My Grandfather is 88 years old. For the last 10 years he’s been throwing away his clothes instead of doing laundry because he’s convinced he’s going to die soon. He’s still alive, but underwearless.
He lives in upstate New York; a six hour drive from Boston’s Fort Point. This would be a long, but worthy trip if he actually wanted to see us, but he doesn’t. In past years my mom asks,
“Do you want to go to Grandpas?”
This year I asked my mom,
“What do you want for Mother’s Day?”
“I want to take Captain to meet Grandpa.”
She’s got me in a corner. The last thing I want to do with my precious weekend is wake up at 5:00am and spend 12 hours of it in a car.
The least we can do during the drive is check off some wedding planning. I tell my mom about my plan for an ice cream cake. Captain mentions his favorite Carvel ice cream cake from when he was a kid. He says,
“It was called Cookie Puss.”
My mom asks,
I tell her,
“He’s talking about an ice cream cake from when he was a kid.”
Captain pipes up again,
He hands my mom a photo.
My mom is worried that Captain is missing the scenery. It’s true, he might be missing something while he stares at Cookie Puss commercials, but he has four more hours to catch up on scenery. My mom tells him,
“I’m going to sing for you, but not until we see the Erie Canal.”
Then we see the Erie Canal. After her rendition of “Low Bridge,” she segues into Syracuse University’s forestry songs from the mid 1900s. I wish I could remember some of the lyrics. Google can’t either. Relative to how long we’re in the car, my mom’s medley is over soon enough.
We stop at Walmart for sugarless pies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my 88-year-old grandfather, besides hearing loss, many missing teeth and heartburn. He has decided, of his own free will, not because a doctor told him he needed to, to stop eating sugar. What’s life without sugar? No wonder he’s been counting on dying for the last ten years.
We finally pull up to his doorstep. The only person who is clearly happy to be there is my dog. Booker dashes around. He spent the first two years of his life here and it’s like he just smelled it yesterday.
We sit and chat/yell with my grandpa. He says he’s going to get cleaned up and we’re going out for lunch. The fun begins.
My mom drives the slowest and most carefullest she’s ever driven. My grandpa still yells at her about how fast she’s going. I tell him,
“I’m always telling her to slow down.”
“Does she listen?”
My grandpa keeps spelling Captain’s name. I mention,
“My name is going to change to Jessica Curtis.”
“That’s an improvement.”
Although I just Googled ‘Jessica Curtis’ and this photo popped up:
At lunch there’s a rifle raffle displayed on the counter. Captain buys 3 tickets. Then we head to an Amish farm to buy some maple syrup. The maple syrup is half the price of what I pay in Boston. Which makes at least a half-hour of the 6 hour drive worth it. My grandpa puts in an order for some more sugarless pies.
My mom offers to show Captain Lake Ontario. My grandpa opts out in favor of a nap. I wouldn’t mind one of those.
After putting our hands in the lake, we head back to my grandpa’s. He says,
“Let’s go up the road, I want to show you my neighbor’s outhouse. It has a bay window.”
We pull into his neighbor’s driveway and without a so much as a shout hello, we start snooping around his yard. The outhouse neighbor hollers at us from his second floor window.
“I’m just showing my daughter, my granddaughter and her fiancé your outhouse.”
“Oh sure, go ahead.”
The outhouse is classy as far as outhouses go. Even more impressive is what’s in his driveway:
It’s a huge, water-worthy raft with a diving-board bird’s nest, tiki torches and a fire pit. It’s something every child has dreamed of and my grandpa’s neighbor built.
We’re headed to check out the barn with a homemade movie theater when from behind me I hear,
What? The only people who know who I am out here in wherever-the-heck-we-are, are walking ahead of me.
I turn around and it’s one of my cousins who I haven’t seen since he was a boy. He looks the same, except 6 foot 3. He and his wife flew in from Minnesota a few days ago.
The outhouse neighbor invites us in. His man cabin is full of random people who just spent a day on the raft. There are two small women in oversized camo hunting suits. The neighbor offers coffee. YES PLEASE.
The neighbor regales us with his outhouse building story,
“So then I was in line to buy the bay window and the lady behind me says ‘that’s nicer than any of the windows in my house!'”
There’s a knocking on the floor. The neighbor swings half of his kitchen counter to the side and a woman pops up from a trap hole in the floor,
“Can someone hand me my cell phone?”
Someone hands her her cell phone and the kitchen counter swings back. I tell my cousin,
“You’re so big!”
Should’ve said tall. I meant tall. The last time I saw him, I was bigger.
My cousin tells my grandpa,
“I was gonna stop by and see you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“So you can see me and my wife. Don’t you want to see her?”
“Are you offering me your wife?”
Nope. I don’t think he was.
I glance around the cabin. There’s a meat cleaver hanging about the table, several wood bats in the corner, a rifle above the door and a crossbow above my head. We’re ready for an attack of people or an assortment of edible animals.
Captain talks tractors with the neighbor. I try to talk weddings with my cousin’s wife,
“Where was your wedding?”
My grandpa can’t hear anyone and is playing with a puzzle. Finally Captain declares,
“Is it dinner time?”
It is definitely dinner time. This is the longest day and it still isn’t over. After dinner we head to our sweet sweet hotel room at the Super 8. Shower, snuggles, I’m out.
The next morning we have breakfast with my grandpa. He pulls out a two dollar bill. It’s quiz time. He asks Captain,
“Do you know what’s depicted on this bill and another bill?”
My mom’s taken this quiz before. She whispers across the table to me,
I whisper back across the table to Captain,
He yells at my grandpa,
My grandpa peers at Captain with his one good eye,
“You don’t look forty.”
I tell my grandpa,
“You don’t look a day over 80.”
He smiles the biggest smile I’ve seen since we got there. It’s time to leave on a high note. But not a literal high note, my mom does not sing her medley for the ride back.