My parents split when I was three years old and I was sent to live with my paternal grandparents. My father was around – he lived a couple blocks away as I was growing up – but I didn’t see him much. In essence, my grandfather, Samuel Linville Smith, was my father. I will ever be grateful for the courage mustered, at the age of 51 – the age I am right now – to take on the out-of-control bundle of energy and insecurity that I was at that age and to raise me to the point where I might actually achieve something in life.
He died in 1984 and I miss him every day. Happy Father’s Day, Granddaddy. This is for you.
THE BROADMAN HYMNAL
-for Samuel Linville Smith
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
1. Church Sam said he wasn't afraid to die. He'd beaten cancer twice, and it's hard to beat anything three in a row... and he thought of church, those last days – Easton, Union Cross, New Friendship, and finally Wallburg, all Baptist – the hallelujah of gospel choirs, joyful noises for the Lord, the amen and musty smell of contentment, like the frayed back of the Broadman Hymnal, the smell of "Amazing Grace" lingering until he washed his hands for Sunday dinner. And he waited, as if death was an old friend coming down the road with a dipper and a bucket full of spring water, cool at the end of a plow- long day. 2. Weathervane There rides the weathercock over his forgotten barn, the simple Sunday chanticleer, herald of the texture of wheatfields. It's almost as if they built the barn just for him, hayloft high and red, brimming over with horses, and crowned him like the pride of the shiny new 1920s. And there he was, the dance and spin and the glimmer, golden as the spatter of first light filling the yard, the mist now like pollen, dusting the tin-cup coolness of daybreak. He was here like early evening and the drowse after supper, the dewpoint gathering on tomato vines, the meandering float of honeysuckle breath, and the timeless back and forth of the front porch swing. He was here watching a country sunset as the moon and the dark and an early star climbed the sky behind him. _______ There rides the weathercock above the barn skeleton, empty bins once full of Indian corn and sheets of tin roof rusting where they fell, his memory a workday haze, 2pm, humidity, the loft, 100 degrees and the haydust choke sticking to the skin like sorghum. 3. Evening Night is an accumulation of small darknesses, the lazy gathering of shadows like children playing from tree to tree until their parents call them in. And the spackled summer of things falls away, a warmness between winters, and like apples rotting on the ground we are bound, at last, to where we started. He lived the fresh turning of soil, a steady place for the root to hold, loam richness and the mute lift out of the dark, dirt shoulders for the tree to stand on. Such men should pass working their sudden fields, or quietly, to the moonyard lament of hoot owls, while beagles dream of running.
“The Broadman Hymnal” originally appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature in April of 2003.