The Notebooks

“ The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound

And a wave broke over the railing

And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too

‘twas the witch of November come stealin’”

-Gordon Lightfoot

He was not my real grandfather .

The blood one ran off to have a real life.

This guy was John…sailor, pugilist, yarn spinner, stroke afflicted companion to my grandmother…the Irish one. John and Judson were apparently best friends, and when Judson ran off to find a new family and fortune, John remained. It is odd that no one could explain his presence. I don’t think they were married…they certainly didn’t sleep together and affection between them seemed non-existent. In fact, I’m pretty sure they hated each other.

John was really two people…one half of him was a normal, vibrant but embittered man who was forced by a twist of fate to drag his other self, the paralyzed one, wherever he went. He pulled and pushed his floppy limbs around with a deep resentment that over-flowed onto my grandmother who was forced to take care of him. I guess there was no one else, and they were of a generation that didn’t abandon each other. Fancy that. It was a grudging tolerance between adversaries, at least…and it ended much worse, but this story is not about the end. This story is about the joy he got from thrilling the pants off a ten year old boy.

He sailed the great lakes…and to anyone not familiar with these unique bodies of water, they are not bucolic sweet water basins filled with leaping trout and lined with lazy willows, although there are a few on the shore, here, and there…no, the Great Lakes are mighty seas that throw wind and harsh weather in waves and blizzards that never take a moments mercy with the lives it tosses about. Harsh, cruel, and unforgiving as any raging ocean, they spread wild and wide for thousands of wet square miles.

In his slow, semi-paralyzed speech, (it was as if a distorted Vincent Price was telling me stories of gigantic waves and freezing wind whistling over huge blocks of white ice) he claimed to have smuggled Chinese from Canada. They would roll them up, he said, in oriental rugs stacked on deck, so that if the coast guard were to catch them, they could throw the rugs into the lake where the “evidence” would quickly sink.

Shipwrecks, betrayal and carousing, good men and bad, lost and drowned…bar fights, Joe Dempsey, whoring, hair-raising, harrowing adventures that seemed to be endless. Death, despair, beauty and brilliant, bloody survival:

”…against all odds, little Skipper, She rose and slithered like a sea serpent.”

“Now, don’t let your grandmother know I told you this, but when I was in Chicago…”

“Did I ever tell you about the one-legged woman I knew in Detroit?”

“He took that axe and brought it down on his head like he was slicing pumpkin…”

“When the big ships plow into the sheets of ice, it gives a groan that’ll make your blood freeze…”

“You’ve got to know just when to turn her, or she’ll get sucked down in a minute, and no one, not even God will find you…”

“The waterspout picked him up, and I saw him spin twice before he was gone…”

“You should write them in a book, John, really.”, I said again and again, and each time he’d reply:

“Oh don’t you worry boy, I’m writing everything down, it’s all there in my notebooks…when I’m gone you’ll get them…don’t you worry…every word.”

He’d limp away then, muttering to himself, making plans, I thought, “…to write it all down”.

So for ten years the notebooks were a distant grail, and I felt confident that all his stories would be saved and someday published, perhaps…who could tell, it might happen. It would be something wonderful.

And, of course, there came a time for the hardened seaman to finally sink. His end was as strange as his life seemed to be…but we grieved as best we could, and in the general grumbling that followed his demise, I asked my grandmother if there were notebooks in his room.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “the old fool had dozens of them. They’re all lined up on the bookshelf…take as many as you want.”

Obviously, I thought, her habitual dislike of the old guy has blinded her to the gold inside those notebooks…his life, all those stories…

I walked into his small room, and there on the shelf above his bed, were twenty or more identical red bound volumes, their spines blank, but creased from turning.

I chose the third one in, and read, half way, leafing rapidly through the volume before putting it down and taking another….and another…yet again…

I was amazed, and truly, even to this telling, dumb-struck, as if the universe were revealed to be a simple cesspool.

Every volume contained a meticulous record of his daily bowel movements, the amount of peppermint oil he took, what he ate, and whether his “stool” was soft or hard.

I turned and saw my grandmother leaning against the door jamb, with her arms folded and that particular look of disgust on her face, as she said:

“The old fool.”


~ by theoxherd on November 10, 2012.

10 Responses to “The Notebooks”

  1. That was one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read in a long time, thanks for the laugh!

  2. Thank you. I’ve been laughing for years.

  3. Very well-written…how the story evolves! Thank you for sharing this and for making my Sunday a light-hearted one! My grin is still upon my face. 🙂

    • Ahhh, you must live in Ireland, or nearby to be pressing into Sunday.
      At least the stories we write won’t linger on a shelf for years.

      • True indeed, I absolutely enjoyed reading through your story. Keep the words flowing…

        As much as I love Ireland and hoping to land on my feet there one day, unfortunately, I’m at the other side of the earth, where the sun just rising… 🙂

  4. Curiouser and curiouser,
    China, Japan, somewhere in Malaysia, east side of Russia, or western Taipei…in California it is mid-afternoon…how amazing life is, from here to there in minutes.

    • The beauty when the world is in the palm of your hands, I think… 🙂 And none of the above-mentioned where I am now, unfortunately. Im somewhere in the pacific of Southeast Asia. 🙂 Have a lovely Saturday night!

  5. brilliant…and love this line: they spread wild and wide for thousands of wet square miles.

  6. Thanks so much for checking out my lifestyle blog,, and liking “Fender Bender–My Fault.” Your blog looks so interesting, I’ll have to take a look around.

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