GRANDDAD NEEDS A KICKSTAND
by R. Eric Johnson
Dish's hands were stacked on the end of his garden hoe. His chin rested on his knuckles and his eyes were closed against the afternoon sun. He was smiling and thinking of his Grandma's icebox and the cold Mt Dew that was in it. He thought about the ice crystals that formed in the bottle and how cool and sweet it was. It was hot in the garden out away from the shade. A welcome breeze pushed it's way out of the trees and across the seemingly endless rows of potatoes and cooled the sweat on the boy's face and he smiled a little more. Dish opened his eyes and turned his head as a woodpecker tapped Morse code on a hollow oak. Tadferd was down on one knee pulling spuds out of the ground with one hand and his hoe standing in the other and Kevin was a few rows over. He was throwing dirt clods at an imaginary target. Dish turned back and let his eyes slip shut once more.
The first loud crack split the air and sent the woodpecker flying. It caught Kevin in mid throw and his toss went wild. His arm froze, outstretched and he looked toward the sound. Dish's head jerked up and his eyes sprang open. He twirled the hoe defensively then crouched frozen and staring up the hill. Tadferd fell back on his bottom, one hand sliding down the handle of the hoe and the other squashing a potato. "CRACK!...CRACK!" The sound came again. "What the heck is that?" Tadferd said with a look of terror crawling across his face. He looked at Dish and saw that he was pointing a shaky finger up the hill toward the smokehouse. "Granddad is coming." He said flatly. "Granddad is coming." He repeated only a little louder. The three boys watched as their Granddad hit the side of the smokehouse with his cane once more and began to wobble down to the garden.
The boy's granddad was a very ripe 78 years old. He was a heavy man with a belly that preceded him wherever he went. His stomach tested the tensile strength of his wide red suspenders daily and he walked bow-legged without feeling the need to bend his knees. His gate took him from side to side, his cane stabbing the ground on every other step.
"I told you guys." Tadferd began; he had his hands on his hips, his body bent forward. He was trying to control his breathing as he paced between the rows. "I'm over here trying to get potatoes out of the ground, trying to accomplish something and you two are…are…fiddle farting around." Tadferd stopped pacing and stood looking back and fourth between the two boys. He suddenly tossed his arms out to his sides and asked in a shrill voice, "And what happened?" He closed his eyes and composed himself then continued. "Granddad saw you out here not doin' nuthin'," He enunciated the last three words slowly. "And now he has come to kill us." Tadferd dropped his hands to his side with a flop and said in a very small voice," I had plans for my life, big plans."
The boys turned to watch Granddads approach and they all fell into the rhythm of his pendulum like gate. Right, left, right, left, their heads moved back and fourth in unison. They watched as he stepped out of the grass and into the rows of plowed earth. Right, left, right, leeeeeeeeft? Granddad had stepped on the side of a furrow and was balanced precariously on his right leg. "he's going over." Kevin said. "Gotta nickel says he pulls it out." Dish said and reached in his pocket, his head still coked to the side. Granddad's right foot came back down with a thud and he was back in rhythm once more. "Em taters aint gonna dig themselves!" granddad yelled holding his cane in the air between steps. At the sound of his voice, Tadferd, whose breathing had just began to normalize, began spinning in small, quick circles looking for his hoe. The other two began clawing at the ground. "What the hell is that!?" Granddad yelled, and spat a mouthful of chewing tobacco juice in the dirt. "Stop what yer doin!" he yelled. He took two more steps and was now standing over the boys. "Hold this!" he said to Kevin and without a glance he shoved his cane toward the boy. "Gimmie that thar hoe." Granddad stretched out his hand for Dish's hoe. His huge hands had sausage-sized fingers that ended in clamshells that were as wide as Grandma's hat ribbon. Granddad spat once more and the brown liquid caved in a working fire ant mound. The boys took three steps backward and watched as he began to dig. "Watch 'ere boys." He took the hoe and dragged it thru the rough soil effortlessly and the potatoes rolled to the surface. "Stop hackin' up my taters, do it like I showed you and act like ya got a brain." The boys stood watching as Granddad straightened up and threw the hoe, handle into the ground between Tadferd's feet, the wooden shaft vibrating like a tuning fork. The old man snatched his cane away from Kevin and rotated 180 degrees on one foot. He rocked to the right and began to make his way back up the hill. "Right, left, right, left.." Tadferd was frantically dragging his hoe through the hard dirt while Kevin and Dish watched as their Granddad made his way back toward the smokehouse. He suddenly paused on his left leg. "Uh oh." Dish said, his head canted to the left as he spoke. "He's going down this time for sure." They watched as the old man teetered at the apex of equilibrium. Tadferd glanced up and watched as he passed the tipping point. Silence and slow motion washed over them. "Catch em!" Tadferd said breaking the silence. Dish and Kevin were pushed aside as Tadferd bolted between them." Don't let em fall, we'll never get him back up!" The boy rushed toward his Granddad and baseball slid through the dirt and grabbed the leg that was still on the ground just above the knee. "Help!" Tadferd cried. Dish turned to Kevin and said casually, "He is a little beefy to be picking up." Kevin stroked his chin thoughtfully and said, "Yea, Grandma would defiantly put the hammer down on us if she saw Granddad lying in the garden like a road kill possum. We better get em." The boys rushed to the scene. Tadferd's boots were sliding in the dirt and his face was now as red as a church ladies hat as Granddad tipped farther over. Kevin began to push against the mans waist, straddling Tadferd. Granddads arms were outstretched in an effort to stabilize himself, his cane was still in his left hand. "Drop the cane, Granddad!" Dish yelled hopping up and down trying to figure out what to do. He didn’t drop it and he was still listing to the left only faster now. Dish grabbed the bottom of his suspenders and began to climb up his back. He got a foot hold in the back of Granddads pants and threw a leg over one shoulder. Dish looked around frantically on his perch. "Dish!" Tadferd said, "Dish!" "What, what!" Dish replied grabbing a whisp of the old mans hair to steady himself. "Go to the end of his arm!" "10-4!" Dish said. Dish got to a crouching position and carefully Monkey-walked to the end of Granddads outstretched arm. The arm did not budge. The old man steadied but he was not being righted. "Really?" Dish said to himself. He crawled across the mans hand and lowered himself off the end. With one hand, grasping his granddads index finger and the other wrapped around his pinky Dish hung there like a Yo-yo looking down. It was working he was going down. "Let go when your feet are about to touch the ground." Kevin croaked. He did and Granddad rocked smoothly onto his right foot then his left, right, left, right, left. He was on his way once again. Tadferd and Kevin fell away and collapsed in the dirt between the rows. Dish dropped to his knees beside them. They watched as their Granddad made his way out of the garden, his cane stabbing the ground with every other step. "I think," Tadferd paused to catch his breath, "I think Granddad needs a kickstand." "Amen." Dish replied and the three boys began to laugh as a cool breeze pushed it's way through the trees.