Time for a true story.
There’s been so much. Too much, lots of muchness, and yet not enough. Less muchness than we’ve ever felt and yet not enough to be enough than we’ve ever had in quite some time.
So I want to share with you a true story.
My Poppa was a hunter. I called him Poppa because I was told that was his name. I think my oldest brother chose it because he was born first and therefore the first grandchild and the first grandchild that can pronounce sounds often gets to announce names but Poppa was an assertive man so I imagine there was some compromise.
Poppa hunted ducks. He once hunted deer as well but he didn’t like that as much, that felt much too much like hunting for sport rather than meat, because his father-in-law gave him a full cow for the freezer every Fall so there was no need for deer. But his bride, as he called her to his dying day, could braise a duck with the best of them, so that was hunting like the Lord intended.
The Lord had made some laws, but the government stepped in when it came to the hunting of ducks, and Poppa did his best to adhere to both sets. He rose early in the day, read his Bible, said a prayer at both the breakfast and dinner table, and he bought the Duck Stamp from the US Federal Fish & Wildlife Service every year, as was required of him and every other duck hunter since 1934.
And then he got old, poor man. It’s a shame when a man gets old, it is even worse when he notices.
I was lucky, my Poppa got old long before he noticed. Every memory of him is filled with snowy hair and callused fingers, but very few of them showed those same years mirrored in his eyes. But he did gain the wisdom and class that comes with the experience of man who has seen his share of scenes, as well as a man who has loved an elegant woman for several decades as my Poppa was fortuitous to do. Though his knees and elbows and eyeglass prescription eventually informed him that his era of hunting was over, the staircase to his study would tell a different story.
There on the wall hung the enlarged prints of several official Federal Fish & Wildlife Service stamps. They were matted and framed professionally, the mats marsh green or dusk blue to match the stamps’ vision. And in the corner of each frame is a true Duck Stamp.
I proceed to grow up in this house. I stumble up and down this staircase from dollhouse to video game, from illiterate to bookworm. I fight with my brothers on this staircase, am called to supper on this staircase, am scolded on this staircase. These ducks witness my every growth-spirt, terrible fashion phase, and heart break. They peek over the scaffolding at my family, scattered at tables plying pecans from their shells and playing cards on the floor, napping on a leather couch. They see me plummet down the stairs too many times as I realize I have not set a timer on the chex mix in the oven. They hear Nanna, Poppa’s bride, call for us to set the table. They hear my mother remind us, that Nanna asked us five minutes ago to set the table. They hear, just around the corner from them, the bubbling over of a full table of food and laughter, and too many talkative people who enjoy and irritate each other too much to hear each other at once.
And they hear Poppa call for quiet before anyone eats*, because the Lord and the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service both have laws that must be obeyed. And they are both present at this dinner table. The Lord in the prayer, and the Fish & Wildlife Service, just around the corner, in many paintings, on the staircase.
Unfortunately, this is a true story. And in as all true stories, time passes. For Poppa, instead of cicada songs and duck-whistle calls, there is next the whine of his hearing aid, and then suddenly, and yet not suddenly enough at all, silence.
And we must do what must be done.
I won’t go into the details of the passing on of the house this time around, as I believe enough of us have those stories. I will tell you, that when it came down to heirloom-ing of those Duck Stamps, I in my soul felt it was an encore of Much Ado About Nothing**. So, I offered that my vote of which Stamp painting would come to me, could go to my eldest brother, and Poppa’s namesake, and HIS bride. They happily accepted their second painting. No regrets.
And then a couple years passed.
Do not fret- to this very day, I have no regrets about my offering.
However, on a social media site I shall not name, I happened upon an artist. This artist was painting two geese over a marsh. A marsh like the one my family had taken me fish-frying at. I knew that hot green. I’d seen painters try to replicate this before, and failed horrendously. This artist though, must have actually traversed dew-laden lands and humid mornings with cranky frogs and territorial fog. How interesting, I thought. What lovely composition. It was not going to be hung in the Louvre, but what grace they had given the flight feathers. How caring they’d been to the cordgrasses. They described the brush they were using, how they began with that green background, not to set color but to give themselves mood.
Lovely. I thought, trying to contain myself. How nice.
You see, over the past couple years after graduating college with two art-flavored degrees and then going into non-art flavored work, I’d made it my mission to support passionate people when I could. A tithe in a way, like my Poppa before me. We were both following the Lord’s law, in our own ways.
As I listened to the voiceover in the video, I discovered this artist was painting these geese for a particular reason.
The Federal Fish & Wildlife 2021 Duck Stamp competition, to be exact.
I sucked my teeth. I giggled. I snorted. I sobbed into the pillow from the sofa of Poppa’s house.
And then I bought a black and white print of those geese. It’ll go towards the artist’s submission fee. They are one of the youngest contestants this year, and I’m rooting for them.
It’s time. Soon I’ll be buying a home, with a staircase. And I don’t know if there will be Duck Stamps there. But there will be lots of art, and among them will be one artist’s rendition of geese flying over a marsh, as the brushstrokes taught me more than I ever thought I’d want to know.
I don’t think Poppa minds. I think Poppa enjoys that I remember his Duck Stamps hanging there. That I can see him sitting in his chair, and Nanna in hers, late at night in the summer when it was my turn to spend the week with them. He would be reading some scholar’s book on Mark’s gospel, and Nanna would be part in a murder mystery novel, part in a needle point, and part watching Jeopardy. But as I would come up the stairs past those paintings, they’d look at me like I was the world.
So I giggle to myself, ordering a little print of a small artist, trying to make a way among the Duck Stamp hall-of-famers. In the great Somewhere, Poppa is still telling everyone I’m his favorite granddaughter while winking. You see, he thinks it’s funny because I’m his only granddaughter.
Imprint (verb/noun) 1. impress or stamp (a mark or outline) on a surface or body. 2. ZOOLOGY(of a young animal) come to recognize (another animal, person, or thing) as a parent or other object of habitual trust.
Isn’t truth a fantastic word?
Because I have told you the truth. My truth. A truth.
For starters, this is what I know, what I remember. That doesn’t mean it’s correct. I could be getting a call from a familiar member as you read this saying “No no- his hearing dwindled before his sight.” And in reality, it was the staircase to the playroom that held the paintings, not his study staircase. But there was less than two feet between those two staircases, yet they did have different carpeting, so you could call me on that one if you wanted.
But I don’t mind. And I suspect, neither does he.
And if you want to know more about the US Fish and Wildlife Service Duck Stamp click here.
*I and my middle brother may or may not have half a buttered biscuit in our mouths when this prayer occurs at any given dinner. The eldest brother has never been caught, and neither has his wife.
**I’m leaving this up to your interpretation. You’re correct. All of your feelings are right. How do you feel about that play? Yes, you’re right. No no- stop explaining it, no one actually cares, you’re just right. You’re correct. Stop. Sto- Yes I believe yo- I SAID YES. PLEASE. SHUT UP. STOP IT. STOP.