Divine Wind by David Evans
Helen heard the sound of metal on stone and then felt the house shudder.
J. C. had lost control of his 1955 Packard Patrician, his reason to get up every day, and slammed into the retaining wall just below her kitchen window. J. C. pampered this car and polished it till Helen thought he would rub holes in it. The car was one of the few pleasures J. C. still enjoyed. He hobbled about and could no longer wander his big footprint of property in the woods near Lynchburg, Virginia. No one trusted him any longer to be alone in his shop where he made quality knives. His arms were full of burn marks and scars. Helen also insisted that the shady lawn no longer needed mowing. J. C. had one of those new zero-turn mowers that he drove at top speed, whirling about so quickly in turns that he almost tossed himself out of his seat. So he spent his days noodling about with his Packard, scrubbing the hubcaps, fiddling with the mirrors, vacuuming the upholstery, and accumulating piles of rags that were saturated with car wax. When he wanted to needle Helen, he would push his finger into the hood of her 2002 Saturn sedan and leave an indent. “No finger’s going to leave its mark on my Patrician!” he’d roar.
“I’m the guy of guy who likes action. I can sit and read a book for a while, but I’m more comfortable doing something,” he told me once. J. C. seldom stood still and learned early on how to get around rules and regulations. At seventeen, he was a year under age but managed to pull a quick one on the navy recruiting officer just after Pearl Harbor. Within a few months, he was aboard ship heading to the Pacific. When J. C. welcomed you into his home, he didn’t waste time before telling you stories of the battle of Okinawa where he was almost scalded to death when a boiler blew up after a kamikaze pilot hit the ship.
He was old enough to be my father and always called me shipmate, although I had served in the army. I cried when Helen called the other night to tell me J. C. had died in his sleep in an Alzheimer’s unit at a nearby care center. He was tethered to his bed, since he couldn’t stop climbing over the railings and wandering the corridors and trying to get outside.
J. C. always knew how to make things work. He had to. He grew up in the Depression and ate everything and never threw anything away. He said he had his own secret stash of hardware hidden down in his folk’s cellar. Grimy bolts without matching nuts filled up the small jars he scrounged from the neighborhood pharmacy trash cans. He had a couple of slot screwdrivers someone had tossed out because the ends were either broken or worn away. His hammer came as though from God himself. An old man cursed a rat in the alley behind J. C.’s home and threw a claw hammer at the rodent that had gnawed its way into his grain bin. He threw the hammer at the rat but missed. J. C. retrieved it.
And no bit of food, no crust of bread, or even a still wet-on-the-inside egg shell was safe. He was always hungry when he was growing up in the 1930s. He shared a bag of stale graham crackers with his little sister who would later die of polio. The grocer tossed them out, and J. C. thought he had found caviar. He and Gin nibbled them while huddled in the cellar.
He bought the classic Packard at a great discount from a guy who stored it in a leaky old outbuilding in southwest Virginia. It was a mess. But it was J. C.’s dream car. When it came off the assembly line, the Patrician was indeed a sensation. Not only was the body completely updated and modernized, but the suspension also was totally new, with torsion bars front and rear, along with electric control that kept the car level regardless of load or road conditions. J.C. was not quite twenty-seven in 1955, but he knew one day he would own what turned out to be one the last of the Packards before the company folded. J. C. was a mechanic by temperament and training and said he had to reach for his handkerchief to wipe the drool after seeing this stunning new design. He quoted the stats of the Packard's brand new ultra-modern overhead-valve V-8 engine that displaced 352 cu in. He got so excited talking about how the new engine replaced the old, heavy, cast-iron side-valve straight-eight that had been used for decades. And, of course, he would go on and on about how his Patrician offered a variety of comfort and convenience features, such as power steering and brakes as well as electric window lifts. He made it run again. And he hammered all the dents out of it.
Helen told me she was sitting at the kitchen table over her cup of tea doing a crossword puzzle when J. C. knocked a whole section of retaining wall off kilter. Her arthritis kept her from springing up, but she managed to get to the window in time to see him alternating between drive and reverse as he lurched a few feet forward and then back. The old car’s suspension was put to the test as the heavy front end tilted down as he slammed on the brakes and then rose again as it tried to obey his command to back up.
