One lazy afternoon, Grandma Crystal called Joey up into the attic, and sat him down across from her at the table, her crystal ball flooded with shades of green. "When you're out and about on the mighty Sassafras, Kid Joey, you must go with caution, you understand? The Kraken is about! A fierce sea creature with tentacles to grab you!"
Joey, a stout-hearted lad, took the alarming news in stride. "I'll bet I could make friends with it, like Rosie did with the monsters under her bed."
"Perhaps," Grandma Crystal said, a mysterious glint in her eyes. "I foresee a man who will perhaps be important to you, who will perhaps help you tame the sea beast."
Now this news intrigued Kid Joey. "Who?"
"It is not for me to say…it is a man unknown to me. There is fire in the ball, Kid Joey. Friendly fire, that lights the way for adventure."
An ominous fortune told through the pictures inside Grandma's crystal ball, Kid Joey thought as he went outside to play. He wondered if the friendly fire had to do with Nana Terri who was coming. She'd said she had a surprise for everyone. A big one. But fire? Hmmm, he thought, wondering as he sat on the back porch, daydreaming.
The next morning Rosie and Kid Joey sat on different steps, way over on Knight Island where Nana Rose lived. Nana Terri was close, Kid Joey could feel it in his bones.
They took a break from the wait when Nana Rose called them inside for a late lunch, spaghetti and meatballs.
"What do you think the surprise is, Nana Rose?" Kid Joey asked, keeping Grandma Crystal's prediction in mind. "Does she have fireworks with her or something?"
"Fireworks? Why would you think that?" Nana Rose said, plopping another meatball on Kid Joey's plate.
"Oh, I don't know, just have a feeling," Kid Joey answered mysteriously. He couldn't tell Nana Rose about the crystal ball. He was sworn to secrecy, after all.
"Well, it's not the 4th of July or anything."
"Maybe we'll have a campfire!" Kid Joey said, getting excited at the idea.
"Maybe!" Nana Rose said, starting to wash dishes when they were all finished eating, and then there was a car door slam out front, and footsteps on the porch!
Kid Joey was the first to burst onto the porch, his curiosity eating him up. He stopped dead in his tracks, his mouth flying open in amazement as he nearly bowled over a strange man with a beard and a US Marines cap on his head.
"There you are! I figured you'd be out here on the steps waiting for my surprise!" Nana Terri laughed. Then she hugged Kid Joey, and Rosie as she came out onto the porch as well. And of course Nana Rose. Then she turned back to the kids. "You guys, I brought you sort of a present! I brought you a Gramps! Meet Gramps Blaze!
Kid Joey stared at Gramps Blaze. "Your name means fire," he said, before anyone else could say a word.
"Yes, Kid Joey, it certainly does," Gramps Blaze said, as Rosie gave him his first hug. Joey got it, right then and there. The fire in Grandma's crystal ball was not a campfire or firecrackers, but a new Gramps with a strange name! Gramps Blaze!
"Cool!" Kid Joey smiled, happy that the mystery was solved. He hugged everybody, including his new Gramps.
Gramps Blaze and Nana Terri would be at Nana Rose's on Knight Island for the summer, and of course Kid Joey and Rosie would be right there for all the action. Being a broken old broad, Nana Terri didn't get up north from Georgia much, so they would make the most of the visit.
While Rosie hung out a lot with Nana Terri and Nana Rose, Kid Joey followed Gramps Blaze around just waiting for the stories the old man always had waiting for the telling.
And Gramps Blaze could do just about anything, even though he was kind of broken like Nana Terri, he was a Marine, and his own Gramps had been a boat captain.
Cool, Kid Joey thought, especially since moving to Maryland.
Moreover, Gramps Blaze loved to fish. Loved it.
But one of the first outings into town with Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze had proven to be a little disappointing.
"Wow!!" Kid Joey gasped, looking at a huge float, a kraken! It would have held both he and Rosie, with a grandparent hanging onto the tentacles of it as well. Its green parts were more of a neon green than your garden variety kraken, it had a fierce expression and red, evil eyes. It was the coolest thing Kid Joey had ever seen (well, aside from Grandma's crystal ball, that is).
He pointed it out as subtly as any eight-year-old boy points out something he's drooling over, hoping that a present was in order. He'd been really mannerly since Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze had arrived yesterday. Even put his napkin in his lap at dinner last night, like he knew Nana Terri liked.
"Oh sweetie," Nana Terri said, her face not very promising, "Gramps Blaze and I don't have very much money, but that looks really cool!!" Seeing the light dim in Kid Joey's eyes as his hope for the kraken float faded, she said, "But you remember exactly what it looks like - its eyes, and tentacles, and it's colors, because I have an idea. Are you game for an adventure?"
Kid Joey's vehement nod was all she needed to hunt down Gramps Blaze in the store and drag him to the car where Kid Joey already waited for them, trying to be patient about their crippled paces. He knew they both had booboos inside their feet and legs, and Gramps Blaze also had some in his head and hands. The booboos slowed them down, but didn't stop them; no siree!
