Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Birthday

My Granddaddy
Today, my Granddaddy turns 88 years old. I can tell you that, because he is remarkably and unflinchingly proud of his age. He demands that he will see 100 and the Fates will appease him because he can get downright cantankerous if you push him. This is good news for me, because I'm quite fond of my Granddaddy and that means I have a minimum of twelve more years to try and retain his stories.

He tells stories. Lots of them. And it's sort of hard to not tune them out sometimes, but you always regret it, because he will say something that pulls you back in and you'll think, "How did we get here? I want to hear more about this? Seriously, and there were sharks?" But you can't admit you weren't listening. That's just bad manners, so you'll try to get him to tell the story again on another occasion, but he never will. There are a handful of stories he tells approximately six times a day, and all the others are one shot deals.

His hobby is riding in parades.
This is three generations on Veteran's Day. 
But I'm digressing. I've always fancied myself a storyteller. Even more than I fancy myself a writer. I love the story. I'm all about story. And Daddy (as I grew up calling him) is all story, all the time. I get my love of reading, gypsy apparel and crafting from my mom. I get my love of all things horror and all things Victorian from my Grandmommie. I get my love of loud rock music and Stephen King from Jerry. And I get my love of a good, rambling, sometimes pointless story from my Granddaddy.

So, in honor of his very exciting 88th, I am going to do one thing more than make him a pineapple upside cake*, I'm going to tell you some storylets about my Granddaddy.

A Rose By Any Other Name Will Probably Ask for Money
When I was little, I lived with my Grandmommie, Granddaddy, mom and Aunt Mary. I don't really remember much of this time. My first memory is when Mary moved out. But everyone called him Daddy. So I called him Daddy, too. Everybody called my Grandmommie, Mommy, but I had a Mommy, so I called her Grandmommie. I was a weird kid. I called him Daddy for years and then someone in high school implied that maybe it was creepy to call my Grandpa Daddy. So, I started calling him Grandpa.

My aim was to call him Grandpa at school, and call him Daddy at home, because I thought the whole thing was stupid, but you know how high school is. But, it inevitably bled over.

One night, I bounced into the living room, all ripped jeans and artificially straightened hair and said, "Hey, Daddy?"

He looked at me and said, "How much?"

"Um. What?"

"You only call me Daddy when you want to borrow money. By the way, borrowing implies you're going to give it back. If you want money, just ask if you can have money."

I had never realized that. I've made an effort in the years since to call him Daddy without asking for anything, but I still always call him Grandpa when I'm mad at him. He gave me his gas card with a kiss, though, and wasn't even a little mad. And he always calls my Grandmommie, "Your mother." He also calls my mother, "Your Mother," though, so I often have to ask, "Which mother?" Are you confused yet?

Successive Generations
Granddaddy and Brynna and Loretta
When I was little, I would go to Southern States with Granddaddy. I don't remember what we got there, but I'm assuming everything. It was the only place I remembered getting gas for years. I used to love to wander around inside and run my fingers through the bins of seed. Especially corn. I still don't understand corn, but it was so pretty and felt so weird and powdery. That was where dog food came from, I'm sure and I guess all kinds of things for the cattle and tobacco. I never really paid attention to what went into the truck. So long as I went along.

Often, we would end up around the side at the loading dock. Granddaddy would back the truck up to the dock and we would stand around on the cement while the truck was loaded up. After wandering around in the cool, air conditioned store, this seemed tantamount to torture.

Inevitably, I would tug on Granddaddy's shirt. "I'm thirsty." Granddaddy would dig through his pockets, come out with a shiny quarter and say, "Coke machine's over there."

It wasn't a Coke machine. I think it was maybe RC. It didn't matter. One of those flat, square buttons led directly to a Big Red. Big Red was the finest, most wonderful nectar the gods ever concocted. It tasted like heaven. Sweet and bitter and so very red. I was, of course, forbidden Big Red because it stained my clothes. I'm pretty sure there was a whole summer wardrobe with big red splotches down the front.

But Granddaddy didn't like it when I bought something else. Because he knew that I liked Big Red. He'd always swear that he'd cover for me. I don't think he once came up with a believable story and I'm not sure he even tried. It was our thing.

Mom always said that when she was little, she'd say she was thirsty and Granddaddy would say, "Water Fountain's over there." Nowadays, if my girls are thirsty, Granddaddy goes to make them something. I keep telling him that if they'd keep some cups where the girls can reach them, they could get their own. He keeps not moving the cups. I'm pretty sure I know why, too.

Stormy Weather
You can barely see him there at the end of the table.
But this is important. This family, this big, happy family
was built by my grandparents. Every little bit of it.
The other thing that I got from Granddaddy was a love of storms. My mom hates storms, she is terrified of them. My Grandmommie doesn't love them either, although she's not as bad as mom. When I was little, sometimes I'd look up and Granddaddy would be standing out on the side porch, leaning against one of the columns, just staring. That was when I knew.

