Old Dogs, New Tricks

I was running late and my Grandpa hadn’t answered the phone any of the 14 times that I had called.  This either meant he was out, asleep, critically injured, or completely ignoring the phone ringing.  The last time I was late he had attempted to bake a pork chop and ended up setting the oven to the cleaning cycle.  I scrambled for my keys and burst into the kitchen.

Nothing burned.  Nothing broken.  Nothing missing.  No pork chops.

I rounded the corner to the living room and found him snug in his “dinner chair”, the TV tray pulled up in front of him.  I sighed as I patted him on the shoulder.

“Hey.” I smiled with relief.

“Oh hey!  Good.  Good, good, good.  You can do this.” He stood up, putting down what appeared to be a bowl of Granny Smith apples covered in chocolate sauce.  Apparently he had constructed his own dinner, thankfully without burning the house down. He patted my back, probably leaving a good brown smudge between my shoulder blades.

I wiggled around, trying to check my shirt. “You want me to change the channel to the news?” I asked, not wanting to make him go through the charade of telling me what he needed.

“Yes.”  He nodded curtly.

I looked for the remote control on the coffee table and under the newspaper.  Not finding it, I used the buttons on the front of the TV, pounding down until I got to PBS. “There!” Is said, as I turned back around to face him.

“How did you do that?” He asked.  He knelt down at eye level with the buttons on the TV and ran his finger over them gently.

“You want me to make you something good?” I asked, gesturing at the chocolately mess on the TV tray, and attempting to change the subject.  Re-teaching my grandpa how to work the T.V. has been a never ending battle as of late.  As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog his old tricks.  Or something like that.

He nodded, looking sadly at his unbalanced meal.

“How about I put some milk in this for you?” I laughed, holding up a glass of chocolate sauce.

“I don’t like that stuff.” He said defiantly.

“I’m sure you don’t!  That’s because you’re supposed to put milk in it Grandpa.  You’re just drinking chocolate sauce.  And it’s sugar FREE chocolate sauce, which is even worse.”  I crinkled my nose and he laughed in agreement.

I shook my head at the full glass of brown sludge and headed back to the kitchen, noticing the chocolate fingerprint trail along the way.  After wiping off the handles of the fridge, I looked inside and rustled around the Tupperware containers of salad, potatoes, soup.

Grandpa’s head popped over my left shoulder, eyes wide with anticipation.

“What are we making?  Hmmmmm?”

I jumped back surprised.  “HaHa!  You scared me Grandpa!” I laughed, slapping his arm and turning back to the fridge, “I don’t know yet.  Probably meat, and a vegetable.  That sound good?…Grandpa?  What kind of vegetable—”  I looked back.  He was already gone.  Laughing quietly to myself, I pulled out some steak, a “Just For One” packet of corn, and the fixings for some salad.

“Excuse me.” He was back.

“Yea?” I said, not looking up.

“Well…I can’t make this thing cooperate.  It won’t…cooperate.  How do you cooperate it?”

I glanced the hunk of black and white plastic my Grandpa was waving around in the air and squinted.  “What IS that Grandpa?”

“It’s for the living room.  I use it to cooperate.  Can you help me?”  He sounded sad, having to admit defeat.

“Yea…sure.”  I took it from him and immediately started laughing.  “Oh my god, Grandpa!  What did you do to it?!” I was holding the remote control to his TV, which looked as though it had been used to stir a pot of mashed potatoes and then was sprinkled with bread crumbs for good measure.  I can only assume he had intended bake it on the oven cleaning setting for dinner if I hadn’t showed up.

“I used it.” He said matter of factly.

“Clearly,” I mumbled, “But for what?”

Using the tips of my finger, so as to try for only minimal contact with the strange white crusty stuff on his remote, I adjusted the volume.

“I’M GOING TO CLEAN THIS!” I shouted over the TV, wiggling the dirty side in front of his face.

“Well, ok.” He replied, leaning around me to catch the report of the Dow.

