Breath

It is cool in August in the North Country. My aunt digs around in a box in the kitchen closet and comes up with one of Grandpa’s old shirts for me to wear on what has become a regular pilgrimage down to the trout stream out back. I grab one of Grandpa’s rods from the wood shop, find a couple of worms in the raspberries beside the greenhouse, and make my way through the crisp air to where the stream does its best to drown out the engine roars from the new racetrack a distant cousin has built here in New Bremen.

The trout are biting as usual though I wind up feeding them and mosquitoes rather than catching any. Soon, despite my best attempts at conservation, the worms are gone. Standing here on the creek bank holding Grandpa’s rod in my hand, I think about him up in the house using the defibrillator, trying to coax a little more oxygen out of lungs clogged with sawdust from years of working with wood. Each breath brings him closer to the final inhalation.

We who love him give witness to his passing. Unlike the trees he and his brother used to go through with a crosscut saw as young men, Grandpa is coming down to the earth real slowly. I stand here by the creek, hold Grandpa’s shirt tight against me like a shallow labored breath, and watch the water flow.

August 2003

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