It was the first (and last) time I ever ate okra.
My grandfather was tall (at least to my petite nine-year-old stature), thin and quiet. Sometimes he played a drawing game with me. He would start by drawing a line or shape on a piece of paper, then passing it to me to add a line or shape of my own. Then I would pass it back to him. Back and forth we’d go, co-creating a tree or a bird or a house, line by line.
He retired at the age of sixty-five, and about a week later, he died. Not long after that, I saw him. There was a child’s yellow rocking chair at the foot of my bed. One night, as I lie waiting to drift off, there he was, sitting in that tiny chair. He didn’t speak. He didn’t look ghostly, or transparent, or strange. He looked as he always had – solid, wearing a brown cardigan, a look of contentment on his face. I was not afraid. He was my grandfather.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, and never mentioned it to anyone until I was much older. Looking back as an adult, I often wonder about what I saw. Was it my grandfather’s spirit coming to say goodbye? Or was it the active imagination of a little girl who had recently lost her grandfather? Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him.