Fissures

Slight bit of hyperbole: my grandfather was not exactly the squishy type. Never mind that he drove a baby-blue Delta 88 (1979, used) with a baby-blue slipcover for the bench seat, and especially never mind that all farm work stopped every day at 2:00 PM so he could watch Another World. Other than that his default mode seemed to be exacting bastard, and seldom was heard an encouraging word.

I know he loved us (and we’ll get to that), but it was tough never feeling like anything we did around the farm was good enough. My grandmother always consoled my brother and I later, saying “Don’t mind him; his bark is worse than his bite.” But it was hard. If you were to do a mash-up of sound bites from people who played football for Vince Lombardi in Green Bay or Bear Bryant at Alabama, the running narrative would be “We hated the son-of-a-bitch’s guts, but he made us winners.” I never felt all fired up to beat the hell out of the Bears or Auburn, but I do know the feeling: I wanted to impress grandpa with everything I did.

But there were fissures in the wall.

Visits to the farm meant a wonderful haze of smoke from his Wm. Penn cigars, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk and Dallas and The Rockford Files, all interrupted, upon his return from the kitchen, by a big Pyrex mixing bowl full of Jiffy Pop and the thwack of the peanut butter cups he would toss at us.

On snowy winter days he would be at the kitchen table, next to the woodstove, playing solitaire. While bundling up to go tobogganing, he would always offer the admonition, “Watch out for automobiles.” Always automobiles, never cars or vehicles.

He drove like a maniac, and I’m amazed we were never pulled over, or killed. Grandpa would take us the fifteen minutes into Gardiner so we could go toy shopping at Wilson’s Department Store. My grandmother would navigate, always saying, “ohhhKEY!” when there was no oncoming traffic, and those trips often turned unintentionally comical. Witness the time he bought a banana split, took one bite while driving and smoking a cigar, barked “This tastes like shit!” and flung the entire dessert out the window. Sorry, EPA.

As we were saying our goodbyes at the Portland Jetport after Christmas vacation 1982, grandpa leaned down and gave me a kiss on the forehead. You could tell he wanted to, but you could also tell he was kicking his own ass internally for doing so. But it was …nice. An all-too-rare and unexpected moment of unspoken mutual love.

The biggest crack in the armor came during his last summer, when I was twelve. It was July 13th, 1985, the day of Live Aid. I woke up on that blistering morning, turned on the Zenith and was blown away at the site of Ozzy reunited with Black Sabbath. Awesome! What a great day! Grandpa was off in the fields mowing the hay, and my brother and I spent the day rocking out. By evening, everything would be different.

He invited me along to the general store to pick up some smokes. I was feeling rather adult that day, for whatever reason, so I bought a Perrier. On the way back, I found myself becoming more adult than ever when my grandpa, the tough-as-shit bastard, said out of nowhere, “I guess I’m not much of a grandfather.” Heavy thing for a 12-year-old kid, already fragile in the presence of the speaker, to hear. I felt myself desperately trying to be adult and comfort him on his level, saying, “No, you’re doing a hell of a job!” I don’t remember the rest of the five-minute drive, the rest of the dialog, or anything else ever being said about it. And I certainly don’t remember the rest of Live Aid.

But I do remember feeling much softer toward him from then on, and I like to think that during his remaining eight months he felt a little softer toward us.

Not to get too squishy, or anything…

36 comments
  1. Blogs & Blabber said:

    Brian,
    You’ve done it again. Only this time you have touched my heart and pulled memories if my leather skinned grandfather that was made up of few words. We lost him a few years back and it broke my heart, oddly I think I wondered why since he never really said much that gave ypu warm fuzzies…you just knew he loved you and that was enoygh for me I guess. Keep up the beautiful words, I have to go wioe the happy tears away.

    • Glad this one hit you positively! That was certainly the goal. I think it’s a pretty common story. Thank you so much for sharing yours.

  2. Brian,
    I could see my own grandfather as I read your words. Thanks for the memories. Men of that generation were so different than we are now, but they made us who we are. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much! Definintely a different mindframe born of a different time. I’m glad you could plug yourself in and get something good out of this, cluewriter.

