Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mile 2,310: Dust in the Wind

Sammy messed with his Harley almost every day. He would park it right in front of his garage on the driveway next to his front door. He never got sick of me, or at least he never showed it. As a four-year-old boy, I just wanted to look at his motorcycle. I did not ask a lot of questions, so I'm sure that pleased Sammy who was not exactly a loquacious fellow himself. Ever so often I would walk around to the side of the house and pee on the tall, wooden fence. I could have gone inside, I suppose, but when you are a boy, it's kind of cool to pee outside.

Occasionally his wife, Candy, would walk out the front door and ask Sammy if he wanted a beer, and ask me if I wanted a Coke. (Which in Texas in the 1970s meant a Dr. Pepper.) We both said yes. And other than the "Hey, Jeff, can you pass me that wrench?" we just both concentrated on the work at hand.

He reminded me of my grandfather. Rugged, quiet, and into just about anything with a motor.

Sammy also had a big anchor tattooed on his shoulder with "USN" just beneath it. He had just come home from Vietnam a few years earlier. I was too young to ask or understand the meaning of such an emblazoned memory in ink, but now I do. I get it. Nothing lasts forever. But we try.

I thought about Sammy and my grandfather a great deal over the past month or so as I prepared to work with an artist that I hoped would do justice to an idea that had been rolling around in my imagination for about the last five years. My grandfather was a "Tank Destroyer" in World War II, something I only know about through my grandmother and books. He never talked about it.

He rolled around North Africa with Patton, and then moved up to Scotland where they practiced blowing things up as they prepared to push the Nazis out of France. He and the 612th landed on D-Day  +8, and did just that.

I thought about him and all sorts of things in some recent writing I have done for the people at "Why We Ride," mainly because I can hardly write about riding without referencing my "Papaw" from somewhere deep in my soul.

And that brings everything together. Me, Sammy, Papaw, the Tank Destroyers, my years-long idea, and a tattoo artist here in Houston named Gabe who took my grandfather's patch from his Eisenhower jacket and gave me a permanent reminder. I am still wondering as this week has passed whether Gabe put something on my arm, or whether he pulled something up to the surface that has been there for years.

The lives of others help shape who we are today.

Papaw's been gone now for thirty years. But he still speaks, still impacts, still shapes. That's the nature of living our lives with those we love, even after they are gone. We draw on memories and the things they said. And we honor them with our lives, and the occasional work of art.

Let the outlining begin:

Wash the outline, and take a little break:

Back to work on the black shading, and then another break:

And then the relief when Gabe said, "Okay, Jeff, you got yourself a tattoo." All done:

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