I watched my father die earlier this year after a long bout with cancer. He died at home, with dignity and peace. I miss him.
There was another grandfather in my childrens lives, their mother's father. I called him Boonie, a diminuitive of his middle name. When I was divorced in 1998, Boonie waited a respectful time then came to see me. He started the conversation, "We've been friends too long to let something like this come between us." The fact that he reached out to me while in a divorce with his daughter meant the world to me. We remained friends, to the point that he attended my second wedding in 2003.
He remained a good friend and a good grandfather and reveled in his great-grandchildren. Last Sunday, after church, my son took his children to see Boonie, and from all indications, it was a good visit. The next day Boonie fell and struck his head. The following day it became apparent that there was some internal bleeding and the condition was inoperable. Boonie passed away Wednesday morning.
I've lost a friend. Boonie and I hunted together for several years, basically the decade of the '80s and part of the '90s. He loved hunting rabbits over beagles and together with his son, Gary, we put together one of the finest rabbit hunting packs in north Louisiana. At one time we had 26 dogs, all tri-color, blanketback beagles. During that decade, we ate a lot of rabbit meat. I still yearn for rabbit, from time to time. If I ever decide to start another kennel, the lessons I learned from him about breeding, training, and hunting over beagles will all come back as I begin.
Boonie thought that a 20 gauge shotgun was all that anyone needed for upland game, and his constant cheerleading for that gauge explains why I have three in my gun rack and each of my sons lean toward that gauge for shotgunning.
Boonie was a sailor as a young man, one of the US Navy's destroyer sailors. He served during the Korean conflict and when the beer was flowing and the fire had died down, would tell stories. His 'can supported the Marines during one amphibious operation in particular and he'd tell about bringing the ship in close to the shore, so close that they could hear the gravel bottom scraping the ship, and laying the big guns down almost to the wavetops to blast at enemy guns that were killing our boys. When he'd talk of the Navy, I could smell the salt and feel the steel deck underneath me.
He loved to fish as only a Cajun can. Bream and bass were his favorite quarry and if I had to guess, I'd say that he liked bream fishing most of all. He knew spots where we could put in a bateau boat and spend the afternoon under the cypress trees with cane poles and crickets. In a matter of hours, we'd have filled the ice chest with hand-sized bream, then take them home and clean them before dark.
He always had fish in his freezer and loved to throw a fishfry, whether it was for family or a hundred of his closest friends. One Saturday he came out to my house in Natchitoches to help me throw a crawfish boil. We got the men organized and started cooking. Before the day was over, we had cooked 400 lbs of crawfish, and fried 20 pounds of catfish fillets, along with 85 of his good bream, with enough boiled corn and fried potatoes to feed anyone who showed up. At one point, a Cajun band set up in the front yard, just because. When we were throught eating and dancing and drinking, there wasn't enough fish left to make a Courtbullion.
He loved his family, oh my, how he loved his family. He raised eight children, he and Rita, working two jobs for many years to keep them in food and clothes. He loved to drink and he loved to laugh and he loved with all his heart.
I'm going to miss Boonie, too. Godspeed, old man.