Thursday, September 01, 2005

A war of inches

The line was much shorter. The supplies more plentiful. Thirty minutes in a rapidly moving caravan netted two bags of ice and two gallons of drinking water. The news crews are gone. But there are twice as many military boys helping distribute relief. I thank every one of them as I pass. Thank some of them twice.

But when I drive up to my Grandmother's with the spoils of my victory, I see Doe (my grandfather) shuffling across the roof. 85yrs old, sweating like a cold beer in the noon sun. Hammer in hand and an ancient tool belt cinched around his waist.

He is supposed to get me if he wants something done. He's up there flopping around on the scalding roof in the unrelenting heat, even though I made him promise to come get me. He swore as a Mason that he won't pull stunts like this. But there he is, feebly trying to hold a roofing nail in place with his withered, arthritic hands trembling with each breath.

I drop off the supplies with Grandma. She's yelling: I tried to get you, Jon. You were gone. I tried to get you.

I'm yelling up to him as I climb the ladder. Telling him to get down. I'll do it, for God's sake! Let me fix the roof. But he's still hammering. Ignoring me. He's placed three nails in half an hour. And there are dozens more to be done in order to get the additional.

After one more nail and five minutes of me asking him, "Come on, Doe, I'll get. I'll get it," I have to take the hammer out of his hand. He almost loses his balance and catches me with the same stare I imagine he gaze the Japanese in Manilla in 1942. I help steady him and he's trying to reach for his hammer.

Stop, Doe. I'll do this. You said you'd come get me if you wanted something done.

God damn, it, son! I'm not cripple! Give me my damn hammer. I can do this for myself. Shit, son!

We just stand there for a moment. I'm holding his left hand, helping him up. I can feel the bones and thick, old skin between my fingers. His other hand is open, waiting for the hammer. We're sweating and angry and tired and there is no end in sight for this adventure. Neither of us really wants this arguement.

Doe, please, I'll do this. You show me what you want. I'll get it done real quick. And we can go inside.

God damn.

Let me have the nails. Please.

Then he gives them to me. And points where he wants them to go.

One small step at a time. A war of inches.

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