Back at Nana Rose's place, Nana Terri led Kid Joey and Gramps Blaze into the back yard, all the way down the bank, carefully placing her feet and putting her weight on the cane that went everywhere with her when she tread on anything but flat, even sidewalk. Kid Joey, never having seen her this far back in the yard where it gently sloped down to a floating finger pier, held her left hand, and she smiled.
"Not much farther," she promised her guys, Gramps Blaze, and Kid Joey, as they came upon a long tarped object near the land end of the pier. She began to loosen the ropes and bungees holding the tarp fast to the object, and soon the trio pulled off the canvas cover. Kid Joey's eyes widened in delight at the little boat that had been hidden in plain sight in Nana Rose's own yard! How she could have a treasure like this and not be out rowing around the Sassafras every day, all day, was beyond him.
"Okay. Gramps Blaze is in charge of this project. See that old shed over there? Well, there's paint in there, probably most of the colors in that kraken float. And you know what else?"
She waited to spring it. Waited until she'd hooked Kid Joey like the fish he would no doubt catch with Gramps Blaze on their boating adventures.
"What?" Kid Joey asked.
"There's a motor for this little boat in there too," she dropped her bomb.
Gramps Blaze smiled and said, "This sounds kindof like a keep-Gramps-Blaze-and-the-kid-busy-adventure."
Nana Terri winked. "More like a Gramps-Blaze-and-Kid-Joey-will-become-fast-friends-over-a-cool-painting-and-fishing-project-adventure."
And fast friends Gramps Blaze and Kid Joey indeed became, as they sanded and painted and sanded and painted some more.
They worked all week on the little boat, its oars, and its anchor, getting it ship-shape. When they were finished the boat was painted exactly as the grand kraken float in the little store in town had been, including the neon green parts (for which Nana Terri had sprung the money, as a reward for the guys' hard work). Even its oars were painted like tentacles! Then Gramps Blaze and Kid Joey launched their craft into the water, snubbing it up to the pier at first, while Gramps Blaze showed Kid Joey the fine art of stepping into the middle of the boat from the dock, how to insert the oarlocks, and finally, gave him a lesson on rowing. He had to give the kid credit, he thought, watching him pump at the oars, sending the small boat skimming through the water, he was a little dude, but he had some strength.
And that strength would build throughout the summer. Gramps Blaze would see to that. He'd already begun, actually, keeping Joey busy sanding and painting with even strokes, careful to use both arms equally, building muscles all over his body.
Muscles came in handy for all kinds of adventures.
Especially adventures on the high seas.
Well, for now, adventures on the mighty Sassafras. But who knew?
Gramps Blaze sipped his ever-present coffee from the travel mug that went everywhere with him. Along with his little cooler in which he carried his ice cubes for his headaches. Kid Joey just accepted ice and coffee as part of Gramps Blaze the same as he accepted Nana Terri's cane and being careful around her feet and legs. There were always special considerations when adventuring with grandparents, which gave those adventures more character.
Kid Joey loved how Gramps Blaze could slurp his coffee louder than anything he'd ever heard, too. Some really resounding slurps that drew headshakes from Nana Terri. Kid Joey didn't care. He thought it was cool, and started imitating Gramps Blaze.
"You know I can hear you guys all the way in the house when you're out in the middle of the river, right?" Nana Terri teased regularly. "You'll be scaring the fish away!"
Kid Joey was getting to be an old hand on the Sassafras. By mid-summer he could row against the current very well, and take Gramps Blaze anywhere to fish. And once Gramps Blaze had, with Daddy's help, mounted the engine to the stern of the little boat, he taught Kid Joey all about gassing it up using the three thirds rule (a third of the tank for the trip out, a third for the trip back, and a third tank for extra fuel, just in case), checking and adding oil, the many steps to starting the engine, and of course how to use the engine handle to throttle and steer the boat. And Kid Joey had been practicing tying Fisherman's Hitches, and other useful knots for tying up at the pier, and securing the anchor. He was turning into an excellent First Mate, Gramps Blaze thought, stroking his beard, slurping his coffee after the first week.
Nana Rose liked that Gramps Blaze was every bit as particular about safety precautions and maritime rules as her own husband had been.
She was also glad to see the dinghy back out on the water, a neon green streak of tentacles (even the oars were tentacles!) and red eyes, its name, KRAKEN, boldly emblazoned in spiky letters on its stern. KRAKEN was the perfect vessel for carrying Gramps Blaze and Kid Joey on their various adventures.
Kid Joey and Gramps Blaze shared some cold fried chicken and potato salad Nana Terri had packed for them, along with water flavored with a little juice that Gramps Blaze had gotten Kid Joey hooked on during the course of the summer. With their fishing poles resting across the seats, Gramps Blaze finished eating first, and dunked his hands into the water, then wiped them on a rag since they'd been greasy from the chicken.
