Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Granddad!

My Granddad -- teller of stories, buyer of ponies -- is eighty-nine years old today. We're going to have lunch in New Castle with my family, then going over to the assisted living center to see him and bring him a card and a balloon.

Here's one of my favorite memories of Granddad, from when I was about nineteen or twenty years old, a year or two after Ma passed away:


Granddad, who was still unretired from his executive job at a business in Muncie and was younger than my dad is now, had somehow managed to hurt his back. I don't know how or where, but his back was hurt and he was making a whole lot of noise about it. It was summertime and I wasn't taking any summer school classes at Ball State, and he indicated that my presence would be very welcome in his home for a week or so while he recuperated. You know, to fetch and carry and do everything that Ruth, the housekeeper who came in a few times a week, wasn't doing.

Which, you know, didn't sound like much. Mostly, I thought, I'd be sitting around reading and dragging a sun lounger out back and tanning. But I didn't figure on Granddad's enormous level of spoilage and his constant need for attention. He was raised, you see, by a doting granny and his Aunt Ruby, both of whom thought the sun rose and set on him and his three brothers, and he never got over it.

So while I was bowing and scraping and dancing attendance and bringing trays with sandwiches and potato chips and glasses of ice water and the occasional beer and cooking large dinners, Granddad sat in his recliner like a sultan, magnanimously telling me that that ham sandwich would have been perfect if I'd just put a little more Miracle Whip on it, and hey! How's about a Pepsi? In a glass? With four ice cubes.

The second evening I was there, Granddad told me regretfully that he was very, very sad, but he wouldn't be able to mow the lawn the next day. The big lawn. The GREAT BIG ENORMOUS HILLY lawn, out there in the broiling sun on the riding mower. I didn't mind driving the riding mower, but mowing on even a slight incline has always made me feel very oougey in the stomach region. But I was committed to helping him out, so I got up very early in the cool of the day and warily approached the riding mower, a piece of machinery which I tended to treat like a skittish horse. One that would buck me off and then slice and dice me while I was prostrate on the grass.

It started up grudgingly and we chugged down the hill to the road on our first swath; I wheeled it expertly to the right and continued on, feeling a little better this scary job. It was a beautiful day out there in the country, with all the flowers and birds and trees. I made it all the way back to my starting point to begin the second swath -- and saw Granddad, up and walking briskly, loading his golf clubs into the trunk of his big fancy Oldsmobile. He was wearing his jaunty straw Panama hat and a brilliantly colorful Izod-Lacoste golf shirt, a complete contrast to the pajames he'd been clad in for the past two days while he lay groaning pitifully in his chair.

I cut the engine on the mower off at the top of the hill with an abrupt snap of the wrist. "Excuse me?" I called sharply. "Where exactly are you going?"

He turned to look at me, all innocence. "Why, I thought I'd go to the golf course. It is Saturday, you know."

"What about your BACK?" I asked menacingly, climbing off the mower.

"It feels fine, thank you for asking," he said, slamming the trunk lid and giving me a big jolly smile.

"So when will you be home? Will it be at a time when you can safely assume that I have finished mowing the lawn?"

He had the grace to look guilty. "I'll be back around noon. Maybe earlier."

"And will you be taking me out to lunch somewhere very nice?"

"Oh, yes. Somewhere very nice."

"And what about all the nursemaid duties? Will I be required to bring you a thousand sandwiches and an ice bag for your back and glasses of Pepsi with four ice cubes, now that your back is healed?"

"I will make my own sandwiches, but I would appreciate a cold Pepsi if you're getting up to get yourself one," he said with dignity.

"Okay then."


"Have a great time golfing."

He brightened. "Oh, I will! Great day, isn't it? Perfect weather! Have a good"

I crossed my arms. "Yeah. I'll have a great time. And a GREAT LUNCH."


Happy birthday, Granddad!

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