A storm was coming.

I never knew what he was looking at, at least not at first. As the clouds started to roll in, I'd go out and stand next to him. I'd feel the wind pick up and whip around us. I especially loved it in the summer. You could feel the cold air and the hot air fighting for dominance. I'd watch the leaves whirl around the yard and feel the first, stinging drops of rain hit my face.

After the rain started, we would drop back and sit in the chairs, well under the cover of the porch. I loved it when it really came down, torrential, so hard the rain seemed to bounce. Daddy liked it when it when the drops were big and fat and seemed to disappear into the hard ground.

We both liked the thunder. If mom was home, she'd make me come inside if there was thunder and lightning, but if she wasn't, we'd sit out there and watch the storm rage. Then, eventually, we'd head into the house. I'd have run out into the rain at some point and would be soaked through.

Grandmommy would have the lights on and the ceiling fan set to gale force winds. I'd sit directly under it and shiver deliciously, reading and listening to the rain pounding on the tin that covered the porch. Sometimes I'd fall asleep like that, curled up on the floor, cold and calm. Sometimes I'd wake up later, blanket over me and pillow under me.

I still love storms. Especially summer storms. Now, I have my own place, with a wide wooden deck that overlooks a valley. I go out and stand on the deck and watch the clouds gather and the storm form. I put my face into the wind and remember standing there with Daddy. When the rain starts, I run to the porch. Eventually, I give up and go inside, wet and cold. I settle down with a blanket and a book and I am eight years old again. Living in a world where nothing mattered but the rain, how much or how little. A world ruled by weather and whether I could be outside. A world where the best books were read by lightning light and thunder music.

A Footnote
There are more Hallmark-ey stories about my Granddaddy. There are funnier stories about my Granddaddy. When I think of him, I think of his watching the basketball game with the TV on mute and the radio blaring. I think of him working cattle. I think of him driving the tractor, teaching me to throw a baseball, getting frustrated when I couldn't ride a bike. But these stories aren't just stories about Granddaddy. They are stories about who he is. About the man that he is. I hope that's what comes through. Happy Birthday, Daddy. And may there be many, many more than twelve more.

*And one storylet about pineapple upside down cake: I had heard of it, but never had it. I went to college. At a friend's house, her mother made something called chocolate cherry upside down cake and I died of bliss. (I've tried a million times to make it since, and never succeeded.) In any case, I was telling Granddaddy about it and he said, "Pineapple upside down cake is is my favorite." I stared at him blankly. It wasn't. Granddaddy loved brownies and rhubarb pie and pecan sandies and pecan pie and fudge and banana pudding. These were the things that Granddaddy liked. Not pineapple upside down cake. Right? He noticed my look and said, "Your mother doesn't like it, so I don't say anything. I like banana pudding, too." Now, I make pineapple upside down cake. Everybody should get their favorite.


Suze said...

Your granddaddy is so sweet. I remember how awesome both your grandparents were for all our crazy sleepovers.
Tell him happy birthday for me, would you please?

Jessi said...

Suze - Of course! They were amazingly tolerant, weren't they?

Shelly said...

Jessie,your story was Great!! I just Love them 2 people so Much! You made me cry talking about him!
Your little Girls are So Sweet! You are So Lucky to have such a Wonderful Family! And all those memories of you Granddaddy and Grandmommie, and your Girls having got to have Great Granddaddy and Great Grandmommie not to many Kids get such a treasure! Thank you for Sharing your Story!

Lisa said...

I may have just cried like a baby through that whole thing. I miss my grandpa so much. You are so blessed to still have your's, and how special that your girls will have just as many wonderful memories with him! Hope he has a wonderful birthday!

Jessi said...

Shelly - Thank you so much! I know they love you too!

Lisa - I was super-lucky to have three great-grandparents long enough to have wonderful memories of them. And I am thankful every day that my girls will remember their great-grandparents. I know your grandpa is watching over you and Ellie.

Sharon Rickard said...

I love all of your family and feel that I know them from your story telling and writing, and from spending time with your mom. I feel so privileged that our paths have crossed and I am able to experience what families are suppose to be about. Your memories of your granddaddy are precious.........I can only reel and imagine how many memories I could have shared with mine and this brings a smile to my face while living out my lost dreams with your very wonderful ones.
Thank you for continuing to share your life will us all!

Cathy G. said...

Just for the record.....your Mom loves pineapple upsidedown cake. Its your other mother that doesn't. However, her mother is who taught me to make it. (Are you totally confused yet?)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday from me, also.

I loved reading this and sent it to my parents.