Growing up, I had two very different grandfathers. Having gotten to know them, I’m glad I had the opportunity to know all of my grandparents. Even if they’re not friendly with each other, it can be pretty interesting to have most of your ancestors in the same area.
Both of my grandfathers had served in U.S. Navy during the war (I thought they were saying “War-War Two,” as if it was so bad it was like Double War). Neither of them had been directly involved in any combat, since one was a mailman and the other was a weather man.
Even without being in any battles, my mailman grandfather saw some horrible things and he came home just a bit scarred. He didn’t like to leave home much and hated to run out of ice, among other after-effects. Upon reflection, it’s impossible to know if he was hurt most by the war or by the postal service.
I always thought he was such a joker because of a deep-seated sense of mischief, but I’m sure there’s some much fancier psychology to explain his demeanor. He liked to keep people just a little off balance and would chuckle at their confusion.
Even today, I occasionally bellow, “Welcome aboard!!” when someone enters my office and then I enjoy their blinking reaction in his honor. [Note: my office is not on a ship.]
I wasn’t always this way. I was actually an extremely literal kid, and I have no idea why I was like that. It might have been in reaction to my parents both having gigantic vocabularies that they slung energetically–almost as if there wasn’t a child-person trying to dodge all the huge words to get to the message. [Thanks, folks!! This is in no danger of being hagiography!!] Whatever the cause, I struggled mightily with irony and was confused much of the time by my relatives, because they were inclined to clown.
When I was in second grade, my grandfather, the Navy mailman who had eventually become a Postal Supervisor, started a medically recommended early retirement. (There was a juicy and sinister political story behind that, but I have completely forgotten the details because it was also steeped in layers of bureaucracy).
Once he retired, I would go home after school to a neighbor’s house and then after an hour or two I would call my grandfather to see if he was home, so that I could walk to meet him at the corner. We met at the corner presumably because there was concern that I would forget to turn during my three-block walk.
I called and asked, “Pappy? Are you home.”
“No,” he said.
“Okay,” I would say, so very literal. “I’ll call you later.”
He would laugh his wheezy laugh, “I’ll see you at the corner in ten minutes.”
He would greet me very consistently with, “Waddayaknow?” Later on, I found that this was probably a bit of a call-and-response. I was supposed to reply with, “Not much. You?”
I never said that, because I was prepared to tackle this question literally, every time. I had to have something I knew. It could be, “Next week is Halloween!!” or “Chickens that don’t hatch by themselves shouldn’t be helped” or whatever a second grader would have in their fact bag at the end of the day. He was genuinely delighted with whatever it was.
When I left he would say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
I would nod solemnly. I was constantly on the lookout for bastards.
My weatherman grandfather wasn’t around a lot when I was that age. My only recollection was paddling a boat with him, probably on the C&O Canal. Grandma was there and she was annoyed with him but pretending not to be.
When I reached seventh grade, Grandpa started to visit more. For the first visit in several years, he swooped in and took me to fly in a private plane. His pilot-friend even let me steer for a second. I was a bit dazed when he dropped me off at Pappy’s house.
“How was your big day with Grandfather Turd?” he asked.
“I flew a plane and ate a tiny steak.”
He made a pfft noise. We had an entire silent conversation in that pfft. He was bothered by the prospect that Weatherman Grandfather had an edge of being exotic and new. I silently reassured him that he would always be the Corner-meeting Grandfather, which was much more important.
Besides, Weatherman Grandpa was a college professor by then, and he never asked me “Whaddayaknow?” He was always more interested in telling me all the things that he knew.
I’m not knocking that–he knew a lot of interesting things and still had the gumption to get out and explore in order to have more things to talk about.
I could ask him, “Waddayaknow?” and consistently learn something.
It would have been a shame to have one with out the other. One of them taught me to have something to say and other taught me how to listen with the utmost patience. They both fed me a lot of steak in the process.
They each suspected the other was a bastard. They were both wrong.