She remembered thinking, “What the hell is that old man of mine doing now?” As she watched, he managed to straighten the car out and then sped off and on the gravel drive and headed toward the entryway about a quarter of a mile from the house. A squirrel couldn’t make up its mind as J. C. kept coming harder and harder. Then she heard the noise as he left the ground. He hit his own contrived speed bump, soared, and collided head first in the abutment across the road. As rugged as the Packard was, it took a beating to the face.
J. C. was not so fortunate. The 911 guys had to use torches to cut him loose from the mangle. He was unconscious and bruised badly. He never remembered anything about the incident. In fact, he remembered very little of anything ever again after he awoke in the hospital.
J. C. was a generation ahead of me. He and his wife Helen have four sons and a daughter, Michelle. Last time I saw him, he had Bob Dylan’s song “Not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there” playing. He said he wasn’t sad, just realistic. He had a mess of problems, from a piss-poor bladder, to macular degeneration, to a ticker that couldn’t keep time. He had one hand that wanted to turn inward into a claw and a foot that dragged and tripped him when he still thought he could outrace himself. He was a grandfather, too. Unlike most grandfathers, his numbers recently went down. He used to have seven grandkids. At the time of his death, he had six.
His twenty-three-year old granddaughter, Cynthia, committed suicide on Christmas Eve. Cynthia was a veteran who had served in Afghanistan. She lost part of one leg to a roadside explosive. The other was still intact but didn’t always do as it was told. In high school she had been a star runner. Despite all her efforts, she never adapted to wearing the prosthetic half leg that protruded below her knee. She had plenty of combat medals, but none for the depression she couldn’t shake. She finally convinced herself to free fall from a tenth-floor ledge in the rehabilitation center in Richmond. The prosthetic was on the bed. A crutch lay on the floor by the open window. The new orderly, who had only been on the job a week, walked in shortly after the fall. She saw the open window and dropped the tray with medicines and a pitcher of water she was carrying. The nurses at the command station down the hall heard the glass break.
When Cynthia’s mother Michelle was eighteen, she startled her parents with the news that she was pregnant. She wasn’t married and she said she had no intention of living with the man who was Cynthia’s father. After they got over the shock, Helen and J. C. gladly stepped up to help Michelle as she struggled to make a living as a single parent. They loved being close to Cynthia and thought of her as another daughter. They took her to school, the doctor, and entertained her sleepovers with giggly young friends. They dried her tears and met her prom date.
J. C. and Helen’s sons were still at home when Cynthia was born. The house was crowded. But everyone adjusted and enjoyed the baby’s presence, especially when she grew into a toddler who showed real speed crawling about the floor. The boys had everyone laughing as they staged mock races to see how fast Cynthia could go once she was unharnessed. “And now into the clubhouse turn comes Cynthia who is edging up on …,” her brother Eric would speak into his fake microphone as though he were broadcasting the Kentucky Derby.
She followed Helen everywhere and loved to mimic whatever her grandmother did in the garden or in the kitchen. Cynthia continued to stay close to her grandparents as she grew into young adulthood. She poses proudly with her seaman apprentice strips on her navy uniform in a picture that Helen and J. C. prominently display on their mantel. She’s a towering blonde and stands smiling out at you with her arm around her short grandmother. She so admired her grandfather, who was a decorated WW II veteran, that she followed in his footsteps and joined the navy.
My friends Ashton and Ed and I met Michelle, but not Cynthia, one day on a visit. We were there because Ed needed J. C. to correct all the mistakes he had made on a knife project. Cynthia had already been in the navy for over a year and was away at a medical training school. When we knocked at the door, Helen welcomed us with a ready smile and her lilting, southwest Virginia accent. She always draws out her vowels and slows her speech so that each word lingers. I love to listen to her. “J. C. is shrinking in his old age. He’s getting ‘showater’ every day.” She enjoys wearing bright red scarves and hand-woven sweaters. She also confesses to having a weakness for nice shoes, but now only wears practical low-heeled ones. “Can’t be tripping up the stairs, let alone down then, wearing the wrong shoes,” she laughs.
She was born in the late 1920s and came into this world with an underdeveloped hip, which left her with a life-long limp. Michelle had driven up from Richmond for the long weekend and quickly brought us up to date on what was happening in Cynthia’s tour of duty. Everyone was so joyous and full of pride. It wasn’t until a year and half later that a wounded and tormented Cynthia would jump from a window in that Richmond rehab center far from the safe home of her grandparents.
