In everybody’s old pictures there is one like this:


Papaw Yates.

I don’t remember that much about him.  Did he ever talk?  He swore at Mamaw and threw things.  A fit of frustration?  Whether it was Altzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, I don’t know.  Some little fragment of memory says that he had been addicted to morphine after the war.  Did I make that up?

The one day I remember, a summer afternoon.  I was staying there, that much is certain, whether for a week or just while Mama and Daddy were fishing.  I only remember standing with my back to the bedroom door, facing the living room, confused and afraid while he attacked Mamaw with a ladder-back chair, cussing all the while he was doing it.  She seemed more concerned with keeping me out of the way, telling me to stay where I was, moving away herself so he followed her.  I have no idea how the situation resolved.

More usually, he was sitting at the table eating a mush of biscuit or cornbread and buttermilk.  He had no teeth.

There was a bright winter day, Daddy decided to take him out for a walk since he so rarely got far from the house.  He bundled me up too, and the three of us went walking across the road, into the cow pasture and down into a hollow all full of muskedine vines and catbriars.  There was rounded tan gravel underfoot down there; a stream must have run through after heavy rains.  The smooth stones stayed in my memory along with the cold, bright blue sky.  There was a fallen tree down there in the woods, and leaning against it was a broken one, a trunk, hollow.  It was a bee tree.  It seemed to be a familiar place to Papaw.  He and Daddy raided the comb, laughing,    The walk back was longer, being uphill, and Papaw began to get a little cross by the time we made it back to the house.  I was tired, too, but excited.