The first time I drank Jack Daniels it hit my tongue with biting force then mellowed with a sweetness like honey. I’ve never been to Tennessee however that is how I like to imagine that place, a harsh bite of the horrible south but a sweetness that keeps the place alive.
As I hold my heavy glass slightly filled with Jack Daniels and look around my grandmothers living room to see people crying and laughing I am angry. I am filled with regret. One of my aunts is talking to toast my grandfather but I leave. It is winter. The air is that cold that hurts your face and I climb on top of my white corolla and hold the cold glass in my hand. I look up to the white sky and tears begin their decent to land in my glass and on my hands. I’ve got a fist sized knot in my stomach that keeps trying to punch its way out through my throat so I swallow hard but don’t drink from the cold liquor that I am holding. The air is quiet, my town just had a storm that wiped out the power, and the big evergreen tree in the yard. Its broken sharp edges feel a lot like how my heart feels, and the cold that comes with the loss of power feels a lot like my grandfathers cold body laying in the living room feels. He is dead. He took the towns power with him. He took all the light and warmth with him when he died.
Days later I am toasting again, fist in throat, holding a plastic shot glass up in the air in a church basement. My relatives are taking shots and getting shit faced, grieving how we only know how. I sit with my grandmother and hold her hand resting on a plastic table cloth. I tell her she didn’t take her shot of Jack, and she offers me the plastic shot glasses lined up in front of her. I knock back a couple more shots of Jack and the fist in my throat grabs at the liquor and threatens me with them, a sharp bite and punch to the back of my throat. I am again angry, this is not how I will choose to pay tribute to this mans life.
We as a people do not know how to grieve in a healthy way. We drink the dead’s favorite booze, we put them in boxes and bury them. We forget. Sometimes we even get some ink to remember our loved ones, changing the outside skin but never the inside. My grandfather was a great man. He had stamina to become a legend in my small town, something that my generation has no idea how to do.  We all focus on what never lasts and more importantly what is not important. We drink, we do drugs and we do not care anymore. We have no conviction to accomplish. We do not know how to sacrifice because our parents have so we would not have to.
John Goulart built a boat in his yard. One that was as big as his house that sat beside it. That boat sat in his yard for years before he donated it to the boating museum in Newport Rhode Island. John was Portuguese, but I never herd him speak a word of it. Dying in the hospital a week before he passed I sat on his bed, held his hand and smiled at him. Papa looked at me with stars in his eyes and softly said to me, “Andar na sombra”. I don’t speak any Portuguese.  Taken back by my grandfather speaking to me for the very first time in his native language I ask what it means. He smiles wider and whispers to me, “Walk in the shade.”
I do not know very much about my grandfather, I wish I had asked him more. He was a wise man, he owned our towns only liquor store. He drank Jack Daniels every day and told me once that it kept the pipes clean. Papa only had half a thumb on one hand that looked more like a big toe. I think he cut it off with a tractor blade. I could be wrong. I used to go visit him and my grandmother in Florida, where they spent their winters. He would wake me up at 5:30 for morning mass with him every day. I am not religious.  But I would go and sit with him and he would smile and show me off to his friends. I wish I had dressed better for church but I was in college and most of what I owned was tie dyed. When it came time for communion he would take my arm and lead me out of the pew. He would put his hand on my back and push me up the isle to the priest. I am not religious but on my way up I would silently say to myself , “sorry Jesus”, because I knew it was not considered right to receive communion if you were not catholic and I guess I wanted to apologize just in case I ever have to explain myself if god is real.
I will probably get a tattoo about my grandfather even though he would not approve or appreciate the sentiment. My grandfather was one of my favorite people, but eventually everyone you love dies. My grandfather told us all he was dying, he told us all he loved us. John sat on his bed one morning after breakfast and said out loud, “I’m dying”, then slumped over and died. My grandfather left behind a heavy legacy for all of us on how to lead an honorable life with conviction and purpose. He taught us by example how to be a good person that people could count on, what more do you want out of life then to be remembered fondly and admired for your convictions?
The most important idea that my grandfather left for us, for me, was how to die. Something that is not taught enough to people anymore. Not in a hospital, not hanging on to life in the most pathetic and terrified way, but how to leave the people you love prepared to grieve you. He taught me that to die well is to have lived well.


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