the man who taught me to appreciate rubber chickens

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 I’ve been thinking about my grandpa a lot the past couple days.  A few nights ago I had a dream that I was shopping for a new flask to give him.  Today I got into a conversation at work–I don’t know how it began–about my grandpa.  I fell into the conversation and lost track of time and became a little disconnected from the fact that I was telling co-workers some stories I usually save for, well, other times.  And I was thinking about how much I miss my grandpa, how much I’ve changed just in the years since he died, how different I am from the Kim I was when I was young and he was alive.  Really, it hasn’t been that long since he died.  But it feels like a long, long time. 

And it feels even longer since I last sat and laughed with him, since he asked me if I wanted to take a little nip of his booze, since I stared blankly while he told me a racist joke or made an otherwise offensive comment.  

I am thinking a lot about him tonight and wondering how much I am like him.  I know how different we are, but I wonder what of his qualities I have.  His wit, yes.  But what else?  What is there about how I see the world that I got from my grandfather?  I don’t know for sure.  I spent much more time with him when I was little than in my teens and twenties.  By the time he died I barely knew him.  

I wish I could sit with you and tell you some stories right now.  I’d like to see your reaction to a few things.  But, since that can’t happen right now, I’ll share with you something that I wrote when Grandpa was dying.  I was living in Oregon and he was three thousand miles away and the cancer was eating away at him and I wrote this:

Grandpa’s a jokester. That’s how I think of him, anyway. I can’t remember a time when I have walked into his house and he has forgotten to tell me about the lady who didn’t like flies until she opened one. Nor can I remember a time when I’ve sat in his darkened den and thought less about why he never, ever turns the lights on, and more about those two marzipan boobs he always has sitting on his mantle. I don’t know how many times he brought them down, offered them to my brother as edible candy, only to watch as Jeff’s face grew redder than you thought possible. 
Those visits I have with him are rarer and rarer, and I think I should get back over there, I should listen more closely to his jokes. I should write these things down to preserve them, just in case.
And now when I go, I notice that the boobs are still there, dust covered and far from edible. I wonder why mice haven’t got to them. I wonder why they haven’t moved from their place on the mantle. I wonder, too, how many people have come into his house and had these boobs placed in their palms. How many have looked at not just their shape, but the care the baker took in dying the areola just a shade darker than the nipple. It is food coloring, of course. The marzipan is conveniently flesh-colored.
I want to ask him about my toys, about the things I played with when I used to come over here every weekend, when I used to stay here during the summer. Back when I saw him more than once a year. Back when my visits here lasted more than a couple of hours, when his den wasn’t so dark. The blinds were always open back then. 
Without asking, I try to guess where he’s hidden my toys. I imagine that there is, still, a worn cardboard box somewhere. And in the box are all those treasures he pulled from dumpsters, hand-me-downs no one wanted, a rubber chicken, a skeletal foot held together with thin pieces of wire, a book with a story in it about Dangerous Dan McGrew. 
Somewhere, there is a tin can with bits of chewed crayons.
Somewhere, there are old coloring books, one that was so big I had to lie on it just to reach each corner.
Somewhere, there is a plastic flask with a foam sleeve made to look like a cheese sandwich with a bite taken out of it. The neck of the flask pokes out of that place where the bite is, in case you want to take a nip without offending anyone, Grandpa once told me. He was never one to upset the ladies. Always a gentleman.
Pardon me, he would say in something close to a British accent, a voice that harbored a tone much more civil than his usual southern drawl, I do believe a dog has come along here. And he would grin to himself as he took out his white handkerchief and draped it with a chivalrous flair around the fake poop he’d laid on the table. No one said a word when he tucked it back in his pocket.
Somewhere, there is a piece of fake poop.
I have asked for these things before, but the old man has refused to give them to me. He says he wants to keep them. They are my artifacts, I want to tell him. My teeth marks are in the crayons; my name is scrawled in the coloring books; my fingerprints are still on the rubber chicken. And I think about how long it will be before I have these things again, before the worn cardboard box finds a place in a darkened corner of my closet.  But I think, too, I should let him preserve them for me as long as he wants, as long as he can.

Author: Kim Sharp

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