Helen and J. C. lived in the mountains near Lynchburg, Virginia, in a cedar log home J. C. built himself. He foraged for many of the parts and made them fit as though they were lovers. James Corbett was his formal name but he never cared for Corbett so he rechristened himself with the initials. When he was a boy, the other kids always wanted to pick fights with him. J. C.’s father loved professional boxing and named his son after James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, a former world heavyweight champion boxer. J. C. claims he just got tired of having to fight all the time to justify the name. It wasn’t till later that he realized the enormity of his decision to opt just for the initials. The preacher who married them kidded J. C. that his initials already belonged to a pretty well-known figure who lived at another time. But J. C. kept the initials anyway, and “James Corbett” disappeared, never to fight again.
J. C. was always a “crafty” guy, as Helen describes him. She laughs when she hears her own words, since the last thing she wants is to portray her husband as a cunning or deceitful man. She corrects herself to say J. C. was an excellent craftsman who had always worked in wood and steel. His specialty in his retirement was his high-quality knives that he designed and created in his shop. They lived in a heavily wooded area of tall oaks and hickory off a quiet country byway. His knife shop is near his blacksmith forge at the far end of the property, just a few steps behind their home that sits back at the end of a long drive. The house’s massive lichen-covered field stones at its base cover the concrete-block foundation walls. J. C. proudly tells us he personally dug the stone from the fields and selected and put them in place with little help. Before he retired he was a lineman for the Richmond telephone company. “Life takes on an exciting perspective when you’re looking down from an eighty-foot pole in a windstorm,” he tells us. Then he pauses and adds . . . “in February.”
When they first met just after WW II, Helen said she didn’t know what to make of this “older” man who had dropped out of high school to join the navy. When J. C. mustered out of the service after the war, he returned to finish his schooling and receive his diploma. He must have been quite “the man” as seen from the eyes of the younger guys in his class, not to mention the coeds. But he claimed he was a serious student and had little time for diversions. He had big plans to work in construction and was staying at the YMCA, just around the corner from a drugstore where Helen worked part-time as a waitress. She also had little occasion for diversions, since she was employed full time during the day as an accountant. Helen smiled again and informed us, “J. C. came in every evening for his dinner and always ordered the same thing: Meat loaf and an extra helping of mashed potatoes. No vegetables.”
J. C.’s introduction to Helen at the lunch counter in Lynchburg in the cold late winter days of 1946 was as clear in his mind as were his memories of Japanese kamikazes hitting his ship off Okinawa.
Helen was a young lady from Roanoke who had just graduated from a business college when J. C. barged into her life. She took the position at the drug store when the owner asked if she could help out at the cash register during the evening meal. After watching this young man for several months, she finally gained the courage to tell him, “Quit spending all your money on beer and use it to take some pretty girl out to dinner.” And that’s when J. C., who had survived the battle of Okinawa in addition to other harrowing naval engagements of WW II in the Pacific, decided that the pretty girl at the cash register was going to be his bride. Her recollection of their first meeting differs ever so slightly from J. C.’s. She claims she definitely was not flirting, although this fit young man who came in for supper every night after working out at the nearby YMCA did catch her eye. When Helen told us that story, J. C. just sat in his frayed old chair in the basement. He rested quietly, but a broad smile spread across his face.
By 1946, he was ready for the ultimate “diversion” of his young life that was already jammed full with experience. He and Helen married some four months after that fateful evening in the drug store, although he claimed he proposed on their first date since he was ready and wanted to get married to her right away. As he liked to say, “I am a man of conviction and decisive action.” Their daughter, Michelle, was born the next year.
They were both in their late eighties when J. C. died. As long as they had been married, he kept a sparkle in his eye for Helen. He greeted us on a recent visit, “I’m happy to tell you that Helen’s been sleeping with me for sixty-nine years, four months, two days, and last night.” She says, “I’ve heard that claim before and it’s not entirely true. One winter I had a bad cold and chose to sleep in another room. So for the record that’s sixty-nine years, three months and twenty-nine days. Oh yes, and last night, too.” The routine sounds almost rehearsed. This is the first time we had seen J. C. and Helen since Cynthia died. We took our lead from them and remained silent as neither mentioned anything about Cynthia.
