I believed in sneaking E.L. Fudge cookies from the cookie jar at my grandparent’s after school.
I only remember bits and pieces of my grandpa from when my grandparents lived on the lake in Monticello. I remember his boat and his loud voice [his nickname was Boomer] and that I wasn’t allowed to touch most of the things in the house. Once I went into town with Grandpa in his Ranchero, and our family was playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game, and I spilled a milkshake all over my pants and in the car.
He also was friends with Old Hezekiah, who was known to leave pocket change in the unlikeliest places for me to find and keep. He always drank Manhattans.
Another time, he took me shopping for a G.I. Joe and I took forever to pick out which one I wanted. I ended up getting Lifeline, who came with a pistol. He told me that medics didn’t carry guns when he was in the war. Grandpa was a radio man and had fought in the Philippines in World War II and had a chunk of his thigh blown off while on Leyte. I was fascinated by the giant scar and his ever-brief stories about how they had to graft skin from his chest onto the leg. He didn’t like to talk about the war.
I was enamored by all of this and eventually he gave me all of his old army stuff for me to play with. Grandma and Grandpa moved to Connersville a few years later and I remember sitting on the rock at the end of Country Club Road, waiting for them to appear.
We would get into a lot of trouble together. He would rile me up and I’d love it and then both my mom and my grandma would yell at us [mostly at him]. One time he had me laughing so hard that I threw up strawberry ice cream. He had this box of junk that I always wanted to root through, but was never allowed to do so. One day I burned my leg on the muffler of his riding mower and he put some strange goop on it and finally [!] let me go through the box and keep a few pocket knives and other weirdness.
We’d also go fishing together sometimes. He always had caffeine free diet coke because he was diabetic and sandwiches made with white bread and one slice of chopped ham and a bit of mustard. Needless to say, those lunches weren’t the most exciting, but I loved being on the lake with him.
He got esophagial cancer when I was 12, we found out almost simultaneously with the death of my cousin Matt. All of this was just weeks after my Grandma and Grandpa had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I remember visiting him at a hospital in Indianapolis and hating the smell of the place and hating the chemo chemicals that wasted him away. The cancer was so advanced that there wasn’t much to be done except wait. He couldn’t be as active as he used to, and to keep himself busy, he organized and made copies of our family videos and continued to play his endless and arcanely scored games of double deck solitaire.
He died in mid-April of 1993. Although he appeared unconscious, I remember telling him I loved him and asking him if he loved me. He squeezed my hand. I was made to go mow the lawn, but I was still there when he died. I played Taps on my saxophone for him on the day he was buried. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t let myself cry until after.
Boots eats it, and he don’t like it.