Bio Note: The best memories of my youth involve my grandpa. I was a twig of a boy with coke-bottle glasses and always chattering, singing, or whistling. My curiosity knew no bounds and I was always under foot. I was a great pain to my brothers and parents, yet Grandpa believed in me. He was an artist and I know he understood all the pent up creativity that was oozing out of me.
My grandpa had a hallway in his head with doors marked hitches, bowlines, bights, and bends. To him ropes weren’t ropes and kids weren’t kids; ropes were lines and kids were mates. How I loved the soothing sound of mate. “Here’s how you tie a bowline, Mate. Over, under, around, and through.” His formulas for knots were always entwined with lessons—which knots were meant to slip or hold, to be untied or tied. His leathery fingers flowed and stories bore me to exotic places as mats, fish nets, and Turk’s heads knots flowered before me. I will never forget his patience as he taught me how to braid. The endless hours I enjoyed crafting key rings and lanyards. If anyone showed a passing interest, soon they had a gift. Most of all, I learned the value of a line. To him a flawless line was a tool never to be wasted. There were no Gordian knots, no tangles beyond a keen eye and time. I suppose that’s why he was married 57 years, and why he never threw a tangled line away.
My Grandpa was like Moses to me, he had a snakey staff. It was carved and painted as a diamondback. It stood in the dark den corner trapped behind the door, until Grandpa gripped it safely behind the head and took it on his walk. I thought its menacing wooden tongue alive, red-flicking when I stared eye to sequined eye. My first brave act was running my fingers lightly down its patterned back. Grandpa cupped my hand in his behind its head. We walked that snake between us clicking concrete all the way around the block.
Originally published in The Raven 1991
©2021 Mark Weinrich
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