not in our stars, but in ourselves
I am going to ask you all to indulge me a bit here, because I’m feeling much more sentimental than I expected to feel, and would like to express it somewhere, to someone. Today would have been my grandfather’s 95th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about him a lot. He wasn’t a celebrity (though he was awfully handsome in his younger years) but he was magnificent. He died over a decade ago – something that feels as unreal now as it did when it happened – and I still miss him all the time.
During my time with him, he was a devotee of a select handful of television programs and channels: the local news in the morning and at noon; The Price is Right, golf tournaments, whatever channel it is that covers Wall Street all day, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Nevertheless, as a boy, he’d been an avid movie-goer. I wish I’d been clever enough to pick his brain for particulars when he was still around, because he went multiple times per week. He kept a diary, and nearly every entry was the same: “Paid a quarter to see X today. Darn good show!” Mind you, this was the glorious era of movies as full evenings’ entertainment: there would be shorts, newsreels, cartoons, serials – and then the film itself. It was a darn good show.
In the intervening years between his boyhood filmgoing and his status as a grandfather of fourteen (!), he met my still-beautiful grandmother; married her; had lots of kids; worked for decades at a company where Ray Bolger had also worked, once upon a time, only to be fired for dancing on a desk; retired and found bliss in a life of puttering. By the time I was fortunate enough to share the same blip in time, he was as reliably predictable as Greenwich. He’d wake up every morning at 5:00, reading the paper for about an hour. At 6:00, he’d make himself breakfast – almost invariably, something with egg and toast. By 7:00, my grandmother was awake, and then he’d get to puttering – in the garden, if the season permitted, or just around the house. Eventually, he’d settle into his big easy chair in the den, and watch TV until a punctual lunch at noon. He liked sardines and kippers, although sometimes my grandmother made BLTs as well. Then it was back to the TV and puttering, until cocktail hour. At 5:00 every evening, he and my grandmother would have a Manhattan and a martini, respectively; if they were feeling frisky, they might have two. While he preferred Willie Nelson for driving around in his Crown Victoria, he often listened to Louis Armstrong in the evenings; and even when I was just a wee lass, I often marveled at how it was the cutest thing ever to see him raise his glass and cry, “Sing it, Louis!” Dinner came at about 6:00 every night, then more TV, and then bedtime at 8:00.
For a couple of years, my parents sent my sister and me to stay with my grandparents during the last week of summer – between the time summer camp closed and the school year began. Those late August visits were, and are, some of my favorite things, things I guard attentively in my memory. I’d usually get up about the same time every morning, and read the funnies while he read the rest of the paper. I’d have whatever egg dish he was having, and then putter with him in the garden. They had a beautiful garden, thanks almost entirely to my grandmother, but he was proud of it too. There were morning glories growing along the fence separating them from one of their neighbors’ yards, and he counted them every morning. He also liked to lie out on one of his lawn chairs, watching the planes and their contrails overhead. Based on the direction they were flying, he would tell me where they were going: that one’s coming into Logan from Chicago, that one’s leaving for Europe, that one’s heading to Florida, etc. Later in the morning, the others – my grandmother and my sister – were awake. The mornings were just for me and my grandfather.
He used to teach me dirty limericks – a feature of my education that has no doubt made me exactly the imp I am today. The first one is more crude than dirty, but here goes:
There once was a young man from Sparta,
Who was a magnificent farter.
With one plate of beans,
He’d play “God Save the Queen”
And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
There were plenty of others after that – often interjected with disapproving yelps from my very proper grandmother – but I’ll savor those for myself. I will tell you, however, that he didn’t limit his naughtiness to limericks. No, he was quite the lad. I vividly remember one Thanksgiving when he got impressively drunk, thanks to some Irish whisky my father had brought along, sitting there and repeating “Erin Go Bra-less!” every few minutes. He also used to like to ask cute waitresses, “And whose little girl are you?” And when he was driving, and saw a jogger, he rolled down his window (at least once) to yell “FASTER!” as he sped past.
Anyway, I don’t much believe in an afterlife – but if there’s any such thing, I hope he’s keeping my grandmother company. She misses him. I do, too, but I wasn’t married to him for 63 years. I hope he just knows that everyone loves him, and is thinking of him, and fondly remembers him as the most lovable scamp who ever lived.