I remember two things very clearly about Grandpa. One is that he smoked cigars and the other is that he could some great stories. Often, the smoking of the cigars and the telling of the stories went hand in hand as it were.
In his biography of Gracie Allen, George Burns talked about how he knew how to use his cigar to signal to the audience that is time to laugh or that he'd reached a punchline. In a lot of ways, when I read that, I think of my Grandpa and his cigars--sitting out on the front porch of his house in a big recliner (he had two out front), watching the world go by and telling stories.
As I said yesterday, Granny and Grandpa lived waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the country. They lived on a road where a traffic jam was two cars met a half mile apart. One of the favorite stories my family loves to tell is that one summer while there visting, I complained to Grandpa that I was bored. Grandpa was never one to let an opportunity go by and told me I should count cars. I did this for several hours one afternoon, even asking if things like dogs and bicycles counted. Apparently, they did not since a dog didn't have wheels and a bicycle had no motor.
Grandpa loved to fish. In fact, he loved to be out in the boat, smoking a cigar and fishing. I remember he'd take us out fishing and make me sit in the unfortuante seat. The unfortunate seat was the one in the middle of the boat---the guy who had to pass stuff back and forth between whoever was in the front and rear of the boat. Of course, getting the boat out into the water was an adventure as Grandpa could never quite judge how far back to back up the boat on the trailer. I can't tell you how many times we had to push his old International Harvester truck out of the water because it got stuck in the mud. That truck was awesome. First of all, it was orange and white. Second of all, it could seat four adults across the cab easily.
While out fishing, Grandpa would tell me stories. He told me about one time he'd been out hunting with a buddy on a cold winter day and he found a kid who had been tricked into sticking his tongue on the train tracks. They had to build a fire and free him. He would also tell me stories of using me for bait to catch this big fish he called a Grendel. In my mind, the Grendel was a 200-foot long ugly fish with huge teeth and an ugly mouth. Luckily, he never used me as bait. I wouldn't have been much use as he always made sure we had our life vests on. I made the mistake of getting in the boat once without my life vest...I never made that one again.
Grandpa didn't fight in the war. I am not sure why, though I'm sure my father has told me. I need to ask and write all this down so I can pass it along to my kids someday (assuming I can find a woman crazy enough to have them with me, that is). He worked for International Harvester for years and at one point he was learning how to do some special process with the metal that required him to move from Chattanooga to Memphis for a time. He was very proud of my dad for serving the country in the Air Force, I know that. And he loves his grandkids--despite wanting to use us for bait.
I remember the first time we lived near D.C., Granny and Grandpa came up to visit us and we all went to the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House. They had an all-you-can-eat menu..you could pick anything off the menu and eat it. Grandpa ordered frog's legs. And he somehow challenged me and my sister to eat them. I did try them and yes, they do taste like chicken.
When we lived in California, Granny and Grandpa came out to see us. Grandpa had given up smoking for a while but had started again, much to everyone's dismay. I remember sitting outside on the deck with him, listening to him stories of his life and adventures for hours. I can still smell that cigar burning. To tell you who cool this was to me, I think I missed an episode of Doctor Who
to sit and listen to him talk. And if you know of my great love of Doctor Who
, you'll understand that....
At the time, I didn't know that it would be the last time I'd see him and have that chance.
A few weeks later, the phone rang early in the morning. Part of me wasn't worried. Dad's command required that we sometimes got calls in the night and this was just part of the routine. But somewhere deep inside me went--Grandpa has surgery today. And then, I started to get afraid. I knew something was up when my dad got up and started making more calls....I heard talk of planes and trips and what will we do about the kids' school and such. Finally, my mom came and knocked on my door and told us that Grandpa was gone. He'd been getting ready for the day when he had a massive heart attack. He'd called out for help from Granny and then was gone.
Grandpa was the first grandparent I lost. And I still recall being 12 or 13 and wondering--is this some joke. I felt sure Grandpa was having fun with us--just like throwing me out for bait. I thought we'd all get there and he'd come out, hug us and we'd all head out for seafood complete with frog's legs. This was not true, alas. I found myself treasuring that time we'd had on the deck that much more in the weeks, months and years to come.
I still miss him. Quite frankly, I still miss all my grandparents who are gone. I wonder what he'd have been like around Gracelyn and Davis. I love Granny and Grandpa, but they grew up in a different time and were racist. Several times my parents had to threaten cutting off the grandkids if they couldn't keep it in check around us. I know deep down that he'd love his bi-racial, adopted great-grandkids as much as he loved the rest of his family. I know that Gracelyn and Davis have helped break down some barriers in other older generation family members...and I am sure they'd've done the same for Grandpa.
I said last week how the smell of some things can trigger a memory. Sometimes when I smell a cigar burning, I think of those times on the porch with Grandpa and I can hear him tell his stories and see that familiar twinkle in his eye of mischief.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 11/09/2005 02:08:00 PM