Looking for Rainbows
When I was a boy, a very little boy, just old enough to begin asking questions, I remember my old grandpa telling me things. It was around the time I figured out I had the same number of fingers as toes and learned to ask the Lord my soul to keep, when I lay me down to sleep.
He didn’t mind me staying the night with him, the old man with the wrinkly skin that he promised me I would have one day, when I teased him. My grandma didn’t mind either, as long as I didn’t run in the house, or make a fuss when her programs were on the black and white she watched every afternoon.
To help me keep my promise, my grandpa took me for a walk when we saw grandma heading inside to watch “The Guiding Light.”
That was, unless an afternoon rain set in, and then he and I would sit on the front porch and talk about things.
It was one of those afternoons, when the sky rumbled a bit and rain began to fall, I remember best. That wasn’t long after I discovered the book shelf, which really began me asking questions, with me only knowing enough letters to write my name and some numbers.
“Books are for remembering,” my grandpa told me when he caught me peeking through the handful of books he and grandma collected over the years. In one of the books was my daddy’s school picture when he was a boy. Most of the books didn’t have pictures and looked strange and mysterious until my grandpa started reading from them. His voice was soft and low and he could even sound like a pirate, or a cowboy, or a grizzly bear, when he read the stories which spilled from their pages.
This rainy day, the one I remember best, he and I took our place outside, me in the front porch swing feet barely touching the time smoothed floor boards, and him in his rocking chair.
After a while of listening to rain pouring steadily through the summer-leaved trees, green and full, I went inside; quiet like, as not to disturb my grandma, I got a book, the biggest book on the shelf. From the looks of things, it was going to be raining for a long time.
“Oh my, the best book of all,” I remember my grandpa saying surprised to see me carrying the family Bible, with me being so small and it being so big, and there being no pictures on its cover, no pirates, or cowboys or grizzly bears.
In time, he read me many stories from that, “best book of all.” In time, he read to me about the children of Israel, and the boy shepherd, and about the man who ate honey and locusts. He read about a baby in a basket, and three boys in a fire and a man named Noah and a Queen named Esther. In time, he read to me about a baby being born and laid in a manger and how that baby grew up to be nailed to a cross and crucified. In time, I would read to my grandpa too, from that book, when his eyes grew tired and felt better closed.
That day though, we never made it to “In the beginning,” not after I saw my name written in swirly letters on the first page.
My grandpa was always telling me I had eyes like a hawk which made me smile.
Beside my name, was the letter “B,” just as swirly and beside that was some numbers which were followed by a little dash.
“That’s your dash,” my grandpa explained along with everything else I had questions about. By now I had given up my seat on the swing and scooted up so close to him that I could smell the stuff he splashed on his face after he shaved every morning. He always splashed some on my face too, even though I wasn’t shaving yet.
It looked like a big puzzle, this picture in the Bible, lines in every direction; like the drawing inside the old radio he let me peek at when I asked too many questions. It looked like a big puzzle, and right there at the bottom of all the names, was my name, some numbers and a dash.
“This is mine,” he said, gnarled finger tip tracing back up the lines, “and this is your grandma’s.” They both had dashes too. Then, he showed me my daddy’s, which looked like mine a little bit, and then he showed me his daddy’s name, and it had two numbers the same as his mama’s. This made him stop a for little while,and watch the rain. I watched it with him, wondering out loud if we would see a rainbow, as the clouds were thinning and long beams of sunlight struggled through.
“Maybe,” he said, getting back to my questions and explaining that two numbers meant that the person had passed on and they were the people me and him went to visit every now and then, when we rode over to the cemetery with grandma’s roses.
I listened and thought about what he was saying, before pointing to one of the dashes and asking him what it said. It all says something, he had taught me when he first started showing me words and letters.
He watched the rain for a while before answering my question. I watched it too, even more convinced of a rainbow as the sun beams began to stream down and clouds melted.
“Jeremiah Smith, born June 1, 1878 , died May 3, 1944,” he said reading each word carefully before getting around to answering my question about the little dash that my tiny finger rested on, as I tried not to cry when I saw his eyes water up.
He said that dash was filled up with all kinds of things about his daddy; things for which there were words , and things for which there weren’t. He said, inside that little dash was a lifetime of memories, of feelings, of happiness and sadness. Somewhere in that dash, he said his daddy had gone off to war, and somewhere in that dash he had come home. He said, in that dash was where his daddy married his mama and started going to church. And somewhere in that dash, he said, he had been born, and so had his brothers and sisters, and there in the dash, his grandpa dug graves for some of them, done without food, worked sunup to sun down, and never grumbled.
“There ain’t no grumbling in that dash, same as mine,” my grandpa said, his voice changing as he took a look in my eyes.
“What’s in your dash,” I asked. This made him smile. I smiled back and patted his hand, glad the tears in his eyes had turned happy.
“You are Pea-Dab,” he said. Pea-Dab, was what he called me back then. Then before I could ask another question, he closed the Bible and noticed for the both of us, the rain had passed, taking with it all the clouds and letting sunshine fill up the sky.
We found our rainbow in the blanket of blue overhead, not far from the house as we made our way through summer steam that rose up from the gravel road, me walking as fast as I could to keep up with my grandpa.
There is always a rainbow.
This is a work of fiction fro grandpas and grandmas and grandchildren everywhere. Edward Reed 2020