J. C.’s introduction to Helen at the lunch counter in Lynchburg in the cold late winter days of 1946 was as clear in his mind as were his memories of Japanese kamikazes hitting his ship off Okinawa. He was a teenager then but quickly became an able-bodied seaman. He started reading a lot of Carl Sandburg poetry as a young sailor and liked to describe himself during that battle as “fierce as a dog lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness.” You couldn’t be around J. C. for long before he told you war stories. His older brother was aboard another ship taking the brunt of the attacks. I remember him looking straight ahead and telling us: “My brother Ernie died in those waters as did my cousin Charlie and one of his pals.” He cleared his throat, shook off his sadness, and began again, this time poking fun at himself for being so deaf. One moment he was talking to us and the next he was just moving his lips. He roared with laughter and said, “Now you know what it’s like not to hear all those dirty jokes I’ve been missing over the years.” Occasionally he paused as though to let someone else say something, but it was soon apparent J. C. was just catching his wind before his next outpouring. He needed the drone of noise and wanted lots of it. He was uncomfortable with any quiet.
Helen soon excused herself, saying, “I’ve heard all this nonsense so many times I can tell his stories better than he can.” He laughed hard again and before she left, and asked, “Any of you boys know what the word kamikaze means in Japanese?” Of course we don’t so he pounced on the opportunity to tell us. “Divine wind.” Before Helen could manage to get up the staircase, he added, “Helen is the only ‘divine wind’ I need in my life.” She just shook her head and closed the door behind her. It was at this moment that I thought what this family would have given for another kind of divine wind to have caught Cynthia up out of her fall, to have let her billow out so that her drop would have been no more than that of a light feather gently floating to earth.
We all met J. C. a number of years ago at a knife show. Making knives was just one of his many skills. He was a stone mason, carpenter, and blacksmith. On our first visit, J. C. took us on a tour of the house. In the big kitchen on a cabinet he made to hold dishes are displayed pictures of his sons and their wives, his six grandsons, and one granddaughter, Cynthia. s we wandered around, J. C. stopped by one of his many nooks where he liked to read. A couple of history books and some Carl Sandburg poetry collections were spread out on the table. He usually had a couple of books going at the same time and sat in different places to read them. On our last visit he was all excited about politics. He was a liberal Democrat and refused to use the word progressive. “FDR was always my role model but now I’m votin’ for Hillary, but I’d really rather have Bernie. Not many people ’round here will vote Democrat this fall.” Ashton, the ultra conservative, said nothing.
The three of us called on J. C. a couple of times a year, sat with him as he told us what he’d been doing, let him correct our knife-making mistakes, and then took him to lunch. During our last visit, he confessed that he nearly wrecked his carport the week before by backing into it. “Helen says she’s going to call the DMV and demand that they revoke my license.”
As I looked at J.C. that day, I could see him as he possibly was on that ship off Okinawa, repairing damaged superstructures by just grinding off the ragged and flayed metal that had been blown away, burned up and melted, or grotesquely twisted. He was a welder but worked most of the time in the engine room, keeping the steam up to power the big boat. When a shipmate was scalded by a burst pipe, J. C. carried him to an upper deck where a makeshift first-aid station had been set up to treat wounded sailors. He told us the story as though he were a movie producer, laying down a sound track as he scanned all the damage. I imagined him dodging the jet of steaming water, hoisting his screaming shipmate over his shoulder, and finding his way to the medics. As the ship took more hits and was rocking fiercely, I see J. C. slipping through a hatch and hustling back to his station to help keep the boat afloat.
Before we left for lunch, he pulled open a drawer on his cluttered desk and reached for a box holding his commendation award, received for his heroism and for keeping the big boilers roaring. Without him, the ship was dead in the water and an easy target. He then wanted to show us his barbells and assorted weights. He promptly challenged me to show him how much I could lift. The bulging veins on J. C.’s arms bore witness to his weight-lifting days. He said he enjoyed asking visitors to show him how much weight they could jerk up from a squat and lift over their heads. I begged off, citing a pulled muscle so he winked and turned to Ed. “Nothing wrong with your back muscles are there, since all you’ve been doing is ruining good steel knife blanks?” Ed also had an excuse so we headed off to the restaurant.
I invited Helen to come along too, but before she could reply, J. C. spoke for her. “No, she won’t want to come. She’d be bored.” Without looking directly at us, she softly replied, “Probably so.” She smiled and waved us off, but she seemed to be less animated from when we first arrived.