"Think Nana Terri could hear me slurp my juice-water?" Joey smiled.
"We'll have to ask her when we get ashore, Matey."
"Aye-aye Cap'n Gramps."
"You know, the sky today, with all those little clouds, is just like the one in this weird dream I had the other night. I was fishing, and I got this great big pull on my line, like I was reeling in a swordfish or something."
"A swordfish?" Kid Joey's eyes grew round and surprised as he absently munched a drumstick and watched his grandfather cast his line back into the drink.
"Big like that, anyway. I saw this glowing green streak beneath the water, but I woke up before I reeled it in all the way."
"That doesn't sound like any fish I know of. Most fish are dark green, or whitish."
"Except our Kraken," Gramps Blaze said, patting the seat, smiling.
"Kraken is the coolest boat on the Sassafras!" Kid Joey grinned with pride at their uniquely painted craft. And he was right. Inside and out, with its neon green tentacles and red eyes, it was the brightest, most distinctive boat on the waters.
Just then, Gramps Blaze shouted, "Holy moly!" as his rod bent nearly in half with the weight of the fish on the line. And Kid Joey saw it then - a huge fish, he assumed, neon green, almost like the Kraken, and at least three times as long.
Gramps Blaze's mouth pinched in determination, not saying a word (which was pretty ominous, because Gramps Blaze always had something to chat about or a story to tell), reeling, reeling, reeling.
Gramps Blaze's rod, bent almost in half as the fish fought him. It must have weighed a ton! It sure was giving even Gramps Blaze a run for his money.
"I think I need Kid Joey's muscles on this end of the rod here," he said, ducking his head left in a 'c'mere' gesture.
Kid Joey leapt to Gramps' side, winding the reel while Gramps Blaze held it steady. Then he pulled back on the whole rod a couple of times while Kid Joey continued to crank and crank in the line.
Suddenly, the creature broke the surface of the water - neon green, glowing in the sunlight, flapping and twisting as if contact with fresh air and sunlight burned it. A huge kraken! Tentacles writhing! Red eyes glowing! Fierce!
Flailing on the end of the line, it suddenly began to transform. Both Gramps Blaze and Kid Joey felt the load on the end of the line lighten considerably, suddenly weighing almost nothing. Then Kid Joey shouted, "Gramps Blaze! Look! Look!"
And there on the end of Gramps Blaze's line, they watched the monstrous kraken change into the enormous, air-filled float Kid Joey had so wanted at the little store in town. Gramps Blaze wasted no time reeling it into the boat. "Before it changes back and we're in big trouble," he explained as Kid Joey helped him haul the massive float into the boat, which it dwarfed.
"COOL!" Kid Joey shouted with glee. "Wait'll Rosie sees this! She won't believe her ears when you tell this whopper fish story, Gramps Blaze!"
"But we have the proof," Gramps Blaze said, handing the tow line to Kid Joey. You secure the line to the float…"
"I'll use an Anchor Hitch," he said, already beginning to tie the knot. Once the float was secure, they hoisted the giant kraken float over the side, and started into shore.
"We have a stringer full of pretty darned respectable fish for supper, too!" Gramps Blaze said, proud of their day's catch.
"We sure do!"
The KRAKEN carried the duo slowly into shore, the monstrous float trailing behind them, bouncing starboard and port over the tiny wake from the little dinghy, painted in its image.
Rosie saw them coming, and couldn't believe her eyes when she saw what they were towing towards the pier. And then she couldn't believe her ears when Gramps Blaze told his story of how he'd 'caught' the float.
"Yeah, right. You just took the boat to the wharf downriver and walked into town," Rosie's disbelieving voice said, as she suspected a tall fish tale.
"Well, Little Miss Doubty Pants, why don't you ask Nana Terri how much money she gave me this morning to go fishing?"
"She doesn't give you money to go fishing, Gramps Blaze, fishing is free."
Gramps Blaze raised his eyebrows, waiting for his granddaughter to catch on.
"Oh," she said, her eyes widening, beginning to wonder. "That's right. You didn't have the money to buy the float…hmmm."
Gramps Blaze took the stringer of fish up to the garage where a utility table stood next to the hose bib, all ready for him to clean them.
He and Kid Joey made fast work of scaling and gutting, and took their bounty into the house for Nana Terri and Nana Rose to fry up.
Gramps Blaze let the kids drag him down to the pier to free the float of its tow line and dive onto it, splashing and squealing in the warm waters of the Sassafras, waiting for dinner to be ready, with plenty of adventure to tell the family about around the table.
Gramps Blaze's mouth watered, all ready for some tantalizing fish and nice cold beer to wash it down with a big slurp.
Kid Joey splashed and played on the float, eager to tell Grandma Crystal all about how her prediction had come true: He had tamed a fierce kraken, become a skilled First Mate, and best of all become fast friends with Gramps Blaze. What a summer!
TD - 8/30/2015