Wednesday, November 02, 2005

They was this time, you know

I had this grandfather that died in 1977 right around the time Elvis died. I was nine years old at the time. He died of a stroke just a few months shy of his 79th birthday. I never realized until much later that he was a good deal older than my grandmother who had turned 60 that year. Their marriage wasn't one of those old-time Little House on the Praire marriages. He was her second husband and she was his second wife. They didn't meet until he had retired as a fireman in Detroit and moved to northern Michigan. They met in a bar. They met sometime in the fifties because my Dad met his future stepfather while hitch hiking as a teenager. He was skipping school that day. He admitted to admiring this man because he did not turn him in even though he guessed pretty quickly his young passenger was playing hooky. In a way my Dad is Tom Sawyer but I don't think he knows it.

My grandfather's name was Ed. He was the first old person I ever knew well. Around the time I knew him as a man in his seventies the rest of my grandparents were in their late fifties. I remember him as being a big solid old guy. Like a gentle offensive lineman. The kind of man whose home people would congregate if the world started to end. "Oh shit, aliens have landed and they've nuked Detroit and Grand Rapids. Let's get on over to Ed Zimmer's place and see what he wants to do."

I have snippets of him. Little hazy memories that have lasted almost thirty years. He made the best pancakes in the world. Any pancake you have ever had pales compared to the piles of manna he would slap on the middle of the table. He drove a big blue Ford LTD that was designed with him in mind. He once showed my sister and me how to ice fish on the lake outside his home. He drilled into the ice with a manual corkscrew drill. He used to completely obliterate a bathroom when he had to make a number 2. My grandmother would always run there and light a match when he finished. I remember him being pretty proud of that. Since he was a fireman he had bad hearing and the only way he could hear the telelvision was with a pair of headphones. He was an affectionate man, he loved to have kids climb in his lap. When I was tiny it was the safest place in the world. A fire in the fireplace, a snow covered lawn, a small grove of pines and a frozen lake and a warm grandfather's lap. My grandmother's name was Mildred and he called her Millie. They slept in seperate bedrooms. She liked her room too cold for him. He had this ancient homemade tool he used to get worms to surface. It had two metal spikes attatched to an electrical cord. He would stick the spikes in the ground about two feet apart and plug the cord into an outlet. The current would cause worms to surface and once the device was unplugged we would pick the worms off the ground and drop them into a container. His favorite hobby was the finding and polishing of petoskey stones. His old workbench stood gathering dust until my grandmother died in 2000. He had a favorite chair with copper-colored rivets in it. It was the color of stained bone. When I had chicken pox I scratched my back on it and he griped good naturedly about that. He had an old boathouse on the lake that bordered the backyard. In it were old bamboo fishing poles, wooden water skis and fishing tackle galore. The remnants of his former outdoor lifestyle balanced on rotting wood and surrouned by spiderwebs. He had a big bald round head. His belly was just as round as his head, just as solid and about twice as big. He had a voice I can't hear anymore. I can almost bring it back sometimes when I imagine him saying my grandmother's name.

The moment my Dad told my sister, stepbrother and stepsister he died I remember distinctly. It was night and he had been in the hospital for a couple of days due to a stroke. I think he may have woken us up to tell us. He said something along the line of "Grandpa Ed is dead." I remember us four kids immediately crying uncontrollably. Hugs all around from Dad and the stepmom. I think we just cried ourselves out and then went back into bed. I'm sure my stepbrother and I talked long into the night. We tended to do that anyway.

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