My grandparents were all born early in the first decade of the twentieth century.  They spent their first several years doing early twentieth century things like repairing Model Ts, sharecropping, winning Charleston contests, and teaching in Indian schools and didn’t marry and have children until they were all into their thirties.

The three that lived into my lifetime were cool grandparents, albeit not the cookie baking and trips to the park taking kind.  My grandpa, for instance, was the father of sons and uncomfortable with little girl hugs and cheek kisses.  As soon as we were school-aged he took to punching me and my sisters in the bicep hard enough to half knock you over and shouting “hambone!”  My grandma was, I swear, the source of nearly half of my own love of the morbid.  She would tell, with the slightest provocation, the story of any terrible maiming or death she’d ever heard of, and she set all my dad’s and uncles’ broken bones herself while they bit on a wooden spoon.  She’d wave that same tooth-marked spoon around while telling the story.  There is nothing that could impress me more.  And my granny was a bit more on the refined side, prone to making fancy dolls from clothespins, cooking pot roasts covered in gravy so delicious that I, even as a vegetarian, would happily devour today,  and teaching her grandchildren to sew dresses to cover bottles of dishsoap.  I think she found the faintly feminine shape of the latter indecent without clothes.

My last living grandparent died when I was 19 and he was 91.  My grandparents were always involved with my life, and I really loved the weird things they knew and knew how to do.  Because of their influence–and because of my nosy interest in early 20th century history and daily life–very fond of older people.  I know a man who shaved for the first time in the midst of the Dust Bowl.  The whole first year he shaved the lather was stained a yellowy brown by dust before he could scrape it off his face with his razor.  I love that story and tell it to nearly everyone, a story about an event you’ve read about or seen in movies writ small on the face of a jug-eared kid.

There’s an old man who goes to church here who calls me granddaughter.  In actuality, we’re the kind of distant, half-cousins smalltowns breed and we’re connected in at least a dozen other ways.  His grandson and my sister nearly got married a couple of years ago, and that’s when the name calling started.    They broke up, but somehow my sisters and I got custody of his grandparents.  I couldn’t be more pleased with this arrangement: he and his wife are some of the kindest, funniest people I know.

He comes by the church a couple of times a week.  He greets me one of two ways: good morning, granddaughter or good morning, beautiful. This morning he came in whistling.  His wife had been to the doctor yesterday from some tests, and they’d been better than anyone had expected.

Good morning, he said.   How’s my most beautiful granddaughter today?

He stopped and paled.  He has an actual granddaughter, the third child of his youngest son, who has lately gone from an ungainly adolescence to a searing kind of beauty.   I have sisters, all of whom he calls granddaughters.   If it were a contest–and of course it’s not–I would not expect to come in first.

How about I don’t tell anyone you said that?

I would sure appreciate that.  The last thing I need is a lot of women folk put out with me.

His wife came in behind him and added: Yes, that’s right.  I’m already put out with him enough for all you all.

She pulled her face into a scowl and waved her tiny, liver-spotty fist at him.

Then we all laughed pretty hard, even though it wasn’t all that funny.

I make next to no money.  I have a genetic predisposition to sinus headaches and am, in fact, incubating one now.  Blah blah blah.  There are many things to complain about, but sometimes I don’t feel like complaining about any of them.

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