Wednesday, October 26, 2016


June 19, 1952

Flanked by three generations, Grandpa sits in his large, heavy chair. Its wide, flat, feathery blue patterned arms support his wife, oldest daughter, and first grandchild. With the barest intent of a smile, he gazes at the photographer, who has easily drawn laughter from the two women. At this point in time, Grandpa is an enigma to the little girl. His voice is gruff and his breath smells of unfiltered Lucky Strikes, and often, Olympia beer. The pungent aroma of worn shoe leather and polish, from hours of shaping and sewing leather into new soles, or repairing a customer’s beloved well-worn work boots, permeates his rough and calloused hands.

As the little girl grows up, she learns to like the smell of her Grandpa’s shoe repair, which occupies the middle of three small shops on the ground floor of the building her grandparents live in.  On her frequent visits, Grandpa allows her to sit on an old wooden stool, next to him, as he runs the machine with his foot that sews the heavy soles onto the shoes he repairs.  The shop is dusty and dirty, with a girlie calendar on the wall, out of sight of the customers and grandma.  She remembers the candy machines in the front of the shop, burnt peanuts in one; M & M’s in the other, and on every visit, Grandpa open the cash box and gives her a penny.  The choice is hard, as she likes both equally, but the burnt peanuts usually win, as they seem the bigger prize.

Charlie’s Barber Shop is next door, literally, as his customers must enter the shoe repair first, then into the barber shop through a connecting door.  Charlie is a large man, wears a white shirt, and a bow tie, and his white hair is slicked back.  Smoke curls around his face as he expertly shaves and cuts hair. There is a dry cleaners on the other side of the shoe shop, but the little girl doesn't really remember much about it, or recall ever visiting. 

A door off the barber shop side of the building, leads to a narrow flight of stairs and her grandparent’s apartment, which she remembers as being large, with lots of windows.  There is a funny little “L” shaped hallway, with doors to three bedrooms, a spacious living room and dining room, kitchen and at the very end there is a long skinny bathroom, with a long skinny bathtub resting on big fat feet.

One wall of the living room houses an old upright piano.  In a few years, Grandma will teach her little girl how to play “Chopsticks” and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the piano.  Grandma also plays hymns and sings in a sweet warbly voice.  Close to Grandpa’s chair is a large brass stand with a big, round ashtray.  Grandma and Grandpa have a fat tortoiseshell cat named Susie, who prefers either Grandpa’s lap or to lounge along the back of his chair.  Susie is tolerant of little girls, though, and is willing to be petted and loved on. 

Every Sunday morning, the little girl’s parents pick up Grandma, and take her to church with them. Grandpa prefers to stay home with Susie, and smoke wreaths surround his head when the family returns for the big Sunday dinner.  The little girl amuses herself with the cat, or the piano. While Grandma and momma are busy in the kitchen, she peeks into the heavy crystal candy dish that sits on the large sideboard in the dining room.  Grandma keeps chocolates in the dish, and the little girl prefers the ones with cherries, so she pokes her little finger into the bottom of each chocolate she picks up, to check, before sneaking off to eat it.  If Grandpa catches her, he winks, and she brings him the ones that didn’t have a cherry.  He’s good about keeping this secret.

After Sunday dinner, the little girl’s parents go home without her, and she gets to go for a drive in Grandpa's big, blue boat of a Pontiac.  She loves these long Sunday drives out in the country.  They drive and drive, with the little girl bouncing about on the wide back seat, holding onto the velvety smooth rope-like band that spans the back of the front seat.  One day, they come upon a raging forest fire on their drive.  Fire trucks and firemen are busy working, so Grandpa doesn’t go too close, but they sit and watch for awhile from a distance.  The drive home that day is sober.

There isn’t a TV at the little girl’s house, so, sometimes her daddy watches the Friday night fights with Grandpa, who gets very animated and yells at the TV. Momma and Grandma would prefer that the little girl stay with them in the kitchen, but she is drawn to the living room, and sits holding Susie next to her daddy on the couch.  Daddy gets excited sometimes too, but not as much as grandpa. 

On January 8, 1960, not long after the little girl’s 9th birthday, Grandpa got really excited while watching the Friday night fights. His stomach was upset, so he took some Alka Seltzer, as he often did for stomach problems.  This time, the remedy didn’t work.  The little girl misses her grandpa.