Bear Bryant and Tadpoles

Still working my way down a very long list of childhood memories in keeping with the place and the time period–Alabama in the 1980s–of my next novel, Family Law.

14) I was almost eight years old when Bear Bryant died, and I remember standing in the middle of my grandparents’ braided rug, my grandfather leaning forward in his recliner as the anchor on the five o’clock news made the announcement. (This was when everyone watched the 5 o’clock news.) I remember the silence in the room, and I was confused about the time and day because my first reaction was that this must be an episode of Saturday Night Live. Only it was daytime. And not Saturday, and so maybe a rerun?

It had never occurred to me that Bear Bryant was someone who could die.

15) We had a small fishpond flush with koi and lily pads in my backyard, and for the summer months, there were frogs, too. Tracking their progress from tadpoles to froglets to thumbnail-sized frogs would occupy me for weeks. I’d catch frogs, all sizes, barehanded. I scooped up beach buckets full of pond water and counted tadpoles and I held them in puddles in my palm. Next to the pond, we had a cast-iron grill. Can that be right? It seems as if it were cast-iron. A massive thing embedded in our patio, never used. It soaked up all the summer heat so that you could blister your arm if you touched it in the middle of the day.

         One time my mother called me inside and I left my bucket on the grill, fill to the brim with pond and tadpoles. When I came back out, the tadpoles were floating, dead. Boiled. I felt like a murderer. And, yet, there was something fascinating, too—some realization of invisible powers at work. Science. Or life and death.

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