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Writings from the Porch 

August 27, 2017

“Grandma Whistled” 

This isn’t news for anybody that knows me, but I speak of my father often, and he shows up in my writing quite a bit, directly and indirectly. He died when I was 25, which means I’ve spent more years without him physically in my life than I did with him. But he’s very much a part of my journey every day.

Dad wasn’t one to tear up much (that’s “tear” as in teardrop, not “tear” as in destroy, though he didn’t do that much either). I can remember seeing him really cry only twice. Once was when he and I carried our dog Bish on a hastily contrived stretcher from the road to a chair on our back porch in Gatlinburg. As I knelt beside Bish, petting her head, Dad stood over my shoulder. When she took her last breath, the rock solid preacher, who had remained compassionately stoic through hundreds of funerals and tragedies over his 30-year career, mumbled “close her eyes” as he sobbed.

The second time was late one winter night as we sat by the fireplace sipping our preferred libations and discussing life. He was good at that topic. Typically when we had these sessions there would be a stack of records on the old hi-fi providing the background music. Sometimes we would just listen to the music and the sound of the logs popping in the fireplace as we pondered. Tom T. Hall was always on the playlist—often he was the playlist—and on this night we fell silent as his song “Grandma Whistled” played. Without speaking I instinctively turned my gaze from the fireplace to Dad. His head was bowed, and though he made no sound, there was a slight tremor to his body. He was sobbing.

When the song was over I naively asked why he was crying. He raised his head and looked at me, his eyes wide as if the answer should have been obvious. “Because I miss her, son.” He retrieved the handkerchief from his back pocket (he was a member of the last handkerchief generation), blew his nose and returned it to his pocket. We looked at the fire in silence, not noticing the next song.

Today I understand.