It seems my grandpa knew everything about everything. If you didn’t believe that, he would have certainly convinced you he was this all-knowing entity. Grandpa was a bit of a braggart, a blowhard and just a boisterous man who lived life on the edge. There was really only one person who could maintain some control over him; my grandmother. But, even she had her limits. When grandpa would go off on one of the grand escapades of his life, grandma would say “Now, now, John, you’re stretching the truth again!” Most times, he’d continue on like he had not been interrupted. But, grandpa always knew when he had gone too far. Grandma had a certain “stare” that would drop anyone in their tracks, including my rambunctious grandpa.
Grandpa did mostly know what he was talking about. But, some of it was just…well, just his bragging. For example, I don’t believe for a minute grandpa fought as a soldier in the French Foreign Legion during WWI. As it turns out, grandpa was too young to serve during WWI. But, he didn’t let that stop his spinning yarns of espionage and the like. What grandpa did know was about carpentry, repair of any type of small engine and gardening. He taught me everything I ever knew about starting and maintaining a garden. I didn’t have a clue about how or when to plant okra, beans, peas or tomatoes. But, after a few summers with grandpa, I knew ’bout all there was to know about planting. Grandpa was probably the best fisherman this side of the Mississippi River. He’d tell you that to his dying day he forgot more about fishing than most people ever knew.
As I have said, grandpa had knowledge of many things. But, there was one thing he commented on that stuck with me for some reason. In later years, I researched it and never found verification that it is true. But, when I was 9 years old it was something I was glad I remembered from the never-ending fountain of information that was my grandpa. Living out in the woods of southern Mississippi, we had a tremendous amount of fireflies that would start lighting up the sky as soon as the sun would go down during the summer time. I was, and still am, amazed by the little bugs that would light up the dark night during the summers. Living out in the country, as we did as children, there wasn’t much to keep your time occupied. So, the nightly show of fireflies was a welcome treat for us as kids. I would capture some in a glass jar and watch the jar become my own personal flashlight. I never got tired of that. The fireflies would continue most of the night until the wee hours of the morning. At about 9PM on these summer nights, they would come right back. It wasn’t much, I know, but you got to know this was in the late 50s in southern Mississippi. We didn’t have much in the way of entertainment. So, we made do as best as we could. We were poor. But, we didn’t know it.
Grandpa and grandma had come to our home for the summer for as long as I could remember. But, little did I know that as we celebrated my 9th birthday that summer, it would be the last time grandpa would be around to celebrate. I noticed grandpa looked pale and more gaunt than he usually did that summer. He was still the great story-teller and fountain of more information than you could find in any library back then, I suspect. I remember the night of my 9th birthday, it was just grandpa and me on the front porch watching the fireflies in the night, grandpa chuckling as I chased the fireflies in the night. As I came back to sit down beside my beloved grandpa, he said something that would prove to turn my life around. Just not in the way I ever expected. “Jimmy, you know what is so funny about fireflies,” he asked. I looked up at that pale and smiling face. I said, “What’s that, grandpa?” “Fireflies are suicidal. They like to hover over large bodies of water and just fly until they start dropping. Seen it since I was a boy your age,” he said. That didn’t make an ounce of sense to me. I asked him why fireflies did that. Grandpa said he didn’t know. But, it was true. I probably thought about that for 10 seconds and went back to chasing fireflies.
About three weeks after that discussion on fireflies, grandpa’s heart gave out on him. It was a very sad day for me personally. It just didn’t seem right that grandpa wasn’t going to be coming around any longer, to thrill us with his stories of make-believe and enchantment. I loved him and, crazy as it may seem, I was mad! Mad at what or who? I was mad at God for taking my grandpa. I was mad that he wouldn’t be on the porch to talk to me during the summer or take me fishing deep into the woods of southern Mississippi. I talked to grandma about it after the funeral. She looked at me, ruffled my hair with her left hand and said, “Child, you can’t be mad at Gawd! It was time for your grandpa to go home, to rest after 81 years of living his life to the fullest. You can’t be that selfish, can you, Jimmy?” I didn’t answer her. Grandma kept looking at me and said, “Jimmy, Gawd has a plan for us all. Including you.” I didn’t have a clue what that meant at the time. Little did I know I would get a crash course on “His plan” just a few weeks later.