“Oh my God, it’s like my father is here in this kitchen!” my mother half-laughed and half-yelled as she searched around to see what other mischiefs I had caused while she was out.
I’m a big kid, I love to mess with her OCD. When she goes out I move things around in her kitchen. Sometimes it’s subtle, like moving her snowman candles an inch or so. She notices it. Other times I will switch her containers around. If they were in ascending order shortest to tallest, left to right, I would reverse it. I do a little every day just to keep things interesting. Mom has come to expect something when she walks in. I outdid myself today, I messed with everything. Cookie jar turned around to face the wall. K cups, once color-coded by row on a rack with no empty spaces now rearranged hodge-podge with a pyramid of them on top and many empty slots. The Coffee-maker swapped with the food processor. My best work to date. And the reference to her father was not lost on me, it’s not the first time she’s said it. I act like him, I quote him frequently. I talk about him all the time. I am my Grandfather in so many ways.
My father and grandfather were dual role models in my life. I was very fortunate to have two honest, hard-working family-oriented men in my life. I idolized them both. But I had very different relationships with them. As could be expected, my father had to be the teacher, the establisher of rules and disciplinarian when required. My grandfather got to be the good guy. He always supported what my father told me and never went against him, but he put his own folksy and humorous spin on it. He made everything better. And funny.
I had a tough childhood in many ways. I was a bit mixed up, I lived too much in my own head. But one wonderful childhood memory is the Friday night sleepover at the Grandparents. My mom and dad had a nice social life and it was common to drop me off at the Grandparents house in lieu of a babysitter. I loved it. From as early as I can remember I would walk up the old brick steps. shopping bag of clothes and blanket in tow, where I would be greeted by my doting grandmother at the door. Behind her would be my grandfather smiling wickedly. His eyes, barely noticeable beneath his trademark bushy eyebrows suggesting we were in for some fun. The night would consist of TV and popcorn, playing with their little rat poodle, watching them playfully bicker, root beer floats in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter and going to bed just a little later than I did at home. The fun that my grandfather had in store would come the next morning at breakfast. He would put on a show, and he never disappointed.
Fun, as defined by my grandfather, was causing trouble. My mother had told me stories of the breakfast table when she was growing up. When I was there, my grandmother was the target and I was the eager audience. The game was to drive her crazy, the winning moment was when she yelled at him. It would start as soon as we got up. I woke up early for the show. Grandma would be making breakfast and grandpa and I would be in the small living room, a mere 2 rooms away. She would call him to breakfast and he would ignore her. He would make eye contact with me as if to say “be quiet and watch this.” Grandma would call again and he would yell “Whaaaaat?” Exasperated, my poor grandmother would come down the hall and literally yell “breakfast is ready!” He would calmly say something like “oh, why didn’t you say so.” That was only the beginning. Once seated, the real fun began. She would put eggs in front of him and if they were scrambled he would complain that he wanted over easy. If there was cream on the table he would reach to the refrigerator, sneakily put it away and then ask her where the cream was. He would stack cups on the table to see how high they would go, occasionally knocking something over. All the while he was doing this, smiling wickedly at me, he was watching her carefully to see just how far he could push her. Eventually, she would yell at him to “knock the crap off” and he would be so visibly proud of himself. Amazingly, antics like that happened for years and she never figured out that he was doing it on purpose.
After the shenanigans of breakfast, I would dutifully follow him downstairs. He had a big sink with a mirror and he would shave with a straight razor. After he brushed his face with shaving cream he would catch me admiring him in the mirror and he would wink at me, make a crazy face and pretend he was about to slash his throat with the razor. It didn’t traumatize me, I loved it. I would recap all of his antics, and my poor grandmother’s suffering, to my mother when she picked me up Saturday afternoon. We would compare notes, she would tell me of similar breakfasts, lunches and dinners just like them.
My love for my grandparents would always be strong. They were supportive of me and I made as much time as I could to see them. My grandmother was a strong, willful and sweet woman but she was a tough, off the Mayflower Yankee and was often humorless. She would die at 104 of old age. Her only medical condition was Scottish Alzheimer’s. A condition where you forget everything except who you don’t like. My Grandfather would only see 92. Pneumonia would release some long dormant asbestos he inhaled in the Navy in WWII and take him from us.
He lived a good life. He was a hard-working kid who married his high school sweetheart. Enlisted in the Navy Seabees and fought in the Pacific. He returned home to build a house and start a family with the bride that waited for his return. He would help his wife through 2 miscarriages, the untimely death of his 4-year-old son Charles in the very kitchen that so many happy memories occurred. He carried his family through my mother being in a coma and nearly dying of spinal meningitis when she was 9. Through all of this he smiled, deflected life’s bullets, cracked wise with lines such as “don’t take any wooden nickels”, “see you in the funny papers”, and the classic “I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a goddamn train.”
He’s always with me. My bed is a family heirloom, he was born in it. I carry his pocket watch. I have all of his watches on my nightstand, I also have all of the letters that he sent to my grandmother during WWII. Letters describing his daily life as a sailor, written nearly every day. If not, there was an apology and an explanation. In these letters he tells my grandmother what kind of life he wants to lead with her when, not if, he made it home. He affectionately called her “kid” and he would do so until his final goodbye. They were married 65 years. He was her Knight. http://lindaghill.com/2018/01/28/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-28th-2018/ Honest, strong, committed to keeping her safe. He would cross the world and slay dragons for her
His humor, his loyalty, his simple approach to life are things that I aspire to have always. I am happy that I still quote him, pull pranks, push people to the edge and do things like openly complain that the brownie pan is defective because it only generated 4 corner pieces. I made that joke last night as I stole the last corner, my mother slapped my wrist and said, “you’re just like your grandfather.” Yup, I’ll take it.