  3. What a touching story. There are some universals here in that I think many people have grandpas who were distant and aloof, and in a way, harsh. But you were generous and raw with the telling of this story and the bits of his life – and the bits you shared were gems. It broke my heart to read his confession. I don’t think it’s easy to be a grandfather. It’s a difficult role to have.

    • Yeah, I didn’t feel like there was all that much to heal, per se, but writing this ended up being very healing. Go figure…

  4. I love this on so many levels, and I’m excited about this short essay, very much! So, I’m going to keep it to two points– on a personal level, I love how you see the whole man as much as you are able from memory. That shows an exquisite sense of understanding. On a writing level, the details you chose are unforgettable. When I picture this man I never met, the snapshot that will come to mind is your grandfather smoking the cigar and driving and tossing out the sundae with a quick retort. This is lovely!

    • Started at 7:01 last night, finished about 8:15, maybe three edits. ;)

  5. What a wonderful story. Sad. Hate to say it, but Grandpa’s back then were “old school”. Grandpa blew you away that day. LiveAid has nothing on your grandfather!

    • Not even a reunited Sabbath. ;)

      • Nope, not even that! LOL

  6. I feel the “real” in your story. Well done.

    • Thankya, ma’am.

  7. You captured a disappearing mindset with your grandfather’s attitude.
    I expect he would have liked the depiction.
    And given you a rewarding grunt of satisfaction. (Or would that have been too squishy?)

    • Y’know Joe Peschi’s maniacal little “HEH?!?” Slow that down to about 16 rpm, and that would be it. ;)

  8. Sarah said:

    This is so real and…wow…I’m speechless, lol. That never happens. This is so well-written and thought out that I loved being in this story of your Grandfather. And that’s how it felt reading. I just love everything about this, Brian. Thank you SO much for writing it and posting it.

    • Sarah! Thank you so much! I’m beaming now.

  9. Again, such a wonderful, heart warming story. Brilliant.

    • *bowing humbly*

  10. I completely relate to this.
    I love your writing, the title, the little fissures. So beautiful.

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad this one is resonating for the good for you and so many others.

  11. whiteladyinthehood said:

    That was REALLY good!!! I loved it.

    • Thank you so much! For stopping by AND commenting. Come on back!

  12. Merilee Mitchell said:

    “Watch out for automobiles…” I also remember being intimidated by my Grandpa. Watching Lawrence Welk with him and enduring Sunday afternoons listening to he and my dad going on and on and on about photography and photo equipment until I thought I would die. And ya know what? With all that equipment, he still took crappy photos. But I think of him every time I go out to shoot…

    Thanks for your story. It’s lovely. And priceless.

    • Merilee, thank you so much! I’m just blown away at the response to this one. So glad so many are able to pull their own positives out of it. You all rule my world!

      • Merilee Mitchell said:

        It’s because you have a way of conveying in words all of those things we have experienced. And you do it in such a way that we can smell, taste, feel exactly what you are experiencing and we can relate so well. Keep it up. That’s why we’re here, you know ;-)

  13. followed the breadcrumb trail from Courtenay Bluebird.

    My words are not cooperating today, but wanted to leave a comment.
    This one opened up, and was real, and yet wasn’t too squishy.
    It made me like you better. I’m sure that didn’t make any sense.
    Sorry, my words are hiding in places I can’t find them today.

    • You are doing great (my non-written words fail my every day, so no worries ;), and thank you so much. Great having you here!

  14. Reblogged this on brian westbye and commented:

    I’m taking this week off to re-charge. Here’s today’s Memoir re-run.

  15. Awww. Now that’s just really lovely. Quite squishy.

    • Insert waterbed sounds here…

      • Oh. Oh. Oh. Don’t Stop. Faster. Oh. Oh. Do it again. Faster. Erm…Oh, you meant watery sounds. Oops.

      • Either/or, really…

      • Perv.

      • This coming from you???

      • I know. The irony.

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