Summer of Hats

It was the summer of hats, large brimmed cowboy hats; the kind my grandfather always said made you look like a thumbtack. My grandmother was in the kitchen, coaxing miracles and out of the oven. She had a small wooden rolling pen, that in her hands could turn out perfect little round tortillas in three fast swipes, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. We were on the porch listening to the sounds seeping from the stove, the sizzle of the eggs and the oil popping of the chorizo.

It was early still, I was in my pajamas, my grandfather was dressed for work, dressed like a rancher, but without the horse. My grandfather and I would sit together. And his large laborer's hands would gesture and paint the air in front of him as he talked.

He started his histories with words like, “I once had a horse that...” (Pause) “I once had a horse,” he would say, “That would follow me anywhere.” His stories always sounded like they had taken place just a few years after creation.

It was in these days, when I was very young and my grandfather was not so very old as he is now, that he would remember for me days of good weather, the smells of elk hunting, and the youth of a boy who would become my father. He talked with his hands, his hands large like Gods hands, and dark, dark too, the way all good working hands were.

And on his hands, across all of his fingers lived a single scar, it was old and callused and shiny. It ran like a ridge, like the Grand Canyon.

I once asked my grandfather about the scars. He sat for a minute. His eyes flashed at me, remembering and creating the story, I saw the sparks of his mind shining through his eyes, it was his words growing hot, ready to spring from his chest. At times his words would roll out fast and hard, almost sounding angry in his sharp English.

“These scars,” My grandfather said putting his palms out, cupped so I could see the scars better. “Before your father was born, before your aunts were born I was in a war,” he smiled at me. I nodded, “One of the last days of the fighting I was shot at, and everything stopped, I could see the bullet coming right at me, I reached up my hands.”

And my grandfather reached up his hands in front of his face, his two large hands forming a tunnel in front of me, in front of him. His hands looked to me like two wild birds, suddenly caged and made to dance. “I reached in front of me like this and I caught that bullet.” My grandfather paused and looked at me, his hands clapped in front of him. I could see him as a young man, trying to catch a bolt of lightning from the sky. And the thunder of it burned my ears.

“I reached up in front of me,” my grandfather said, “ and I took that bullet from the air, but it was moving so fast it left me with scars here and here.”

“And while I was watching that bullet coming at me, my arms up in the air waiting for it, a man with long arms and a thin little mustache stabbed me with a knife at the end of his gun. He scooped out my flesh here.” He pulled up his sleeve, and where his dark tan ended and his paler flesh began, there was a scar, long and ugly, like the man with the knife and the mustache that did it.

My grandmother called from the kitchen, “that’s not a true story,” she said, “Tell her the true story. Those scars are from trying to ride a hog near a barbed wire fence.” My grandfather did not waiver, he held his steady gaze looking right at me, “Maybe that happened too.” My grandfather whispered to me. Then he laughed. “Everything was different then.”