Grandpa Says Hello-- June exercise (c/p)
Find a Conversation
|Sun, 06-24-2001 - 2:35am|
Grandpa Says Hello-- June exercise (c/p)
I grabbed Mama’s hand and she gave a reassuring squeeze as we walked into the funeral home. “You okay, honey?” she asked. I nodded and swallowed the jawbreaker-sized lump in my throat. I had ridden my bicycle through the parking lot of the mortuary numerous times, since it was located next- door to Grandpa’s house. This was my first time to enter the imposing structure. The funeral director met us in the foyer and ushered us into the viewing room where my grandfather lay in state.
The room was furnished with delicate antique chairs, placed in strategic groupings. Oil painting graced the flocked walls and an elaborate chandelier hung from the ceiling. Grandpa would have hated such pretentiousness, I thought. He was much more comfortable in a fishing cabin in the woods.
Every summer, Grandpa took Mama and me to an old cabin by the lake in the deep woods of East Texas for a couple of weeks of fishing and swimming. We sat on the pier, legs dangling over the side. Grandpa would thread a worm on the hook of my little cane pole, then he and Mama chose fancy lures from the tackle box and added all kinds of doo-dads to their fishing lines. They cast their rods and reels over and over across the water. The whirls of the reels and the plops of the sinkers echoed through the shaded stillness.
Mama and I wore our swimsuits while we were fishing, but Grandpa wore raggedy khakis and a faded green cotton shirt that he was convinced brought him luck for a good catch. I’d grab ice-cold Cokes from the cooler where Grandpa kept his beer. He’d take a few swigs from a long- necked bottle when his jaw wasn’t full of chewing tobacco.
Usually while we were busy on the pier, Grandpa’s big mongrel Ralph was happily splashing in the shallows, chasing after birds and minnows. Grandpa said Ralph was so ugly he was cute. He had wiry black and gray hair, one ear always cocked up and the other hanging down. Long skinny legs were attached to his barrel-shaped body and he always ran around with a goofy grin, tongue hanging out and drooling.
At the end of the day, we’d bring our catch to the picnic table behind the cabin where Grandpa would scale and gut the fish. Ralph reveled in rolling around in the slimy entrails; then jumped into our laps to share his “wonderful” aroma. Despite several shampoos, when we returned from the lake, Ralph still proudly carried his fishy smell. I wanted our vacation to last forever, but Mama said she had to get back to work and I needed to get ready for fifth-grade, starting in a few weeks. Grandpa planned on puttering in his garden once we got home.
About two weeks after we’d settled into our regular routine, Mama received a call early one morning from Uncle Frank, Grandpa’s younger brother. He stopped by every morning to drink coffee with Grandpa. That morning, the coffee wasn’t made, so Uncle Frank went upstairs to check on his brother and found that Grandpa had died in his sleep. From the moment I found out, I spent most of my time curled up on my bed crying. Mama was busy making all kinds of arrangements and calling relatives that neither of us had seen in years – mostly Grandpa’s elderly cousins.
Now here I was, wearing a dress with a collar that scratched my neck and Mary Jane shoes that pinched my feet. People began arriving for the viewing and I inched closer to Mama as they came by to murmur empty condolences. A huge lady with blue hair and hanging jowls stopped and patted my head.
“Poor darlin’, “ she said. “I’m so sorry about your Papaw. Bless your little heart.”
“Grandpa”, I said under my breath.
“What’s that, sweetie?”
“Grandpa. His name is Grandpa! Not Papaw, or Paw-Paw, or any other stupid name like that!” I ran from the room to escape her suffocating presence.
“My, she’s a high-spirited thing!” I heard the lady say to Mama. “ Of course, that’s to be expected, considering her grandfather was the same way.”
The whole funeral home seemed to be filling with an advancing horde of wrinkled and stooped society matrons. I searched the halls until I found a side door and quickly slipped through it. Uncle Frank was standing under the portico, smoking a cigarette. After the sickeningly sweet smell inside, the tobacco’s odor was almost a pleasant relief.
“Lookin’ for a place to hide?” Uncle Frank said.
“I sure wish I could…”
Uncle Frank nodded while pulling on his necktie. He looked very uncomfortable in the old suit that he wore just for special occasions. I thought he probably wanted to be back in his regular clothes even more than I did.
“Yes’m,” he said. “Them proper ladies are family and we got to be polite to ‘em, but they sure get tedious sometimes. I had to get a breath of fresh air my own self.”
“Can’t we stay out here, at least until they all leave? I mean, I want to say goodbye to Grandpa… well, you know… kinda just me and him.”
He flicked his cigarette butt into the night, sighed deeply and said, “Why punkin’, you know that wouldn’t be nice. Those people cared about your Grandpa too and we gotta show them some respect. C’mon, we’ll go back in together and use our best manners. They won’t be here that long.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and guided me back into the mortuary. I trudged through the hallway, trying to postpone the inevitable. Right after we walked through the entrance to the viewing room, I heard a loud thump coming from the end of the hallway we had just left, then a fast clicking noise heading straight toward us. I turned around and there was Ralph, Grandpa’s scruffy mutt, barreling right through the doorway.
“What kind of fresh hell is this?” groaned a shriveled old man to my left.
“Frank, why’d you leave that door open? I swear you’re the most careless man…” just then Ralph zipped through the legs of the speaker, who yelped in alarm.
The room was abuzz with exclamations and complaints about Ralph’s smell.
“This is simply disgraceful,” sniffed Cousin Elaine, (at least I think that was her name) “Somebody get that disgusting animal out of here!”
My shoulders started shaking. I lowered my head and bit my lip. By this time, I’d made my way back to my mother’s side. The old lady with the jowls rubbed my back lightly and said, “There, there, baby, don’t cry. We’ll get that nasty old dog out of here.”
Mama, who knew me better, lightly pinched the inside of my arm, realizing that I struggled to keep from laughing, not crying. Uncle Frank, Mama and I stood to one side while Ralph scooted away from all of his aged pursuers, zigzagging his way through the length of the room until he reached the bier on which the coffin stood which held his master. He stood stock-still at the bottom left of the coffin, lifted his hind leg and marked his territory, to the open-mouthed horror of the elderly onlookers.
“Merciful heavens!” cried the lady closest to the spray.
Uncle Frank finally eased up to Ralph, gently lifted and carried him back outside. I trotted after them, holding my breath all the way. Once outside, I caught Uncle Frank’s eye and we burst out laughing. I reached over to hug the dog, still sitting contentedly in my great-uncle’s arms. We guffawed until there were tears in our eyes.
Uncle Frank said, “Now that’s a wake your Grandpa would’ve been proud of. I know he’s looking down on us right now and laughing his fool head off!”
“That’s right,” I said. “Ralph just let them know what Grandpa was thinking: ‘Piss on ‘em. Piss on ‘em all!’ ”
Juliana Taliaferro 06-23-01