Bad Grandpa, Good Grandpa

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Someone, one of my second, third or some number removed cousins, accused my great grandfather of inappropriate touching. I don’t remember which one, but she would be hovering around 70 at this point.

I don’t know the details. None of them, simply that it allegedly happened. She was the only one of dozens of girl cousins who made such accusations.

When something like this comes up there are any number of appropriate or expected responses: disbelief, denial, entertain the possibility, shut down and talk about the weather. I chose the third response. Anything is possible.

I leaned toward curiosity more than repulsion or embarrassment. He was long gone by the time I heard this bit of family gossip and I knew so little about him, that I couldn’t piece together an argument either way, but I could wonder.

I suppose it’s natural to sweep something like this under the rug, why would I bring it up? But humans as a species, and my family in particular, fascinate me. I get excited at the idea that I have dissidents or deviants in my bloodline, that we’re interesting, even in the worst way.

My great grandfather was born in 1896. He met the love of his life just before The Great War wherever it was she was singing. (I like to imagine a smoke-filled USO hall with a great deal of drinking and patriotism, but truthfully a church would probably be closer to the mark.) Once betrothed he gave her the false option of marrying him or continuing on with this singing silliness. The fact that I am writing this is evidence of a passion thwarted. It came back later in the form of stage mom, but that’s another story.

After the war he worked at the post office and advanced in pay grade despite the obstacles of The Great Depression. (So much greatness back then.) He and his beloved silent song bird would produce six children. The accuser belongs to one of them.

Perhaps he was too old and tired by the time I met him, but he was nothing but a really old funny man to me.

When we rode around in his 1960-something metallic aqua Ford Galaxie with the front and back windows that rolled all the way down, he would throw the question into the back seat, “Hey there Allison, is that back wheel going around?” To which I would reply, “If we’re moving, they’re all going around.” This would elicit a grand guffaw. Too smart for old grandpa.

I remember standing in the front yard of his Florida home kicking the dirt, bored while adults made small talk about food and directions. Noticing my impatience and wrapping up the conversation my great grandfather would ask me if he could pick me up by my ears. I ran to him to experience such a feat of strength. Both his and that of my ears.

He would make a great show of gathering my ears into his fists, then he would carefully place his palms over my ears and lift me off the ground. He was of course picking me up by my whole head and I wonder just now how wise that really was. There doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage so, no harm I suppose.

Somewhere between those memories and going off to college his wife died, after a rousing bout of dementia – including stories that shouldn’t be funny, but are – and he aged dramatically. “Just sitting around waiting to die,” he would say daily to anyone who asked how he was.

But that didn’t stop him from cocktails in his driveway at 3:00 pm with his two cohorts, Jim and Frank. The youngest was 78, the oldest 86.

This was near the beginning of his day. After drive way happy hour there would be early bird dinners out and waitress flirtation and sometimes pinching or grabbing (aha!), more cocktails, driving home after many cocktails, cocktails at home, nodding off in front of Johnny Carson, waking up to a test pattern but in time to take medication, then bed. Up at 8 in the morning for more medication, back to bed until noon, local news, put the lawn chairs back in the driveway and so it continued.

Until it didn’t.

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