My grandpa… he’s pretty awesome. He’s funny but not in the usual way- He has a strange sense of humor. He’s a stoic Swedish gentleman, always a little shy but the kind of person who puts aside his shyness to help others, like delivering Meals on Wheels to housebound seniors for 13 years, and reaching out to new people in the church to make them feel welcome, even if he has to grit his teeth to face talking to strangers. That’s just the kind of person he is.
My grandmother is also an amazing person. She’s smart as a whip and a little quicker to speech, sharper of tongue. Teenage boys mind their p’s and q’s when grandma is within earshot. She’s an amazing cook, and what you get from a little time around her is the sense of the fierceness of her love for those people she holds dear.
Now these two people have a dynamic together that I should really capture on film, because someday years hence I’m going to miss it badly. One of the things my grandpa does is to just like… say something completely random in the middle of a conversation, and then start laughing silently to himself, while the conversation stops dead and everyone stares at each other like, ‘What?’
He does this around family, and most of us are so used to it by now that we merely pause for a sec then go back to the conversation. But I think the reason he does it is because it drives grandma apeshit batty. After 54 years of life together, I can imagine the non-sequiturs might lose a little of their charm, but it is so funny to see the look on her face when he does it, and then the silent fit of shoulder shaking, and she’s going, “Honestly! Why do you say these things? Why? What does a kumquat have to do with vacation in Tucson? Go watch your football and let us talk.”
Her reaction is like she’s speaking to a peculiarly contrary small child.
And that’s the other thing, grandpa watches every kind of football under the sun, and grandma hates football with the heat of a thousand suns, but if you ask her a trivia question, like… I donno, name a running back for the Chicago Bears in 1982, she knows the answer. Grandpa has turned her into a walking encyclopedia of football facts, and her attitude while answering these questions is so dire and grim that it sends the whole family reeling into laughter.
Grandpa has been diagnosed with diabetes for almost 20 years now, and that’s a whole nother aspect of the relationship. He has a tendency to sneak in and purloin bites whenever there’s a pie or cake in the house, (leaving the baking goods riddled with strange, cut out geometric pieces) so grandma has developed omniscience to counteract this phenomenon. We’ll be in the living-room talking, and all of a sudden she’ll yell, “You get away from that lemon pie, so help me Richard!!!”
I don’t know how she knows, but he will come shuffling out of the kitchen a moment later with a guilty smile on his face, and grandma will sigh the world-weary sigh of a woman once again destined to take a picassoesque cut-out to the church bake sale.
Grandma watches his diet like a hawk, that’s one of the ways she takes care of him. He’d probably be in the grave if not for her vigilance, but of course he sometimes rebels against the strict diet rules. If you go out to eat with them it can take a good twenty minutes to actually order.
“Honey, do you want to share the soup and sandwich platter?”
“I don’t want to share.”
(skeptical look) “What are you gonna get then?”
“A double bacon cheeseburger and a strawberry milkshake.”
(grandma looks disgusted, grandpa silently shakes with laughter)
“Just tell me what you’re going to order.”
“Tuna casserole sounds good.”
“Hon, they don’t have tuna casserole.”
“What are you going to get?”
“Well, I was thinking of sharing the soup and sandwich platter, that’s why I’m asking you.”
“You can get the soup and sandwich…”
“It’s too much food for me.”
“You could just get a slice of pie.”
“I don’t wan’t pie. I want something real to eat. It’s 2 in the afternoon, and I’m hungry.”
“Well then, can I have your pie?”
“You’re gonna get a pie between the eyes if you don’t tell me what you’re going to order.”
(waitress comes… ‘Are you ready to order?’)
“I’d like some tuna casserole.”
“Honey! They don’t have a tuna casserole.”
“Bring me a double bacon cheeseburger and a pint of ice-cream.”
“No.” (grandma gestures to waitress) “We’re not quite ready yet.”
(grandma glares at grandpa)
(grandpa silently shakes with laughter)
(they go through each item on the menu, one by one, discussing and eventuallly dismissing each option with the hushed intensity of forensic investigators)
(time slows to a ponderous ‘tick, tick, tick’ while my daughter systematically empties all the sweet and low packets into the pepper shaker)
(the waitress comes back)
(we all turn to grandpa)
“Why don’t you go first… ” he says to grams, who gives him a very suspicious look.
“Well, since you don’t want to share, I think I’ll have half a turkey and cranberry on wheat.”
(I order, my daughter orders, now Grandpa… grandma is tensed to spring into veto action… the atmosphere is charged. Even the waitress has picked up on it, and holds her pen poised tentatively, as if to distance herself from its actions. Grandpa surveys the menu.)
waitress: “And you sir? What can I get you?”
“Hmmm… I think I’ll have the soup and sandwich platter. Turkey on wheat.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Early one morning, in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back-to-back they faced each other,
Drew their swords, and shot the other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
ran upstairs, and killed those two dead boys.