Meet the Grandparents

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.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Grandpaism:

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.

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12 thoughts on “Meet the Grandparents

  1. I, too, had a Swedish grandfather–and father. Some of this sounds awfully familiar, especially the relationship with grandma. Even that little poem at the end—-mightly familiar. Does Grandpa also say, “Where was Moses when the lights went out? Down in the cellar eating sauerkraut.”?

  2. i don’t know why, maybe i do, but i am laughing uncontrollably, have a blessed weekend
    thanks for an excellent read, quite possibly one of my favorite here

    i’m hungry now, too

    but still laughing

  3. Fantastic. Your description is so vivid that it’s like being there. They sound like quite the number. I don’t think there are marriages like that anymore, or none that last anyway. The ordering of the turkey sandwich at the end is priceless. What tension and drama over a turkey sandwich! Thanks for the most enjoyable read.

    Btw, I don’t know if you had the occasion to see, but I did reply to your very thoughtful comment on breaking up on my blog.

  4. After my Sam Elliott posting I couldn’t help but hear him doing the voiceover for your gramps. Since you know him, might be hard for you to do but trust me, its barrels of monkeys level of fun! Good writing…easy to picture.

  5. They sound like pretty cool grandparents to me. :)

    Mine were not so cool. I’ve been contemplating a post about my grandmother, but with everyone writing such nice things and this being the season for nice, I figure I’ll wait until February which, in my opinion, is the cruelest month of the year.

    Your writing is fab. And brill. :)

  6. Your grandpa sounds like one cool dude to me, it’s like a lesson in how to enjoy what you can. In fact he sounds like the kinda man I would listen to with respect and your gandma too, and as a tribute to your writing, your control over the narrative voice so that you sound like them, all brilliant, which is why i feel like i was there at that table and was trying hard not to upset your gran by laughing too hard. Brilliant!

  7. …so like now I am thinking…and thinking – do I have a Grandpa story? And then I remember one…nope can’t tell that one, Grandma would murderlize me…Dang.

    Well done :)

  8. anhinga- your name has a certain scandinavian ring to it, even if it is just a pen name. I never heard that one but, ‘have you ever had water on your knee?’ was a big hit.

    fish- just stay out of that lemon pie!

    Slothboy- :) < (emoticonned. Oy!)

    Smiler- I saw, you really sparked a thoughtful discussion over there. I’m glad you enjoyed this.

    aos- what I can hear is *you* being Sam Elliott, reading the dialogue. And it is super amusing.

    Robin- ty, ty. You’re right about february. I’m awful curious to read about grands now, though.

    gingatao- he is pretty awesome, and respect is a great word to bring up in connection to them. that conversation played out pretty much word for word the way I wrote it.

    david- I still wonder who used the pepper next, after us.

    1poet- aw, risk it. We won’t tell.

    Oscarandre- You’re quite welcome.

  9. The poem at the bottom. I know it, but mine has a different ending:

    “The deaf policeman heard the noise
    and came to arrest those two dead boys.
    If you don’t believe my story’s true,
    Ask the blind man, he saw it too.”

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