just ponderin'

… on loving an old yankee man

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Grampa and Tripp, his first great grandchild.

On August 9, 1993 I took the plunge and began living with another man.

Yes. It was a shock to my friends and family, and certainly was something that my nearly perfect husband never expected. Even the new man, special to me in ways I never imagined a man could be, was a little surprised at his own decision to cohabitate with a woman thirty six years younger than himself.  But it did happen, and I’m not even sorry for it. I totally own my decision. The lessons I’ve learned about life, and myself, and history, and being young and growing old are priceless.

The old Yankee man I moved in with in 1993 is my Dad-in-Law (my Mom-in-Law came with him, and my nearly-perfect husband came with me, so it wasn’t all that sordid). He was born on December 1, 1928. As I have previously told you, I am terrible (absolutely terrible) remembering dates, but today I know this one like the back of my hand.  Because it’s been repeated in my presence, by my Dad-in-Law, more than a dozen times a day since Wednesday. He has to repeat it to prove he is who his I.D. tag says he is.

On that day, September 11th, he was in a car accident. And, along with horrible looking bruises covering almost the entirety of one arm, a shiner that still holds his right eye nearly closed, and some internal bruising, he fractured his C2 vertebrae.

He broke his neck.

Now, I know this seems dire and before you worry too much about a man you’ve never met but who was a major force in who I am in life, I must assure you that he did very well through surgery, and is going to be okay. I can also assure you – and you may not be surprised by this based on what you know of me and my family so far – that these past few days have not been all serious and sad and scary. As a matter of fact, when I walked into his hospital room for the first time, and he was looking way too small in his hospital bed, and he had his big collar on to keep his neck still and in the right position, he sort of rolled his eyes (one eye. The other one was swollen shut and very purple) toward me and here is exactly what we said:

Him: “How ya doin’?”

Me: “Better than you. You broke your freakin’ neck!”

Him: “So I’ve heard.”

Me: “Good thing you bounce.”

Him: “I guess so!”

Pause for a smile.

Not yours.

Mine.

Okay, let’s go.

He does bounce. You know in the movie, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, there is the character of Yukon Cornelius (great character) and he has been hunting the abominable snowman for a really long time?

sidenote: I still cannot watch the scene in which the abominable snowman is first “seen” by the audience and not get a little nervous. I still have to tell myself that, when his big giant hand comes over the mountains and grabs hold of the top of one, that he is not really going to be that big for the rest of the movie. I mean, he grabs hold of the entire top of a whole MOUNTAIN. But later on, he is only like three times as tall as Yukon Cornelius. Must have been the camera angle in that first scene. Very misleading.

Anyway.

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About 3 hours after the accident. Yes, he is smiling. No, he has had no pain medication (other than Tylenol, which we had to convince him he would not get addicted to)

You know how Yukon Cornelius’ nickname for the monster is ‘Bumbles’ and, in the surprise scene where he leads the monster into the room with Santa and all the reindeer (by a collar and leash, totally Cesar Milan-like with Bumbles not leading him through the doorway) and everyone gasps in horror and they are surprised they are both still alive because they had gone over a cliff? Yukon says that there’s something they don’t know about Bumbles, that “Bumbles bounce!”

Well, that’s my Dad-in-Law.

He bounces.

He is also far less scary without his teeth.

But that isn’t the point of this story.

What is?

Oh.

We are all convinced my Dad-in-Law (a.k.a., ‘Grampa’) will outlive us all. Except maybe Fred. Who is a Lab and who, like me, is also in love with Grampa. Fred and Grampa will outlive us all. But first, we will be periodically frightened with the occasional trip or fall (by Grampa, not Fred), from which other folks would emerge with a catastrophic injury – especially at the age of 84 – but from which my Dad-in-Law emerges with a few bruises, thus looking a bit more colorful for a few days. Perhaps he likes the color purple.  The color, not the movie. He still can’t even remember Oprah’s name, even though he used to watch her show every day.

He calls her “Oompy”.

And he calls George W. Bush “Jethro”.

He calls Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, ‘Devil’. Even though he has voted for him twice.

I guess he likes nicknames. His friends growing up all had nicknames.

Dink Flanagan.

Pecker O’Connor.

Tiny Givens.

Clearly there was an obsession with penis slang in the 1930s and 40s.

In addition to wHeird, phallus-derived nicknames, Grampa’s childhood was also impacted by a little happening known as the Great Depression.

The Great Depression has been the impetus for much hilarity in our household. Grampa has told us many stories of the Great Depression, and of growing up down at Berry’s Grove in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

Side note, again: Grampa’s sister’s name is Janet. Aunt Janet married Norman Berry. If she had hyphenated her name, it would be Janet Dingle-Berry. Once again, you cannot make this shit up.

As with many people who grew up surrounded by the consequences of the Great Depression, Grampa has some residual behaviors that he carries with him, proudly, to this day. I can’t categorize them as post-traumatic stress-related behaviors, because he doesn’t seem the least bit stressed about them.  But now that I think of it, they may be post-traumatic stress-inducing behaviors, as I will be struggling with their repercussions long into the future.

