I wrote this for the Waterways Storymaking Festival, and it wasn’t chosen to be shared anywhere, so I decided to share it here myself.
It is all true.
I never met my paternal grandfather. He’d passed on before my parents were married, long before us kids came along. But when I think of waterways, my mind is immediately drawn to the Upper Bann, and to the somewhat eccentric man who spent many of his years quite literally on its banks.
Outside the tiny village of Rathfriland, my grandfather lived with my grandmother and four sons in a tiny cottage––two rooms total, with a mud floor and a waterwheel on one side. The tiny scrap of land on the other side had no railings. No fence. Just six feet between the front door and the water’s edge.
One of my uncles almost drowned as a toddler. And as with so many of my family’s stories, I have no idea how any of us made it this far.
Yet, here we are. 2022 and the McKee genes live on.
I remember my dad taking us to that cottage. Through the then knee-high nettles to the spot where he could look up and point out the very tree from the infamous fishing incident.
My grandfather tried to be a man of efficiency. Emphasis on tried.
One time, after a few too many drinks, it occurred to him that it might be a waste of time to eat dinner and dessert as separate meals, so he tossed one atop the other and ate them as one.
And proceeded to throw them up as one, a few short minutes later.
It was with a similar burst of inspiration that he once decided to go fishing. Not with a rod, or a net… but a shotgun.
You read that correctly.
And it went about as well as you might expect.
He climbed a tree, hung out on a limb over the Bann, and waited. Then, when a fish swam within reach, my grandfather fired––and the recoil sent him out of the tree and into the water.
Needless to say he was none too happy upon hauling himself out, scrabbling up the river bank, utterly soaked to the skin.
The river took his shotgun, but we’re likely agreed on that being for the best. Especially when you consider this is not the only shotgun/river anecdote about my grandfather, past down in laughing voices and with shaking heads.
It was the summer of ’69 that my grandfather packed up the family and headed for the bright lights of Bangor, but I’ve got a funny feeling his soul is back there in Rathfriland, on the banks of the River Bann, even now.
Maybe he’s still hunting for his gun.