It is Sunday, the day my Granddaddy is off from work at the shipyard. It is the day we usually walk to the playgrounds behind the churches across the busy city street, my small hand clasped in his large one, as we wait for the traffic light to change. Today it is raining and we can’t go out. I sit by his recliner on the braided rug beside his feet – he wears black lace-up shoes every day – and sigh.
“What’s the matter, Duck?” he wants to know. Sometimes he calls me Duck, sometimes he calls me Pig. I do not know why. He just does. It makes me feel warm inside.
“Granddaddy, the girls in kindergarten have red boots to wear when it rains. I don’t have boots.”
“Oh, I see. I guess you been wanting some of those boots?”
I nod my head and crawl up into his lap. “Yes, Granddaddy. For a long time.” His black leather cap is on the side table by the recliner. I pick it up and put it on my head. It smells like him. A little Vitalis and a lot of goodness.
He wraps his arms around me. “Tell me about these boots, what they look like.”
“You can pull them over your shoes … ” I begin.
He got them for me, of course, those red rubber boots that I proudly wore to school and stored on the bottom shelf in the cloakroom, beside the boots of the other girls.
At the time he got them, I did not know that his retirement was imminent, that within the year he’d move back home to the far reaches of eastern North Carolina, three hours away. I would only see him a couple of times a year from then on.
I grew up. I had children of my own. When I went to visit Granddaddy, I sat on the stool by his recliner, as close to him as I could get. He patted my arm. We sat this way for a long time, without any conversation, just being together.
“You remember them red rubber boots I got for you?” he asked eventually. His blue eyes twinkled at me. Every now and then, across the decades, he’d mention those boots.
“Oh, yes, Granddaddy. I remember. I loved them so much.”
He chuckled, patting my arm with his large, wrinkled hand.
He was retired for thirty years, living to be almost 93.
I had nearly forgotten the red rubber boots when I happened to see a pair at the store a year or so ago. They were so like the boots he gave me when I was five.
“Ah, Granddaddy,” I whispered. “You’re never far away.”
I bought them.
They protect me from the rain; they keep me grounded, connecting me to the earth that my grandfather loved, for he was a lifelong farmer even though he had to find better-paying work to provide for his family. The color brightens the gloomiest day. I wear my boots with deepest gratitude for a humble man who knew about sacrifices, great and little, fiercely proud that his blood flows in my veins.
I remember, Granddaddy. I always will.