As we know, folks having grown up in that era are very frugal. They save, like, everything. Wrapping paper, string, broken legs from old chairs, we’ve seen it all. When we all moved in together, Grampa and Granny sold their house and he had to decide what to bring to the new house. He would have his own part of the basement as a workshop, and they would have their own apartment, but having lived in their former house for nearly forty years. There was a lot of stuff to go through.

If we combined the vast amounts of everything from car parts, to sheet metal, to rusting screws, and tools I have only seen hanging from the ceilings of barns in horror movies, I’m pretty sure Grampa could have built a pretty solid Naval Destroyer, and motored it down the Merrimac River right to the Atlantic.

As a matter of fact, I myself have threatened to send him down a river (Styx) a few times over the past twenty years.

“Why?” you ask. “What could this sweet old man possibly do, on a nearly daily basis, to make you want to draw and quarter him, Lisa?”

Sit down, child. I’ll share just one of many, many (many) stories.

Oh, and get a snack.

Ready?

Okay.

Once, about three months after we moved into our house together, I came home from a very long day at work, parked, and realized that Grampa was standing on my side porch, smiling from ear to ear.

The guy was positively beaming.

The porch had been built to my exact specifications. The posts and rails were painted the same color as the house – a very deep, warm brown from the colonial era. There were cedar treads on the stairs that were left in their natural state, and would weather to a lovely shade of silver grey over time.  The stairs led to our kitchen door, which had a beautiful mahogany stoop that had a clear stain on it for protection, but it allowed the beauty of the wood to show through. And, when you looked past my porch toward the rear of the house, you could see an exact replica of it, leading to the door to Grampa’s and Granny’s apartment. They were cute, charming porches on a beautifully built, lovingly designed (by me) reproduction New England Saltbox house.

And so there was Grampa, standing on my beautiful porch, looking so happy. And I realized that there was something….off. And then it hit me.

What the fuh…..

My porch was brown. The entire thing. But it wasn’t the same brown as the color of the house. It was the color of poo.

I had a poo porch.

I had a poo porch, and Grampa looked so happy.

So I got out of the car and he started to tell me (before I could take one step toward him) that he noticed that we hadn’t painted the entire porch when we moved in. He wanted to be sure that we protected it before the winter (it was August) so he thought he’d save us the time and just paint it himself. So he went down in the basement and, luckily (luckily), had a couple of cans of brown paint from the old house (which, by the way, was grey). So he matched the paint up as best he could and painted the porch. And it was dry so I could come right up.

So I did.

Slowly.

And with a smile I yanked up from the bottom of my belly and quickly superglued on my face.

And, as I looked at my newly painted poo porch, with splatters of poo paint all over the house itself as well as the newly planted flowers below. And I nodded and smiled and thanked Grampa and opened the door to go inside.

And he practically knocked me back with his forearm.

He told me not to step right there, because it was still wet. He explained that he had finished the entire porch and cleaned up, he said. But, then, when he opened up the screen door, he realized that he had forgotten the stoop – the mahogany stoop that was stained clear so that I could see the beauty of the wood.

So he poo painted that too.

And it was still wet.

So I stepped gingerly over it, and made my way into the kitchen with my very happy Dad-in-Law right behind me, excitedly adding exclamation points and emphasis to how lucky we were that he was there and came complete with cans of 1960s paints and other materials in case we ever needed them.

I am telling you, I cannot count the number of times that John and I have looked at each other and given thanks to the Gods who’d protected us from perishing in a creosote or custom gasoline concoction-fueled fireball in the dead of night. Once, Grampa duct taped old bathing caps – yes, old bathing caps – over the fire alarm units in the basement because something that he was mixing or spraying (or using as deodorant for all I know) kept setting the fire alarms off. When we discovered the bathing caps, he said Mackenzie must have done it.

It made perfect sense. Because Mackenzie, who was six at the time, obviously had access to a stepladder, duct tape, and a supply of 1960s bathing caps.

I never know what I’m going to find when I come home. Seriously. I don’t know, any dang day, what I will find. His presence in the Ongoing Silly Circus that is our lives – adds such dimension and awesomeness.

Even on the days I want to kill him.

My Dad-in-Law is one of the most special people in my life. As with so many old Yankee men, he has lived the concept of rugged individualism. He has lived through the Great Depression, through wars, and through peace. He is straightforward and honest. He is also sometimes infuriatingly stubborn and opinionated. And he doles out endless advice, usually based on exactly half of a newspaper article he read that morning (why read all the way to the end?).

But I love him.

We love him.

And right now he needs us and we need him. So we’ll do whatever it takes to help him get back to his old self. There will be doctors’ visits, and physical therapy and home visits after that. But he is lucky.

We are lucky.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll share some more Grampa stories with you over the coming days.  I assure you that the poo porch is just a scintillating appetizer for all that I could hurl your way.  The work will be in the picking and choosing. And, of course, in making sure that my reaction in reliving some of them doesn’t lead me to some sort of death spiral involving self-medication.

Until then,

Thanks for readin’.

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