I dreamt of my Grandfather last night… William “Pop-Pop” Ferguson, father of Marjorie “Nan” Croyle, mother of my mother Linda Lee.
I dreamt of William Ferguson, who has been dead no less than twenty years now.
There was a long abandoned highway, it looked like the road that ran the length of Lake Okeechobee… I remember driving along this highway to visit my grandparents as a young boy. In the dream, I was walking, and the day was hot.
As I neared the harbor, which I remember being near to where my grandparents lived, I noticed a figure standing out upon the Pier.
Standing out upon the Pier, in a low-slung floppy fishing cap and loose white cotton shirt with blue jeans and sockless Docksider loafers, was my Grandfather…
…silhouetted against the twilight sky of early Sunset, shadowy against a canvas of blue-orange-gold, holding a dried sugarcane fishing pole with his gaze focused out towards the horizon of the lake.
He drew his line in slowly, and cast it back out with an easy gesture of the wrist. As I approached, he drew in his line again, and cast it back out again with the same efficient flick of the wrist. He looked perfectly contented and I almost couldn’t contain my excitement, but I stood a good distance off… just watching him.
I felt intrusive, as though I was disturbing him… but my awareness within the dream was sufficient to remind me that he was long since dead, and it had been many years since I spoke to him. My mind only seemed to grasp the basics of the former, focusing more intently upon the latter.
After he had made several casts and slow reelings of his line, I made my way towards him… as the sky deepened into pinkish purples, with the first tiny twinkling of a few scattered stars.
“Bring me the ice chest, son,” he said to me as I approached. His head never turned, but he knew I was there all the same. I picked up the weather-beaten old styrofoam cooler and carried it to him at the end of the dock, setting it behind where he stood.
Handing the pole to me, he bent down and took a bottle of beer out before sitting down upon it wearily. “I wondered how long it would take you,” he said, “I knew you wouldn’t wait long.”
My mind seemed to recall a similar instance to this, some episode from my younger days when I was supposed to stay at the house while he went fishing, but I had disobeyed and followed him to the pier.
This time was different than that, the time of day was earlier, and in real life my Grandfather hadn’t noticed I’d followed him… or, at least, I thought he didn’t see me watching him. In retrospect, I don’t really know if he saw me or not; he was a very sharp old fellow.
He leaned the bottle back deliberately and drank deep as he watched me reel in the line. I noticed his age; he seemed far younger than I remember him. His hands, though somewhat gnarled and weather-beaten, were the hands of a man no older than forty or fifty. The skin around his face and neck was healthy and taut; his eyes peered at me with deep blue vigor.
“So…” he asked, with a sort of knowing curiosity, “what can I do for you?”
This man was the patriarch of my family… one of several children to a destitute Irish immigrant couple in Philadelphia, his first income came as a “scrapper” in unlicensed bouts during the Depression before he met Mary “Nanny” Donnelly (herself an Irish orphan of twenty children) and they immediately started having babies of their own.
I could not even think of what to say… my mind was clouded with countless questions, I did not even know where to begin. I wanted to know everything; I wanted him to know everything… I wanted him to know how much I loved him and how far a shadow his influence casts over me, even to this very day.
“My son is named after you,” I said, my eyes misting, “I don’t know… I just wanted you to know that. I named my son after you… Liam, he’s just a baby now, but I named him after you.” I was stammering and rambling.
I rubbed the corner of one eye with my knuckle, I didn’t want to lose control… I started to continue, but the immensity of everything seemed to crush my voice.
Mute. I was struck mute by everything that could not be said, at how hell-bent and reckless so many of his descendants had grown… at how so few of us managed to escape the ravages of chemical dependency and the darker side of society.
I wanted some word from him, some cautionary teaching or counsel… and during this time, he started to nod slightly, as if he could hear all the various tendrils of thought or inquiry that were echoing across my mind but he remained content to look out across the lake, where the Sun had long since disappeared and left us sitting under a starlit sky.
After a few minutes of silence, he gently took the pole from me and stepped forward to make a cast. This time, unlike earlier, he extended his arm completely in a full-strength cast that resembled the motion a Pitcher might use to throw a split-finger Fastball with the count at 3-2 and runners at the corners.
His long sinewy arm and strong hands worked at the reel, moving the pole back and forth patiently as the line rippled the still water. He was talking now, but his voice seemed a million miles away. I felt incredibly tired and heavy.
My gaze followed the line out into the water, where a dim reflection of the night sky undulated into distorted whorls. Everything blended into a deep blue and my Grandfather faded into the darkening purple.
The soundscape changed, and I heard my children talking and playing. My mind clutched the source of their sounds and reeled me into full consciousness.
With that, I awoke… with my elder son Israel sitting upon my stomach, his dark eyes peering intently into his father’s.
I never said it was an interesting dream.