My Grandpa is mostly deaf. From his account, his hearing loss was the result of homemade fireworks and potato grenades. As long as I can remember, he’s had bad hearing. He couldn’t hear an elephant fart if it sat down on his head. Well, at least the right side of his head. He cranks the TV up to 29 and cups his hand to his good ear so he can hear. He says hearing aides are too expensive. But I think he’s too proud to, as he puts it, “put a huge piece of plastic in my ear.” If that is truly the case, there is nothing to be proud of when every conversation involves raised voices and “What now?” Sometimes he just gives up talking to people; I haven’t had a regular conversation with him in a few years. Let me rephrase that: a regular conversation where I get to say something.
If he ropes you into a conversation, you have to have some patience. I’ve witnessed a quick anecdote evolve into a story about the CCC, and if he gets there, you better sit down because he’s going to talk about the war. He was a gunner in WWII in a TBF Avenger. His favorite stories are told three or five times, but the rarely told stories you have to stick around for an hour or so to hear. He told me one the other day I’d never heard before. This story involved him shaving a circle with an ‘X’ on the back of a shipmate’s head. “I’ll get you Stanley!” he chuckles as he reenacts the story, catching his breath in between laughs. He weaves his life story with hand gestures and smiles.
He has other quirks. Grandpa Stanley shaves using lemon-lime shaving cream. To this day, I’m still mesmerized that someone thought RAZOR BLADES + SHAVE CREAM + LEMON LIME = GOOD SHAVE. I’m just waiting for the day I cut myself and that lemon flavored stuff seeps into the open wound. I’ve also never been able to find a full bottle of shampoo in his house. I think this is mostly because he’s bald, but he has an abnormal amount of shampoo bottles scattered about the house with about half a centimeter of soap left in each. Maybe it’s just for the memories. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a jar full of soap slivers in the basement. He saves those left over pieces of the bar of soap that everyone throws away. In the Depression Era, his family would melt them down and reuse them to save money.
I opened up his fridge the other day to make a sandwich. Pickle loaf, pumpernickel, and processed cheese with stuff in it. He has a bottle of Hellman’s Mayonnaise from 2001. Apparently that was a good year for mayonnaise. I ate chips for lunch instead.
Outside the fridge are several 24-packs of beer. My grandpa loves beer. He even feeds his tomato plants beer. As a kid, I associated Grandpa Stan with beer. He’s not an alcoholic; he just loves beer. Really crappy beer. He drinks a generic version of Milwaukee’s Best Light. Last year when I visited, I was able to experience what a truly bad beer was over a hand of Cribbage.
For breakfast, he always brings in at least six or seven boxes of donuts, coffee cakes, and fruit pies from the local Hostess store. He also makes Eggbeaters every morning. He asked my mom if she wanted eggs for breakfast, and she told him that she only eats real eggs. “Those will make you fat,” he replied.
Today, I woke up at eight for breakfast, just in time to have hour-old Eggbeaters. Eight in the morning doesn’t sound early, except that I am a hump and this is the equivalent of me waking up at 5:00 in Arizona. I slipped some shorts on and walked into the kitchen for some orange juice.
“Good morning! Can I get you something?” My grandfather’s voice startled me. He talks a little louder than the average person.
“Oh, uh, just getting some orange juice,” I projected from the diaphragm, like the lead role in an award-winning Broadway show. I couldn’t believe the eloquence of the statement.
“Just getting some orange juice.”
He turned towards me, “What?”
“I’m getting some orange juice!”
“What?” He stood up and walked towards me, cupping his left ear.
“Orange juice,” I said gruffly, pointing at the jug.
“Oh! Orange juice. No thanks, already got some.”
Every year I make the trip out to Michigan and endure the same quirks and his biting comments that get under my skin. I leave in a couple days, and I’m pretty sure that after a few more of his sarcastic comments and a couple more chores, I’ll be ready to leave. As for now, it helps me to remember my grandfather in entirety, the flawed character that drives me to the edge every time I visit. At the same time, when he brings out the trademark laugh and throws an elbow and almost spills his Milwaukee’s Reserve Light, I can’t help but love him.