Tobacco and Honeysuckle

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The honeysuckles grew on a rusted wire fence. Part of the fence…the bit between the houses…was wood. The old man put it up when my family moved into the equally old house. His wife was still living when I was a baby. My mother said that she could see his wife from the screened-in back porch and that she waved, and then the fences went up.

I don’t remember the wife. She died before my memories began. I remember very well the old man and how, when he was blind and approaching his hundredth birthday, he would call me, always me, and grab my left hand in his strong, bony hand, and feel my ring finger. “Ain’t you engaged yet, Robbie?” he always asked, and I knew that he was icky. He sat on his front screen porch all afternoon and smoked a pipe. The pipe tobacco smell was warm and pleasant, unlike the cigarettes that my father smoked.

After my father ran off to Florida with the whore, my grandfather made sure that our financial and family needs were met. He became the male figure in my life. We stood by the rusty fence with the tiger lily perfume rising on the high summer air and mingling with the lighter scent of honeysuckle. PawPaw picked a honeysuckle bloom, pinched off the end and put it to his mouth. “That’s what the bees eat,” he said. I picked a bloom with great care so that I wouldn’t tear the silky petals. I pinched off the green end of the flower and pretended I was a bumblebee and tasted the single sweet drop of nectar.

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