EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an exercise in self-flagellation we bloggers inflict upon ourselves to teach us discipline as writers and to build audience. During the month of April, I’ll be posting 26 times, once for every letter in the alphabet. Looking on the bright side, we can each be thankful this is an English language exercise and not Khmer, the language of Cambodia, which sets the world record with a 74-character alphabet! After some misgivings, I’ve decided to proceed with my initial idea of blogging about the special people in my life whose names begin with the appropriate letter. There will be difficulties, like having more than one special person whose names begin with the same letter, forcing me to choose. And then there are those letters — O, Q and X among them — where no name springs readily to mind. What will I do then? We’ll have to wait and see!
G is for Grandma and Grandpa
I had two sets of grandparents and was lucky enough to know all four. Trouble is I only knew two of them really well, and it’s not the two I’m writing about today.
We lived within a mile or two of my mother’s parents, but my father’s parents lived “out in the country,” as we used to say, and that was about 30 miles away, which doesn’t seem very far in distance, but seemed about a million miles away in familiarity.
My father was one of 14 children, so when we all got together at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, there was a carnival atmosphere, what with all the aunts, uncles and cousins I barely knew. It was easy for a kid to get lost in the crowd, and if you’ve ever been to a carnival, you know there’s an undercurrent of fear running right alongside the fun.
Grandma was Hazel. That’s important information that you’ll learn more about tomorrow, but for now, I’ll tell you that my memories of Grandma are her quavery voice, her long black hair that she always wore in a bun, and her little John Lennon glasses.
Grandpa was Clem. John Clement, actually, but folks called him Clem, except for us kids, we called him Grandpa. My memories of Grandpa are that he was pretty tall, always wore khakis, had a scary, bulbous nose due to some kind of obscene growth, and he rolled his own Bull Durham cigarettes.
And really, I’m sad to say, that’s about it. I have nothing physical to remember them by other than some photographs. When I graduated from high school, Grandpa wrote me a letter of congratulations, and I actually remember thinking to myself that I had to keep it in a safe place because it was all I had from him, but of course I didn’t, and it was lost ages ago.
Most of what I have are memories, some of which I wrote about before in this post about black-eyed peas. But there are other things I remember, too:
- A well pump inside a little shed constructed of scrap lumber that would turn on automatically whenever I was nearby, scaring the snot out of me.
- Sand. Sand everywhere, even inside on the hard, asphalt tile floor.
- Billowing clouds of sand from the two-track road, making all the porch-sitters wonder who the hell was driving in now.
- An old piano that Grandma used to play. I’d peck around on the keyboard when nobody was looking, hunting for the one or two keys that wouldn’t press down all the way and made a strangled squawking sound.
- Multicolored aluminum cups that sweated on the outside and held sandy iced tea that tasted like aluminum.
- Huge potluck dinners featuring plenty of yucky, marshmallowy jello molds, along with some other country cookin’ that was pretty damned good.
- Scorpion Gulch, a landmark not far from the house where we’d sometimes play, pulling down clods of dirt from the walls and screaming when angry scorpions came tumbling out.
- Holding on for dear life in the back of Grandpa’s pickup truck — along with as many cousins that would fit — as he bounced at full speed over a rutted cornfield, the ground visible through the rotting boards lining the truck bed.
- The smell from the feedlot when the wind was right.
Dung beetles that we called tumblebugs.
- Snakes, big ones.
- Finding those empty bags of Bull Durham and refilling them with (what else) sand.
- The time one of my cousins locked himself inside an old refrigerator, only to be “rescued” a few minutes later by a belt-wielding uncle.
See, it wasn’t all bad times, and the things I feared so much as a child, I’d pay good money to try again now. But those days are gone, man, gone with the wind. Just like Grandma and Grandpa.