My grandfather, Lester E. Potts, Sr, who died when I was 10 years old, was my best childhood friend. We shared a special bond forged over Sunday afternoon cedar-shaded stories and Wednesday morning fishing adventures. “Let’s throw a party,” he would say, and proceed to make a little celebration out of a mundane moment of our relationship. There was a good bit of quiet time with Big Daddy (as I called him). Or, it seemed that way to me. But there was a lot of communication, all the same.
Shortly before Easter, 1976, Big Daddy told us about a spell he had experienced while walking down the side walk in front of his home. “I froze, couldn’t move for a minute.” I remember Dad suggesting that he seek medical attention, something he rarely did (Rubbing alcohol had been his only medication). This led to a diagnosis of TIA, and a hospital admission for cerebral arteriography to look for blockages that could lead to stroke.
I remember with intense clarity what happened in Big Daddy’s hospital room that night after the arteriogram. Somewhat agitated and appearing afraid (I had never known him to be this way) he began to try to tell us what the experience of the arteriogram had been like for him. But he struggled to get his words out, to express his thoughts. He seemed frustrated by this, and the fear showed more clearly in his eyes. Obviously, he had sustained a stroke during the procedure, my parents later told me. But right then, all I knew was that my Big Daddy was scared, and I needed to help.
I remember looking at him with compassion that his old spirit was pulling out of me. I wanted to help him find the words he was groping for, so that he could let us know how the experience had felt for him. He needed us to know, and he was growing more and more angst-ridden with each broken phrase, babbling farther and farther from language we could understand.
He appeared to be giving up in exasperation. Then he turned and looked directly into my eyes. I feel I will never forget this moment that happened 40 years ago. All the relational intensity of our times together seemed to well up right then, and he said three words. As he said them, a peace seemed to come over him. “Danny Boy knows.” And then he leaned back in his bed.
He needed someone to understand. He needed communication, communion. Someone to validate his anxiety, to know what he had felt. To hold his hand and comfort him. He needed his 10-year-old fishing buddy by his side. And I was there because he loved me, and I loved him.
Brain cells had been disconnected from each other. Spirits had not.
Yes, sir. Danny boy knows.
And I hope I always will.