My grandpa was a net man. Never mind how well I knew him. Never mind how often I saw him. Never mind how much I loved him. The point is that he used rope, wove nets with his hands, hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.
My grandpa was a net man, a talker and a storyteller. His life was woven with stories as much as it was with rope. He told the stories in his deep, rich, southern voice, a voice I loved so much I never knew how to say it. He talked about picking rows of cotton as a farm boy in Georgia during the Great Depression. He talked about walking down to the bar to sling his drunk mother over his shoulder and carry her home. He talked about WW2, how a bomb came down the ship’s smokestack, how he was sent to pick up body parts and stuff them into a bag.
But mostly he talked about his shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico. He talked about Campeche, Veracruz, Havana, Brownsville, Key West, abandoned boats with blood-spattered decks, and hauling up nets. Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp, he said. Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp mixed up with seaweed and trash. Sometimes they contained nothing but oddities and junk, and sometimes they contained nothing at all.
My grandpa was a net man. Never mind his T-bone steaks. Never mind how his short fuse in youth alchemized into the easy way he had about him later in life. Never mind that his boyhood nickname was Junebug. Never mind that he urged me to eat a Scotch bonnet off his pepper bush, and I did, and he laughed and laughed. Never mind the time he unrolled a giant map of the Gulf and told me all about it with a sailor’s mind and a sailor’s memory. The point is that he had – as we all do – an unknowable wildness. The point is that for 92 years he touched people’s lives without even trying. The point is that now he really has crossed the Gulf. The point is in the still of the night he left the world, and by left I mean he’s gone, and by world I mean all of this. I mean the crescendo of his life swept back down in a broad arc, I mean mass overtook energy.
My grandpa was a net man. He had been a shrimper himself, and worked with the nets. So when he opened up a shop in Key West and became a net-maker, he knew what to do. The shape, size, and kind of net he made depended on where the shrimper would be trawling and what type of boat they used. He worked the rope not only with his hands, but with an understanding of what was needed: the understanding that comes from time spent close to the heart of the work itself.
The nets were dragged along the ocean floor by the trawlers, and before that they drifted down, down, down through the briny water. But before that they had to be made from rope, the rope that passed through the fingers of my grandfather’s hands – hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.