My brother and I often find our conversations drifting toward someone long dead. And it’s usually around the time of year that person died. We aren’t conscious of it, but later one of us would look up the date of our relative’s or friend’s death and get the chills, because sometimes we even hit the exact day of death.|
The other night our maternal grandpa came up. Most people remember their grandpa with warm fuzzy feelings—the white-haired grandpa who took you fishing and so forth. But we remember our grandfather as being grouchy, foul-mouthed, and a bit paranoid—as in the government is doing something sneaky sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong. Grandpa wasn’t mean—just grouchy.
No, our grandpa was the sort of grandpa who would pick up a broom, chase you out of the house, yelling “Go on, get out of here you little blankety-blank s***,” if you got on his nerves, which didn’t seem to take long.
Our poor cousin Eddie, who had the misfortune of living right next door to Grandpa, always got the brunt of Grandpa’s wrath. When Grandpa chased Eddie out of the house with a broom, we knew he’d annoyed Grandpa to the breaking point. But Eddie was just that type of annoying child. He used to walk up to our house, dragging this big-assed alarm clock. He’d hand it to Mom and say, “Now, my mom said I have to leave at this time.” Then he’d point at the clock where the alarm was set at two o’clock.
By the time noon rolled around, Mom had had all she could stand, so she’d grab the alarm clock, set it forward two hours, and when it went off, she’d yell, “Eddie, time to go home!”
Grandpa had a walnut tree right outside the house, which I believe is still standing. Every time an airplane flew over, a sonic boom would go off, and then we’d hear Grandpa yell, “Blankety-blank! Every bleeping time a blankety-blank airplane flies over my walnut tree, they let loose with a bleeping boom!” Then he’d walk out to inspect his walnut tree while mumbling, “Blankety-blank Antichrist.” My brother and I never could figure out how a sonic boom hurt the tree, unless it caused the walnuts to fall off.
Our grandfather really hated airplanes, but he loved thunderstorms. I guess that’s where I got my love for the rain. Rain doesn’t depress me. Instead it makes me deliriously happy. I love listening to it tapping on a tin roof, and I’ll even dance in it if no one is watching, or just stand in it, and let it wash down my face and body, soaking up the peace that comes with a good downpour.
During my twelfth summer, we were experiencing a heavy draught, but every time the sky clouded up, the clouds would mysteriously dissipate after a few minutes. I also remember a lot of airplanes flying over that summer. And this is where our grandpa’s paranoia comes in.
One afternoon the sky had turned an amazing shade of black and gray. Thunder boomed across the sky and streaks of lightning shot out of the clouds. Finally, I thought, we might get some much needed rain. Grandpa hollered for me to join him on the porch so we could watch the storm together. We waited with pent-up anticipation, and then we heard them.
The heavy drone of several small airplanes.
“Well, I’ll be a bleeping blankety-blank.”
As the planes flew around, the clouds began to break up. Five minutes later the sun shown down and the sky turned back to Carolina blue. Not a hint of rain to be found.
“Nothing but a bunch of bleeping Antichrists up there trying to thirst us to death!”
At the time I didn’t know Christ, let alone what an antichrist was, but now I know Grandpa meant our government, not necessarily the Antichrist.
Our Grandma was the exact opposite of Grandpa—the sweetest, gentlest, most easy-going woman you’d ever have the pleasure of meeting. How she put up with grouchy Grandpa, we’ll never know. She loved to listen to the radio. One evening Grandpa was sitting on the step-up between the living room and a long hallway that runs to the kitchen. “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt came on, and Grandpa looked up from the copper bracelet he was working on (claimed it helped his arthritis) and said, “What the hell is that nonsense?” He inclined his head toward the radio and sang along in a sarcastic manner, “I love a rainy night, I love a rainy night … that’s all the bleeping blankety-blank he says.”
My brother and I giggled, Grandma scrunched up her shoulders, flashed us a toothless grin, and changed the station. I guess God knew what He was doing when He put those two together. To this day, “I Love a Rainy Night” is one of my favorite songs.
Our Grandpa’s outbursts never scared my brother and me. And we must have been his favorites, along with our two sisters, because we never got chased out of the house with a broom. Even when we did something wrong his colorful reprimands were gentler.
My brother loved Grandma’s biscuits. Every time we’d visit, Dwayne made a beeline for the kitchen and went straight to the table. He’d carry a biscuit around, munching on it, the whole time we were there.
Once we heard Grandpa in the bathroom yelling, “Someone didn’t flush the damned toilet, and I know who the little s*** is. There’s a bleeping biscuit on the back of the commode. “Grandpa walked out grinning and affectionately ruffled my brother’s hair.
Grandpa died of tuberculosis in the summer of ’82. Since we weren’t allowed in his hospital room for obvious reasons (I still remember all those tests we had to take to see if we had become infected with TB), Daddy took us around to a window outside so we could wave at our Grandpa. He looked at each of us with kind, gentle eyes—yes, even at Eddie. He may not have been a typical grandpa, but he was our grandpa, and we remember him with fondness and laughter.