Not all grandparents are a barrel of laughs. Take Ottis Scott, my maternal grandfather, for instance. He was quick to point out that his name was Ottis with two t’s, not Otis. Widowed in his forties when my grandmother died of a bad heart, Granddaddy remarried while my mother was still a teenager. Mother, who wasn’t fond of the second wife (whom I’ll call “Irma” for the purposes of this column, though that wasn’t her real name), immediately moved in with her grandparents and had as little to do with Irma as possible.
And yet when we visited Little Rock every summer for our family vacation, we were obligated to spend part of an afternoon with Granddaddy and Irma.
It was awful.
They rarely offered us anything to eat or drink. Their living room furniture was covered in stiff plastic that stuck to the back of our bare legs. The only “toys” in the house were a coloring book my brother and I had to share and some broken crayons. The yard was no better. No tire swing. No climbing trees. Worst of all, no dog.
Things were better when Granddaddy came to visit us. He never brought Irma but he did bring cigarettes. When he was down to his last pack, Granddaddy would drive me to the store, hand me a five dollar bill and send me inside to buy a carton of Salems while he waited in the car. Without batting an eye, the clerk would sell me—a twelve-year-old!—the cigarettes.
I don’t remember Granddaddy ever reading me a book or playing cards with me or engaging me in interesting conversation. But he was always gentle and kind and I knew that he loved me.
One thing we enjoyed doing together was watching morning game shows on television. He would scoot the swivel rocker up close to our massive console TV. Then he’d plug his electric shaver into the outlet near the chair so he could shave during the commercials, which was fascinating. When the commercial came on, so did the razor. When the commercial went off, the razor did, too. Granddaddy didn’t use a mirror. He just ran the razor over and over and over his face and then checked with his fingers to see if he’d missed any spots.
It took two games shows, usually Password and The Match Game, for him to finish. He liked to concentrate during The Price Is Right, so he rarely shaved when it was on. The show that required his full attention was Hollywood Squares. By the time it started, he had always put his razor away. Thank goodness.
Granddaddy died the first year I taught school. I was too new to the job to be able to make the 500-mile drive to his funeral. Here’s hoping this Grandparents Day column makes up for that long-ago absence, at least a little bit.
(September 9, 2018)