My granddaddy Jim often drank his sweet, milky coffee from the saucer that his cup sat in. And that’s the way I learned to drink my coffee. Not from a mug, but from sipping from a saucer.
The art of drinking scalding coffee from a saucer is gone, I fear, but I’m glad I was among the chosen to see it performed so eloquently. Jim, with the nickname of “Sapbird” and its shorter version, “Sap,” as I remember him, is not the same in anyone else’s memory. This is my memory. Maybe he’s more of a dream.
He died from cancer in 1981. He surely cleared six feet tall in his more youthful days when his shoulders were squared and his chest broad. His blue eyes oozed mischievousness and a ready chuckle perched at the corners of his mouth. His overall pocket in the prehistory days and his shirt pocket in his more modern ones carried Juicy Fruit gum.
Worming out of him a piece of that yellow fun-ness was one of my favorite pastimes in the 1960s. I can still see me, cropped shoulder length brown hair with bangs at my brows, blackened bare feet, shorts and buttoned shirt standing in front of him as he sat in a rocking chair on the porch. I am reaching for the prize in the pocket. He is catching and dropping my hands, both of us are laughing.
Occasionally, he pokes a finger in my side and throws me off my game. This sap of a man was fun, and determined. This same man took needle and thread and stitched his own flesh when a tear required it. There was once a photo of him left in a box somewhere in London, last seen by me in the 1970s, a gift to a visiting relative, that showed him barefoot, pants rolled up to his ankles.
He had been fishing and was returning. His hat kissed the top of his head, barely hanging on, with his forehead and face exposed. He stood at the end of a dirt lane with his fishing tackle adorning him. A mess of fish on a string. But the object of the photo wasn’t the man, it was the snake dangling the length of him from his extended left hand. He was showing off the rattler for his company from England.
He was a trapper, raised from a long line of hunter gatherers. He set traps to capture fish, birds, and such and he and those brave or hungry enough to try his fare ate from his bounty. Trapping is a time saver in a world where a farmer has to multi-task. Granddaddy could not often afford the luxury of sitting on a river bank, taking the time to catch one fish at a time. He strung nets and dropped cages and let bait and time take care of catching his family’s food.
He gathered from his nets and brought food home to the community. His earliest days were spent felling trees and pulling stumps to make fields that would one day provide cash from king tobacco so he could buy coffee to go with his Johnny cakes and tea to accompany his fish and homegrown tomatoes and grits. His later days were spent watching others put in and take out crops in those fields and sending youngsters to check his traps.
I wanted him to catch salmon in an Alaskan stream.
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