On this visit, the old boy didn’t walk as quickly as he used to and leaned on my arm for support. His fragility didn’t stop him from talking, though. He was at a recent knife show and let us know what he thought of his competition. “This one guy, Ralph, buys ready-made handles that are mass produced in China.” He said China as though he was spitting out the name. “Now, who would do that? And Johnson still can’t put a decent edge on anything smaller than a butcher knife.”
When we finally got to Ruby Tuesday, J. C.’s favorite restaurant, he examined the cutlery and dismissed the knife. “You’d be hard pressed cutting through a stick of warm butter if this was all you had.” He pulled the knife up close to his eyes. Then he gently slipped the blade between his lips. “Even though it’s an inferior kind of steel, I still like the taste.” And then he quit talking.
Whenever he went quiet I thought he was just resting or charging his batteries the way my dogs seem to do when they’re napping in the afternoons. J. C. had that canine quality of watching everything about him, alert to movement as though he was our sentry making sure no enemies sneaked up on us. And like the dogs, he was always ready to bark. This time, though, all he said was, “You boys know about Cynthia, I guess? Nothing anyone can do.”
He sank into the booth and looked diminished as he picked up the salt shaker and put it down, rearranged the silverware, unfolded and refolded his napkin, rubbed at the water spot on his glass. He sank deeper into the booth. He just could not get comfortable. I noticed a slight quivering in his jaw as he struggled to add anything else to his last sentence. We tried to study the menu. J. C. could no more stay quiet and still than a movement in music. “I never knew when to stop pumping iron,” he declared suddenly. “But I never had any interest in getting tattooed, like a lot of my mates. I just got squeamish about those needles poking into my skin.”
With all his jabbering, I missed my opportunity. I wanted to guide him back to Cynthia but he dodged me with the tattoo diversion.
“J. C.,” I asked instead, “if you are squeamish about the rapid-fire tattoo needles puncturing you, how can you feel comfortable around knives, especially when you run them between your lips? Aren’t you afraid of cutting your mouth?"
He looked puzzled. “Well I guess I just enjoy forming a piece of steel into something else,” he said, “something I can use like a knife. And don’t forget, I sell my knives for a good price.”
I didn’t need to prompt him.
“I learned welding in the Navy and got pretty good at it so why not start making small things that are practical.”
I wanted to push him more, but his cheeseburger and soda arrived, and he was hungry. He always ate fast and insisted on talking at the same time. Cheeseburgers were his favorite food. “I just love these really juicy ones, and I don’t have to cut them like I would a steak.” I don’t think he really appreciated how thin he was and didn’t get the joke about why a nearly ninety-year old skinny man drinks a diet soft drink. He said nothing more about Cynthia.
On our drive back to J. C.’s, I began humming in my head the lyrics to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” Hey J. C., J. C., you’re alright by me. The J. C. who was named after the boxer James Corbett was in the backseat now and far from any prize fighting ring. He was eager only to get to his forge to see if the coals were still hot. He wasn’t thinking of exchanging blows with an opponent. He was not much of a blacksmith anymore, he tells us. It was too tiring. But he lit his coal fire every morning and kept it banked throughout the day to keep it alive. His big anvil was in the center of the smithy, a steel Quonset hut he constructed for himself many years earlier.
“That big old hoop has 13,329 bolts in it. And I know the exact number, since I put them all in,” he crowed. His various tongs hang on the wall. His rods of steel are neatly laid out length-wise, like rows of sailors ready for inspection before reporting to their stations. “You never know when you’re going to be summoned for action. Plus, I like making things. Got to keep those fires going. You never know.”
Before long, we were in his knife shop, which he made from the leftover logs that he hauled in and finished decades earlier to build the house. It’s a mess of tools, cans of oils, belts, chests of spare parts, wall hangings, floor coverings, and endless objects faintly recognizable and others so disguised by age and debris that they go unidentified. Everything is jumbled together in an order only J. C. can divine. It is here in a surprisingly dim dark corner that he has his large specialized belt sander. This is his sacred spot where he is in full command. As he did his preliminary check of the equipment, he shook his head over Ed’s poor excuse for a knife.
“How long have I been showing you how to avoid this mistake? Ashton has much better tool skills than you so you ought to pay more attention to what he’s doing.” Ashton smiled, and Ed rolled his eyes. J. C.’s motto was just “grind it off” if you make a mistake. Start over again. He insisted on us all wearing goggles, since sparks fly everywhere when he touched the blank to the sandpaper belt. One spark fell on J. C.’s cap and started to smolder. Before we could grab his hat, the ember started smoking. J. C. ignored the commotion and continued leaning into this oversized machine. The large wheels gained speed as we watched the abrasive belt go round and round. J. C. did not buy this tool; he made it.
