My grandfather Bob Hall died on Oct. 7, 1998, in his bedroom in Lake Martin, Ala., with my grandmother at his side.
In the 13 years since, certain things have always happened to make the sad anniversary feel sweet: my grandmother has received flowers, and I have received birds.
I know where the flowers come from. I send them.
The birds? That’s different.
I was a senior at UT the day he died. My dear Andy took me to dinner at our favorite college barbecue restaurant. On a patio overlooking the Tennessee river, I looked down and saw cranes. Certainly not out of context in the fall on a river in East Tennessee, but still – a gift. Like snow on Dec. 25.
One year I was canoeing on the Harpeth in Cheatham County. October. Again – not too late for cranes, perhaps too late to be playing on the water. My Lily and I saw riders take horses through a shallow part of the river. To the left were birds from my grandfather.
This week, running with two friends at Shelby Bottoms in East Nashville, I saw them again. I told my mother, “It’s just a little thing, but it was mine to see.”
It’s not always near Bob’s death anniversary that I see birds and feel they are from him. Sometimes, running near my grandparents’ house (where the hills are ungodly, or Godly, depending on one’s perspective), I hear them cheering. Cheering, not chirping. “Go, go, go. You can make it up this suck hill. Go!”
Sometimes the birds aren’t for me. One day, Lily stumbled across robins hatching. I think those were for Lily’s aunt, who was with us at that sweet moment.
They aren’t always from him and they aren’t always for me, but they’re always from above. Always with mystery, and always there when you need to see them.