Stepping out of the car and walking through the crunchy Bermuda grass to your faded green house always made me a little nervous. I would stand by the car and stretch my legs, reach my arms to the sky above, before kicking up dust as I walked through the pale white rock that served as a driveway. I'd step carefully through the grass toward the porch steps, wary of stepping on little mounds of dirt riddled throughout the grass. The miniature mud volcanoes were the signature homes of crawfish, I knew. I also knew I never wanted to see one emerge, but was secretly thrilled when they did so. Always, I would try to pick up one of the many kittens lounging around everywhere. They were skittish and frequently ran to hide under the house, but that never stopped me from trying.
Walking through the front door would put me at ease. The house, always warm and inviting, was reassuring to me. The smell of fresh waffles right off the waffle iron, followed by fresh cooked fish and macaroni and cheese, would put my stomach in charge of my mind and it would all seem better. Spending nights in a sleeping bag on the floor in such absolute darkness was always somewhat terrifying to me, but the cold house would encourage me to stay in the warmth and safety of my sleeping bag. The rising sun, to be matched with the smell of breakfast, was easily the best thing in the world.
The backyard was an endless expanse of land to my young eyes. I never much cared for the smell of the farm. But the sheep, how I loved them. They were soft and fluffy, and those feelings alone made me feel they were harmless. I occasionally enjoyed walking toward them and watching them band together and drift away from me.
I remember the cold tan chair that, despite its hard edges, was somehow extremely comfortable. I remember you sitting in that chair and taking naps after lunch, always snoring loudly. I would giggle at the sound of your snores as they echoed off the linoleum floors.
You were always so big to me, despite being smaller in stature than my dad, your second son. You were bald from my very first memory of you, and I remember always noticing the dimple in your chin I hoped I would never inherit, but did anyway. You would walk up to me wearing that army green jumpsuit you worked in, look down at me and say, "How ya doin', boy?" Regardless of my answer, you would lean down and say "EH??" I'd shout my answer in the hopes that you could understand me, and you would say "Ooohhh" as if you understood. We had a great rapport: your strong Cajun French accent made it hard for me to understand you, and your hearing loss from all those years driving combines made it hard for you to understand me.
I remember eating the tomatoes and cucumbers you grew in your garden. Even after farming was long behind you, you maintained your garden and a bad day to you was any day not spent working in it. Your vegetables were delicious, and the answer to your favorite question about them, "They're good, eh?" was always yes.
I envied how the cats that always scattered when I approached would flock your way in an instant. I remember the time one of your favorite cats was slowly dying and you ended her misery without a second thought. I felt so sad at the time, but I understand now that you were thinking more about her and less about yourself. I remember the time my cousin's husband, who lived next door to you, had a German Shepherd, a beautiful but unfriendly dog that jumped the fence between your respective properties one day and killed one of your sheep. You saw fit to shoot the dog, and while the rest of the family was incredibly pissed off, to this day I cannot help but laugh.
It's been nearly two years since I've seen you, and I'll never again have the opportunity to do so. I heard the news this morning, shortly after you were found in your home. I know how hard this last year was for you. I know you were forgetting where you put things and I remember being scared for you when you couldn't find your rifle but then found it under your pillow. I know how upset you were when they took away your car, because your independence meant the world to you. I know the family was discussing putting you in a nursing home, and I know how much you hated the idea that you wouldn't be in the comfort of your own home, in the environment you'd created for yourself over the last 85 years. I know this, and this is why, despite my sadness, I somehow feel at peace.
I never really knew it, but I loved you. Growing up two states away did not make it easy to get to know you, and my city life made it that much harder to find that common ground. But as I think of you now, I know it's true. I will miss you greatly, RL. Rest in peace.