When the wheels started to turn, he was no longer with us. He was focused so much on what he was doing that he became part of the machine. He directed the blank at just the critical angle to put the edge on it. As Sandburg might have described J. C., “he is under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs.” He paused the belt from time to time to examine the knife. I am grateful that he didn’t taste the glowing steel edge when he brought the blank up to his face to examine his progress. In no time, J. C.’s arthritic fingers straightened out, he forgot his joint pains. He pushed his nose down close to the blade and the belt as he ground a mistake into a supreme example of form and shape.
J. C. was the artisan who showed us the fine art of grinding a knife blank, a piece of steel that comes in the rough silhouette of a particular blade’s shape. He made it into a finished cutting tool suitable for slicing a biscuit cleanly in two or gutting a deer. When he was finished, he let it cool and then permitted us to look at it, a thing of beauty. The sensuous curve of the glistening and still warm steel gave us a rush. He then took us over to a table where he had various samples of wood or antler laid out that he cut earlier as handles. His favorite wood was some hard mesquite that he found on one of his scavenging trips to the Southwest. The wood had flowing patterns of yellow, orange, and red streaks in it and was heavy and dense. “This is the perfect wood for this knife’s handle.” It was as though he was some kind of village matchmaker who had just picked out a fetching bride for this handsome blade. He fitted it to the tang, that part of the knife in which the blade is held firmly in the handle, drilled two holes through wood and steel, and drove in the rivets. The knife was complete.
As we headed back to the house, we passed through Helen’s gardens, which are full of abstract metal scarecrows he’d made. We cut through his damaged carport and noticed where he backed into one of the supports. He pointed at the spot and laughed. He built this carport entirely from leftover scrap metal and is especially proud of it. We went into the house and couldn’t help but notice the massive door hinges that he pounded into shape on his colossal anvil. Inside, candle sconces, brackets, sugar scoops, griddles, forks, spoons and of course all varieties of knives that J. C. created at his forge adorned the house. We stopped again at the side table that is crowded with J. C.’s homemade picture frames that hold images of Michelle, her four smiling brothers—James Jr., Eric, Robert, and Anthony—and their wives, Linda, Francis, Barbara, and Sandy. The six male grandchildren—James III, Andy, Robert Jr., Bobbie, Lenny, and Tommy—all have their own frames. The picture of Cynthia in uniform is in front.
Finally he took us into his leather shop in the basement where he has a large selection of cow-hide sheaths he has cut and hand-sewn. He balanced the knife in his hand and then picked out the correct sheath, which the knife nuzzled into. The job was finished. He looked over at me and asked, “What was your question again about why I make knives?”
We all laughed. He didn’t give me much of a chance to say anything. He was on stage now, and no one was going to take that microphone out of his hands. “As a boy”, he said, “I used to walk through the woods, swim the rivers, stand up against the wind, build my own fires to keep warm. I didn’t have much so I made what I needed. I could cut wood pretty straight and start a fire with a piece of flint or some string tied to a twig to make it twist real fast and throw sparks. I wasn’t afraid of storms or of staying outside in winter weather. I was kind of a wild child, but I sure enjoyed myself.”
J. C. grew up in lean times and often trapped rabbits and shot squirrels, which the family ate. He was hungry a good deal of the time and lost any sentimental feelings about butchering animals early on. He said he never really liked killing things, but it was necessary if the family were to eat. “Good sharp knives seemed the best thing to use, since I prided myself in killing animals quickly,” he told us. He began to speak slower then.
“My granddaughter took her own life. I don’t know why. I can’t go on much more like this. Helen is already gone. Most days she just stares out the window.” He sat down and was finally quiet. That was all he said.
When it was time to leave, he beamed his big smile and walked us out of the basement to our car. Helen looked down from the kitchen window and waved. As I stared out of the backseat window, J. C. stood straight and leaned on nothing as he waved. And I wondered if I would see him again. He was frail, if not fragile. He told us earlier, “I’m not afraid of getting old. Someday it will happen.” He was already eighty-nine and his birthday was coming up. “Nothing’s going to pounce on me. I’m going after it first.”
He made us all smile, even though we knew he was wrong.