I was never one of those kids who was blessed or cursed with a Crusty Grandpa, on either side of the family.
What’s a Crusty Grandpa? Well, for the best definition of the term, we turn to the great A.A. Milne and his unpublished masterpiece, Now We Are Eight-And-A-Half:
“A Crusty Grandpa?,” said Rumworth, crunching the last piece of Doncaster Toffee between his jaws. “Why, a Crusty Grandpa is a Grandpa who’s had Three or Four Wives, and has tattoos from the Merchant Marine, and has a Most Unpleasant Squint when you take him onto the croquet court on sunny Saturday mornings. Mother is always lecturing him for Turning The Air Blue — funny, it just looks gray to me, like cigarette smoke. And he knows Exotic Tales of Bombay and Saigon, except I never get to hear any, because Mother is always cutting him off partway through because there are Children In The Room.”
No, I never had one of Those Grandpas.
My grandfathers were both clean-cut churchgoing men, pillars of the community, sobersided and civil of tongue. I can recall, or perhaps imagine, my paternal grandfather using an occasional “damn” in the most jovial of settings — “Those damn rabbits are eating more of my tomatoes than I am!” — but nothing that would seriously upset a Ladies’ Auxiliary meeting.
Except for one thing, that is. While I didn’t know it at the time, there was one thing in the world that — based on the written evidence — could make my grandfather as salty as a sailor.
What was it? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we present Exhibit A, from a steamy summer in the mid-1970s:
One day of hot summer weather? Grin and bear it.
Two days? Man’s burden, and a fair enough price to pay for living in beautiful New England. (“God’s country,” a minister I once knew used to call it; and in all my years, I never knew a minister to speak a truer word.)
But three days of straight steam? That was enough to crumble the stoicism and force my grandpa to break out with “BITCHEROO.”
An isolated incident, you might suggest. Well, no. For Exhibit B, we cut to almost exactly a year later:
The heat of July 3, 1974, was made bearable by some morning showers — not to mention the soul-pacifying coolness of a good summertime porch-hosing.
But a savage Fourth of July was enough to bring out an imaginative blast of “BITCHEROONY,” along with a drawing of a merciless sun. (My grandfather employed orange to better effect than anyone since Floyd Little.)
The weather the following month was once again enough to turn the Ladies’ Auxiliary’s ears red. Exhibit C:
85 degrees with rain doesn’t sound that nasty on paper. But it must have been worse than it sounds, because it provoked my grandfather to exclaim — using his well-worn orange pencil and wrinkly, heat-withered lettering — “TOO DAM HUMID!”
I’ve been charmed by this run of calendar entries ever since I first read it.
I think some of us only see one side of our grandparents, the side that dishes out ice cream sundaes and pinches us on the cheek. We don’t get to see (or are too young to fully appreciate) the grown-up — the person who reads the weather report in the morning Advocate and says, through a mouthful of Shredded Wheat, “Aw, s–t, not again.”
I feel like I have a fuller picture of my grandpa after reading this sequence of entries — more of an understanding of how he responded to life, and not just to grandchildren’s visits.
And, as an enthusiastic user of the occasional profanity (it does the heart good, like whole-grain oats), I kinda like the idea that he was too, when the circumstances truly warranted.
Consider it a posthumous lesson in life: There are times in a man’s journey when fate deals him a real bitcheroony, and there’s nothing to be done for it but to call it what it is.
Just so long as the Ladies’ Auxiliary isn’t in the room, that is.
In next week’s 5,478 Days: Old Scratch comes to Fairfield County.