Actually, I never had a Grandaddy John. However, my mother has a great friend named Bonnie, who had a stepfather named John. The children of Bonnie and her siblings called him Granddaddy John. This is his story, sort of.
This past week, I took my mother down to Panama City Beach to one of her old watering holes, Triple J’s Restaurant. It was a favorite gathering place for my parents and their friends when they lived at Bay Point. We met her friend, Bonnie, for lunch. During our time together, Bonnie, who is an exceptional storyteller told me about Granddaddy John.
It seems that Granddaddy John was of an advanced age and eventually passed away. It was his wish that his ashes be spread in the Gulf of Mexico which he loved so much. As most of us know, gathering families together can be a challenge and it took a while before everyone could gather at the beach for the proper farewell to Granddaddy John.
When the appointed day finally arrived, the family struggled to get everyone out of the beach house and down to the marina. One of the grandchildren wondered aloud why they could not just spread the ashes in the adjacent sandy dunes. “He would just blend right in,” he said. Though the adults scoffed at his idea, it may have been the best proposal of the day.
The family gathered at their boat, which had two outboard motors, and started to make their way out to the Gulf through the pass. The family had barely made it through the pass when they began to have trouble with one engine. At the same time, they noticed a squall line gathering off the shore.
With only one functioning engine and an approaching storm, the sisters said now was the time to grant Granddaddy John’s wishes. They were barely in the Gulf, but the wind was picking up and time seemed to be of the essence.
It turns out that Granddaddy John was not much on religion though he did have a belief in some sort of great spirit, modeled somewhat after the native American Indians. Despite the approaching storm, Bonnie’s sister insisted that she deliver the remarks she had prepared after researching the native American beliefs of two hundred years ago.
Bonnie’s sister composed a prayer honoring that spirit just as the increasing waves caused by the approaching storm hit the boat. “O Great Spirit”, her perfectly pursed lips began. At that exact moment the shifting seas caused Bonnie, into whose care the ashes had been entrusted, to lose her balance and the box of Granddaddy John’s remains was thrown back over Bonnie’s head.
The ashes flew directly into her sister’s face just as her mouth was open and rounded, uttering the words “O Great Spirit”. The sister, who apparently had a previously unknown list of personal injustices related to Granddaddy John, began to utter colorful language detailing every grievance she had ever had with her step-father. She seemed to personally blame him for the predicament she found herself in even though he was long gone. These perceived wrongs went all the way back to her failure to pass her driver’s license exam at the age of 16.
Her anger was not helped by the hysterical laughter of the others on the boat. It seems that the sister’s face was completely covered in Granddaddy John’s ashes. Her wide eyes stood out in contrast to the dust covered face like a cartoon character.
The misting rain of the approaching storm caused the ashes to mat in her hair and face. No amount of brushing and shaking it off seemed to help. Part of the boat was covered as well. The boat radioed the marina, to tell the crew they were returning early and were having engine trouble. Since the staff at the dock was aware of the original purpose of the trip, they immediately knew what had happened when the dust covered sister and boat came into view.
It took numerous showers before the sister felt that Granddaddy John had finally been disposed of properly. In fact, she complained for weeks of the gritty taste in her mouth, blaming Granddaddy John each time the subject came up.
It is not polite to make fun of the dearly departed, but knowing Bonnie, this seemed like the perfect sendoff. The family still tells the tale years later as do all who have heard the story from Bonnie’s own lips.
Thanks to Bonnie for allowing me to share the story of Granddaddy John. I wish you could have been there to hear her tell it in person. I am sure the people in Triple J’s wondered what had two old ladies and one semi-old man laughing so hysterically during the middle of lunch.
A good story is made even better when you tell it on yourself, like Bonnie did. Sharing it with friends, well that just makes it even more special.
Rest in peace, Granddaddy John. I feel like I knew you.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org