Granddaddy Lake died when I was 13, Grandmother when I was 16. He had the raising of me for a while as a small child, both in the Gainesville house and in Washington, DC. Grandmother was quite ill at the time, as I recall, though I can also remember her in health, making me buttered toast and telling me to wash my ears because otherwise there would be potatoes growing in there.
He was a difficult, complicated man. In some ways Granddaddy came straight from Central Casting as a pre-WWII Southern white man via Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. I don’t remember him this way at all, but he knew what was best for himself and everyone around him, and didn’t hesitate to express his very powerful will.
At the same time, he loved me with a fierce, iron love one degree removed from cruelty. When there came a time around 1970 that my father took sole custody of my sister and I, Granddaddy moved his bedridden wife to Washington and became the doer of laundry, the packer of lunches and the speaker to children. Looking back on this now, I find it beyond unimaginable. A man who’d been at the center of the unspoken, fully entitled cloud of white, male privilege all his life was packing my tights for my ballet class.
My direct memories of him don’t jibe very well with the stories I hear. I know I was something very special to him, and that the difficult face he presented to the world softened in my presence. There’s a painting here at Nuevo Rancho Lake, done in those early years of my life by
We went to the cemetery to visit their graves,
I know they loved me. I don’t think Grandmother and Granddaddy would have known what to make of me now, but I know they would have been proud of me. I just wish I’d thought to bring a book to leave them, so that my words might leach down through the soil and keep them company in their long years of silence.
Rest in peace, Grandmother and Granddaddy.
As usual, more at theFlickr set