When I saw my first snake I was sitting on Grandpa's shoulders. We were in the garden behind our house. Over the top of Grandpa's head, between the rubber toes of my sneakers, I watched the snake stretch out long and black in the sun on a rock. Hanging onto his forehead, I felt safe.
I heard my first choir sing in Grandpa's church. He directed the choir. The whole church grew silent when Grandpa appeared with his trail of singers. Grandpa looked small and far away from where I sat in the balcony, patent-leather shoes crossed. His red choir robe fluttered as he commanded organ and voice. He matched the poinsettias on either side. I felt famous.
I rode my first horse under Grandpa's watchful eye. He locked his fingers to support my foot as I swung into the saddle. The horse, Beaver, blew heavily through his nostrils and stood patiently while we shortened the stirrups. Between Beaver's brown ears, I watched Grandpa lead us, around the paddock, around the barn, and back again. Branches of the spruce trees combed my hair.
I felt big.
My first jump from the high dive was into Grandpa's arms. He waited below - urging me to leap. Later, on the pool deck, I laid my head on his round belly. We dried in the sun.
"Am I too heavy, Grandpa?" I asked.
"No," he said, "you are as light as a fly."
I felt brave.
After we moved to the East Coast, visits with Grandpa became less frequent. But still, when I saw him at Thanksgiving or Christmas, he would lead me to the organ bench and we'd tackle Mozart, Bach, and Brahms. We'd sit and talk about horses or the lessons learned from Greek and Hebrew translations of the Bible. And I always felt the same admiration I had when I'd first sat on his shoulders high above the world.
Today when I hear the swell of organ music, I think of him and how his brow furrowed when he tried to teach me the rhythm of Bach, his right hand scooping the air in time behind my shoulder, my tentative notes filling the air.
WHEN I smell the dusky smell of horses, I think of Grandpa in his red sweatshirt standing in the paddock commanding my heels down, my wrists up as I circled around him trying to master poise and strength. In the watery silence of the swimming pool, I remember how he continued to swim long after he'd had to sell his horse. He swam daily with the same determination that first launched me into the diving well.
My life continues with a curiosity for all things - to teach and be taught, and to feel safe, brave, and loved. In this ever-movement there are spaces of stillness. Moments between the clip-clop of horses' hooves, pauses when the music breathes, the gentle lap of the water's edge. In these, I remember; in these, I find Grandpa.