Catching the Crazy Train
I’m on vacation (again!). This is a posting of one of my favorite blogs.
My maternal grandfather was a thief. And he was proud of it. He boasted, to anyone would listen, of all that he had pilfered from the navy during World War II.
After his death, we found a large sextant still in its original packaging, a silver sugar and creamer set from the Officer’s Club, a pair of binoculars, and a life raft from a ship that he wasn’t even on. He had no compunction of stealing the paper from his neighbor and it was not unusual for my grandmother to have to supply a new one to the angry fellow next door.
Although he married my grandmother, a well-to-do only child, he was extremely tightfisted and shopped at the local Salvation Army, stuffing all he could into a brown bag for 25 cents. I remember as a child, him offering to spring for my own 25 cent shopping bag, and how excited I was to pick out whatever I wanted.
He had closets of old clothes, none of which really fit but he knew exactly what was there. He didn’t mind stealing, but he was extremely angry if he thought anyone was stealing from him. We were always were grilled as we left the house after a visit, sometimes even emptying out our pockets to prove we were “clean.”
“the Old Man”
Anyone who knew him called him “the Old Man,” and he had a reputation of being belligerent, cunning and lithe. At eighty-five years of age, we witnessed him riding across the yard on a unicycle. When he was a mere eighty, he set himself up a small sled he had made from a bucket on a skateboard and took it down their steep driveway. To this day, my husband tells the story of “the Old Man” jumping up on a counter to change a ceiling light bulb with more dexterity than a twelve-year old. He had the nimble physique of a monkey and I can only imagine what he was like as a young man.
He held grudges, even with children, as though there was a secret covenant to try to trick him or put one over on him. He once accused my, then, fourteen year-old son of stealing a moth-eaten fedora from him and until the day he died he referred to Marcus as sneaky. If he took a dislike to you, he had neither the manners nor the inclination to hide his feelings.
He treated his only daughter terribly and told her to her face that he wished she had been born a boy. He took to calling her “Myque” (Mike), a nickname that stuck, and it wasn’t until I was a teen, I realized my mother’s name was really Claudia.
He was a devout atheist and a staunch democrat and considered anyone who dared to disagree with him an idiot. He also had an eye for a pretty girl and there was more than once that I heard my grandmother complaining of his many girlfriends that would phone the house. And he always took the call.
Frank and beans, anyone?
The first time my husband met “the Old Man” was during a holiday dinner at my mothers. My grandfather showed up in the middle of winter in loose nylon running shorts from the seventies (the really short kind), penny loafers, and a tattered sleeveless gray wool vest. He pulled a bar stool up to the table and sat higher than the rest of us, leaning over to eat. He chose not to wear underwear that day and shared his own pride and joy with anyone who had the courage to look.
He startled everyone by announcing in a loud angry voice “Who the hell took my goddamned fork?” He repeated it again until someone offered to get him a new one. Needless to say, my husband was speechless and I had to assure him that the family secret was that I was adopted.
He was a very odd man and I didn’t like him very much – he scared me. He died when he was eight-nine, his skin stretched so thin you could see the numerous tumors that filled his stomach. My grandfather dictated that he wanted to be cremated and requested no funeral or memorial service. So there was no closure in any way, for anyone. He just disappeared.