I hate to report that the remote was a tough fix.  I always wondered why it cost so much to rent the remotes and cable boxes, but if all Grandpas make a practice of sticking their channel changing devices into vats of mashed potatoes, it all makes sense now.  I scrubbed it clean the best I could, trying to shake the water out from under the buttons and crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t ruin the controls.

“Can you show me how you…how you…that thing…” He was back behind my shoulder, pointing down at the remote in the drying rack.

I glanced behind me at the steak on the stove.  It had a few more minutes.  “Sure, come on!” I sighed.

I sat him down in front of the TV.  “You like this channel.” I pointed at the 1 and the 6 on the remote. “SIXTEEN!” I said loudly, moving my finger over the buttons.  “ONE – SIX!”

“Sixteen…” he mumbled, running his fingers over the keypad.  He sat up, “Good!  I think…”

I headed back to the kitchen, flipping the slightly over seared steak and popping the veggies in the microwave.

“Can you…I’m sorry…can you help again?” He was back in the doorway.

“Sure…whatcha need Grandpa?” I turned slightly as I was putting plates into the dishwasher.  He was silent.

Turning around, I saw the remote in his hands, held out like an offering to me.

I took him back in the living room, bringing along his bowl of salad with extra ranch dressing.  “ONE – SIX.” I said twice.  “ONE — SIX!”

He repeated after me a few times then asked, “And what comes next?”

“SEVEN.” I said.

“Seven?” He asked, pointing at the 3 on the remote.

“No SEVEN.” I pointed back at the 7.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t think I’m understanding.” He shook his head.

“Here,” I said, grabbing a notepad. I scribbled PBS 1 – 6 and CNN 7 on the front of the page in block letters.  “Use this.  Match the picture to the remote.”  He looked at the picture and found a 1 and a 6 on his remote.

“Good!” I patted him on the back.  “If you need anything, just come get me.”

I hurried into the kitchen, already smelling the burnt edges of the steak.  As I tried to salvage his dinner, cutting off the burned fat and removing the chunks of bone to help him navigate the meat, he appeared in the doorway again.

“You okay Grandpa?” I asked, glancing at the clock.  It wasn’t quite 6:30 yet, so he couldn’t need the channel changed again.

He nodded, and slipped into the chair at the table.

“Do you want to eat here?  At the table?” I asked.

“No…no.” He shook his head and repeated the word a few times, probably searching for any others.

“What can I help you with?” I sat down along side of him, his dinner in my hand.

“Is that for me?” He asked, pointing at the plate.

“Yep!” I replied, “And this too!” I held up the big glass of chocolate milk.

“Well thanks!” He took the plate from me, “Would you mind staying?” He added.

“Sure.  How long do you want me to stay?  I don’t have any plans.  I can stay as long as you want.”  That was a lie, but my friends would understand.

“Not long.  I like to be alone.  I like to be alone probably soon.  Just remain long enough to change the thing I watch.”  He disappeared into the living room, and I followed after, laughing.  I’m his channel changing slave I guess.

He settled down into his chair, tripping on his shoe laces and placing his food shakily on his tray.  “Oh here!”

“Whatcha got Grandpa?” I asked, leaning forward.

“I still can’t make this work.” He reached over to the side table next to the couch, collected his things and turned back toward me.  In his out stretched hand was his bowl of salad, the remote stuck snuggly in the middle of the extra ranch dressing.

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He’s down, like the economy

There are three things my grandpa does EVERY day, if possible.

1)   Ride his bike – It could be pushing 90 degrees and sure as the corn is high, he will pedal somewhere.  If there is snow?  Rain?  Sleet?  Hail?  He wears a hat, of course.
Additionally, he is ridiculously obsessed with where/when/how I ride my own bike.  He believes that bike riding is the only thing that has kept him alive for his 85 years of life, and I don’t really think that he is wrong.  However that does not mean that everyone else (my friends, family, co-workers, boyfriend, and cashiers at the supermarket included) has to ride their bike every day or THEY will die.  But you can’t argue with the man.  As established before, he is crotchety, old, set in his ways, and sometimes, though rarely, quite grumpy.  Especially if you try to mess with his bike riding.

