Separate, Grandma and Grandpa were individuals, as different as a pine tree and a maple. Together, they welded a bond so powerful that not even death could break it apart.
They loved to laugh, loved to tell stories and jokes. The stories were usually forgettable, but it was the "telling" that remains burned into my mind. They each had a habit of trying to tell the same story at the same time, to the same person. This often lead to total chaos and incomprehensibility.
(Let me stray here for a moment, if you please. I mentioned earlier that Grandma was a teacher, and she would have been very proud of any of her "kids" who were able to use a word like "incomprehensibility". Bonus points if we could spell it! I remember clearly that one of her favorite words was "Constantinople", which, I believe, was the early name for Istanbul. If we could spell it, she was very pleased. She also enjoyed displaying her talent of being able to spell it backwards, and was particularly pleased if we could do it, too.
(I once taught myself to not only spell backwards, but to write backwards, meaning that the words could be read in a mirror. Later, I learned to write upside down, and, eventually, backwards and upside down at the same time, which would look normal for anyone watching from in front of me. Grandma never learned of this talent I developed, and I often wonder if she would have been impressed by it, or would have thought it a waste of time.)
As I was saying, though, Grandma and Grandpa liked to tell stories at the same time, either by enhancing a line here, sticking in a word or two there, proclaiming "NO NO NO! You've got it all wrong!" and telling the whole thing again the "right" way, or by jumping in to take over the story whenever the other stopped to take a breath. That was really the best part of the story: seeing which one would make it to the punch-line first.
Card games were a very enjoyable pass-time for them. Euchre, especially, but also a game called "Pedro", (pronounced: PEE-DROH). I never learned how to play the game, nor did I ever see it played, but they spent many weekends playing with their good friends, the Donochys, who came up from the States to visit them quite regularly. (I fear the game died with them. Is there anyone out there who knows how Pedro is played?)
Television brought them many hours of entertainment and enjoyment in their later years. Saturday nights were set aside for hockey, and Grandma would get just as excited about the game as would her favorite announcer, Foster Hewett. The "Leafs" was her team. Actually, I believe Grandma was the bigger fan. It always appeared to me that Grandpa watched the game simply because he had no choice in the matter. Grandma loved her hockey!
(I understand that Grandma also enjoyed wrestling, too, but this is second-hand information. However, the source is somewhat reliable. My sister, Carol, told me. And if I say it wasn't true, she will beat me up!)
The "Matt Dillon Show" was another highlight of their weekly TV fare. I don't think I ever heard either of them call it by its rightful name: "Gunsmoke", but I am grateful, I suppose, that the show lasted as many seasons as it did. They dearly loved their "Matt Dillon". (However, I do seem to recall Grandma becoming rather ticked off when Dennis Weaver, who played the wooden-legged deputy, Chester, decided to leave the show, but she soon got to like the new deputy, Festus, and everything was okay again.)
I miss them both, very much, and even now, twenty years after their passing, I still drive by their house every once in a while for a small dose of nostalgia. I can remember it very clearly.
Inside, the house had a smell. What I call my Grandma and Grandpa smell. They created it themselves with wood smoke, farm clothes, old newspapers, yesterday's cooking, feminine make-up, mud-caked rubber boots, linoleum wax, cleanliness, and, oddly, a heavy dose of stuffiness.
Grandma took pride in her home, and, despite the wear and tear it received, the kitchen floor always glistened in the sunlight. A small table, just big enough for two, sat inside the back door (they never used the front door). They ate most of their meals here. In the corner, behind the table, sat a pile of empty rum bottles and a pile of newspapers. In the summer, Grandpa would fill the bottles with fresh, cool water from the tap, wrap them in newspapers, and they would join us in the fields, resting in the shade of a tomato plant. The drink would be stale, but refreshing.
The dining room, with its huge, solid-wood table, was always polished and topped with a white, embroidered table cloth and set with a centerpiece of some sort. It was used mainly for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, and the others (whenever it was Grandma's turn to play hostess, of course) or when Grandma cooked for the field workers who had spent the day gathering straw or threshing oats. And, being a farm woman all her life, Grandma certainly knew how to feed an army of hungry men.
You could get lost in their living room furniture. Big cushions with more room behind them to gather lost change than most people have in their closets. The console television sat against the south wall, just inside the doorway to the dining room. The sofa stretched along the west wall, under the tall window. Grandma's and Grandpa's chairs sat back near the archway opening into the furnished but unused front room. There they usually sat while the volume of the TV rattled the ice cubes in their glasses of rum.
Most of all, though, I remember the dark. Giant, thick, heavy drapes that were forever closed covered windows that never opened. For some reason, the outside was not allowed in to invade their living room. With shaded, subdued lighting, the room had a Gothic, eerie feeling to it that sent more than a few shivers up my spine when I was left in the room alone.
It all comes back to me so easily. I can see them. I can hear them. I can feel their presence. They will always live in my memory. I can only hope that, perhaps, I've helped to make them live a little more in your memory. And for those of you who never had the pleasure of knowing them, I can only wish that, if you happen to see them in a photograph, you might remember a bit of what I have told you here and wish for yourself that you had had the opportunity to meet them and to know them as I did.
And now, for Grandma, her favorite song:
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away."
And for Grandpa, the only song I ever heard him sing, and I quote:
(sung to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw")
"Old Neil Simpson, he ain't no good!
Cut him up for kindling wood!"
So long, Grandpa.
We all miss you so.
God be with you both.
From the hand of your loving grandson, Neil Simpson.
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