Memoir: Dispatching Flies to the Sweet Hereafter

The flies didn’t stand a chance. When people came in to get a hair cut, flies would sometimes follow them in the door, but they were short for our world so long as my grandfather, Dolphe, was around. He would just stand quietly, almost motionless, and suddenly flick out his middle finger and thump them from the air to total oblivion in an instant. Their carcasses would just drop from the air to form litter for the shoeshine boy, me, to sweep up. 

Dolphe was a quiet man with thick glasses. When business was light, he would just sit and watch people walking by on the sidewalk. The shop had tinted windows, so we could watch the world go by without the world watching us in return. We had the panopticon barber shop, I guess. 

Sometimes, I would go home with him for lunch. He drove a Chevy Malibu that wasn’t a race car, except for when he was driving it. I remember well stopping at a red light at one of the few intersections in Galena Park when two teenagers pulled up next to us. “These boys think they’ll be in front of us when this light changes,” he said, “but we’ll see about that.” And sure enough, he got out in front. I think it is easiest to win races when the other competitors are left unaware of their own participation. 

When not dispatching insects to the great beyond or racing teenagers, Dolphe was a gardener. He was a gardener who had many houses over the years. I can remember seeing his successful gardens in McDade, Galena Park, North Shore, and Bolivar. I’m sure he had many other gardens unknown to me. Often, when the rest of the family was milling about and making noise, he’d be enjoying quiet contemplation among the squash, tomatoes, and other edibles. 

His cats were mean. Some attributed this fact to the breed of cats, but others were pretty sure it was because he played rough with them. Whenever they would go near him, he would play fight with them, and they seemed to think this was the way to interact with humans, so the rest of us just stayed clear of the cats, ornery things that they were. 

He loved watching television, apparently, with the colours all out of whack. It never looked natural, and he liked to fiddle with the tone and brightness adjustments, so it was always changing, like a cathode ray kaleidoscope. This was entertainment in itself; anyone could see that.

Finally, I learned to play “Tennessee Waltz” on the piano just because he asked me to. Most times I visited him (not big family gatherings but quiet visits), he would ask me to play it, which I always did, quite badly. I don’t think my version ever really improved, but my audience of one was always appreciative, and I still love that song. 

He is pictured here on the left with my father, who is on the right, obviously. 

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