Whereas Grandma could look the part of a lady as easily in the field as she could at home, Grandpa was a different Grandpa every time he changed his clothes. Sure, he could dress up and look so much the gentleman in dark, belted slacks, polished shoes and white shirt when only minutes before he looked so much the farmer in his droopy, sweat-stained straw hat, plaid shirt, over-alls, and black, red-rimmed rubber boots.
I hate to admit it, but I remember Grandpa much more than Grandma. I believe, though, that this is because Grandpa and I spent more time together. That, and the fact that he was so much more unpredictable than Grandma. You just never knew what it would take for Grandpa to "lose it". One day you could drop and squish a whole crate of prime tomatoes and Grandpa would laugh. The next day, you could pick one not quite ripe enough and he'd go ballistic. If he had nothing else, he had a temper. And when he lost it, you just stood back. As far away as you could get. (The next county was pretty safe, but be prepared to duck.)
Grandpa was always whistling. Well . . . as close to a whistle as he ever got. It was more just blowing air between his tongue and teeth. But it was always a comforting sound to have around, even if we couldn't really hear it.
Fords! All his cars. The old truck. All Fords. You hadn't experienced the ride of your life until you took a ride in the old Ford truck. Whether from the total lack of shocks or the over-zealous springs in the seat, you spent more time in orbit than in contact with the truck. Loud, cold, and 8.5 on the Richter scale, it made for an interesting ride.
Nevertheless, despite its bone-rattling abilities and the fact that you could watch the world rush past through the holes in the floor, there was never a more reliable, nor over-worked vehicle than that old Ford truck.
Grandpa's cars made for a more pleasant ride, but if you had to get anywhere in a hurry, you were better off walking. Grandpa was a slow, cautious driver, always with both hands on the steering wheel, clicking his tongue and smacking his lips in heavy concentration.
One day, though, on the way home from the fields, we whipped along #2 highway toward Brighton. The scenery zoomed by us. The car reached speeds it had only dreamed of before. A quick glance at the speedometer make me shiver with excitement. We had actually reached the speed limit!
We pulled off the highway and zipped along the side streets leading to Grandpa's house. There it was! Grandpa moved his foot from the gas to the brake. The tires, unaccustomed to such a work-out, dug in to bring the car to a halt. Grandpa flipped off the ignition, pulled out the key and opened the door in one fluid motion. As he climbed out, he shouted, "Thank God! I've got to take a leak!"
For those of you with sensitive stomachs, you may wish to skip this paragraph. Read on, if you dare... We were driving along one other day, at a more leisurely pace. Grandpa had his window part-way down, letting the breeze come in to cool our sweating brows. He cleared his sinuses by inhaling loudly and roughly through his nose. Then he cleared his throat by exhaling loudly and roughly through his mouth. (If you follow me here, you know the next logical step. Spit.) Grandpa reached for the window handle and cranked it. Then, turning his head slightly to the left, he let fly with an A-1, First Class "PTTUUIII". Unfortunately, he had rolled his window UP! Grandpa cursed at first, then he laughed. I just laughed. Indeed, Grandpa had his moments.
I'm sure you know what "humility" is. You do something nice for someone, or you do something particularly well, and people lavish praise on you. And you, being "humble", deny that praise, only to have it forced upon you with added vigor. (You really deserve it, but you have to pretend that you don't.)
Well, Grandpa taught me "anti-humility". And he taught it very well. (I'm not talking "vanity", here. I'm talking "humility", but on a negative scale. You will see what I mean.)
I was young at the time, probably early teens, and there was something, I don't recall what, that I wanted to buy. It cost money. I had none. I needed it. I would earn it.
It was one of my duties as a youngster to mow Grandma and Grandpa's lawn. For this, I would earn a dollar. A considerable amount of money to a boy at that time. So, I determined that I would do a stupendous job and earn even more money. And I did. The lawn was mowed and raked, edges were trimmed, flower gardens weeded and the rims contoured by spade. A job worthy of Better Homes and Gardens. This had to earn me at least two dollars!
Grandpa came out, surveyed his yard, smiled, pulled out the wallet from his back pocket, and fished out a two-dollar bill. He held it out to me. My fingers itched to relieve him of the weight. But, being "humble", I felt obliged to mention that, "Well, it wasn't really worth all that," totally expecting Grandpa to push it into my hand and to tell me what a wonderful job I had done and that it was worth twice this amount.
I was wrong. Very wrong!
"Okay," he said. He put the money back in his wallet, turned, and went back into the house, leaving me with blistered hands and empty pockets. Lesson learned. Grandma wasn't the only teacher in the family.
Long before nuclear waste, pollution, disappearing rain-forests and depleting ozone, Grandpa was an environmentalist ahead of his time. Perhaps that is why, if he spotted a pop bottle lying beside the road, Grandpa would pull onto the shoulder, stop, and the passenger had to run back to retrieve it. "That's 2 cents," he would say. . . Perhaps the environment didn't weigh as heavily on his mind as I thought!
Once upon a time, the postal system had a creed. A motto. You may not remember it - (they haven't used it for years!) - so I will remind you: "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail, nor gloom of night, will stay these couriers from their daily appointed rounds." They have a new motto, now: "If I feel like it, I might deliver it."
Well, Grandpa was and "old-creed" rural postal delivery man. His route took him into the far north, uncharted regions beyond the 401. And he often took one of us kids with him. Saturdays. Holidays. And especially during the winter months.
One memorable stretch of road started at the top of a great hill, down into a small valley, and back up an equally great hill. On particularly bad days, when even snowploughs were having trouble staying on the road, Grandpa would stop at the top of the hill, hand me the mail, let me out of the car, and then leave me there as he zipped down the hill to gain the speed necessary to get back up the other hill. And then he'd wait there for me as I slid down the hill, dropped the mail into the two boxes, and then struggled back up the other hill to rejoin him.
If he couldn't drive through it, I walked through it. I seem to recall walking one short section of snow-filled road to drop off a letter for Walter Fulford while Grandpa drove all the way around to meet me at the other end of the road. (Walter, a quiet, likeable recluse, was a dear friend of Grandpa's. The only time I saw him away from the homestead, he attended Grandpa's funeral.)
Very few occasions was the mail undeliverable. The postal system of today could use the die-hard dedication of men like my grandfather. Grandpa taught us that, even if we knew we couldn't do something, we had to at least make an attempt at it anyway.
Whereas Grandma thought you had to shout into a telephone to be heard, Grandpa had a slightly different problem. He never learned the polite way to hang up after a conversation. He was reluctant to talk on the phone in the first place, and when he did, he would talk with you, but only about the subject at hand. He would never talk just to pass time. And when he'd said what needed to be said, you would hear his voice fading away as he spoke: "Well, I guess I should be goi . . . (CLICK!)" End of conversation. Grandpa was finished.
Grandpa's cautious and deliberate slowness would sometimes be misconstrued as "inactivity", and many times we were left waiting impatiently for him to decide that we were, in fact, finished. Whether working in the field or in the garden, whether repairing a tractor or simply sharpening a hoe, Grandpa always did only his best. Always there to lend a helping hand, Grandpa was usually the first to arrive, and the last to leave. A true friend.
Hugh & Jenny - Together