2)   Play bridge – Lately he has been complaining that people at bridge don’t like other people at bridge.  I’m beginning to wonder if the people they don’t like are him.  He forgets a lot of things; where his keys are, my name, my mom’s name, how to read a clock, the year, the succession of the three meals in a day, where he keeps his cigars, what goes in the refrigerator, and what must certainly does not, etc.  It is doubtful to me that he can remember terms like dealing, auctioning, bidding, pass, double, diamonds.  Ironically, under “skills required” for the Wikipedia page on Bridge, the first skills is memory.

3)   Watches the news – Three times.  Every day at 6 o’clock (or shortly thereafter) my grandpa sits down to watch the PBS news station.  (It’s channel 16 ‘round these parts but sometimes it takes a few minutes to remember if it’s 19, 61, 14 or 16 – and, quite frankly, how to get the danged TV to change to that station.)  Well, like many 30 minute news briefs, they are repetitious.  The PBS news program plays at 6:00, 6:30 and 7:00.  And although they may vary in name (PBS news hour, Nightly Business Report, etc) they are all relatively, if not exactly, identical.
This Wednesday, while watching the biographical introduction of Texas governor, Rick Perry, my grandpa decided to have a one-on-one about politics and of course, the economy.  Of course the news was on at the maximum level, causing static and ear ringing.  My grandpa was shouting over the noise, insisting that his ears worked just fine.

“My brother wants to come back.  Don’t you think?” he yelled at me, lying back down after taking a sip of coffee.

“I didn’t know your brother left.  Where is he?” I asked, wondering what old Uncle Lee was up to.

“Washington D.C., of course.” He said, pointing to Barack Obama giving a speech in rural Iowa on TV.

“The President?” I laughed, “Obama isn’t your brother, Grandpa.”

“Oh yes he is!  He is everyone’s brother.  We picked him.  Well I didn’t, but all the others did.  Gosh.  I don’t know why!  It’s not like he is doing anything but talking.”

I stayed quiet.  We don’t always see eye to eye on politics, and by not always I mean practically never.

“Do you have opinions on all this stuff?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me and my silent demeanor.  Secretly I think he knows that I (gasp) subscribe to a liberal agenda.  But publicly, we just don’t talk about that.

“I don’t know much about economics.  I know about social stuff but not economics.” I answered, quite truthfully.

He leaned back and put his arms behind his head, quite satisfied with my answer, “That’s alright.  You’re a woman so it’s not as important for your future.”

I laughed nervously and continued to dust the book shelves as the news anchor announced that the market rose again and was at it’s highest level since 2009, whatever that all means.  My grandpa jumped up and cheered, clapping his hands above his head in excitement.

“The Dow recently went up 429 points,” the anchor added over my grandpa’s cheers, “It’s been touch and go these past few weeks.  We waited to see if it would go down, and it did.  Then we waited to see if it would go up, and it did that too.”

My grandpa gave another little cheer and turned toward me as he settled back in his seat.  “It’s just been going all over the place.” He said, parroting the news anchor, “Just up and down, up and down, up and down.” He moved his finger back and forth, into the air and back to the ground, looking more like John Travolta than my grandpa.  I laughed.

“You know,” he shouted at me over the commercials, “There is one thing that I think this bad economic downturn is helping.  They have always been letting lots of those guys…those Mexican guys, into the US.” He said, using his vague pronouns like always.  “They are letting them come over.  You know what I mean?  Those guys, you see them all the time banging on the roofs and things.  Boy they are doing real well.  I never see one of them unemployed.  They are just hard workers.  I bet if everyone were to act like Mexicans they wouldn’t be laid off left and right.  Mexicans would never shred private documents.  Mexicans would never be late to work.  Mexicans.  We could all learn a little from those guys.”

“You think so?” I asked him, trying to remain as neutral as possible.

“Yea, I really do.  They shouldn’t say ‘work like a dog’ they should say ‘work like a Mexican.’”  He paused and then looked over at me.  “Well you know what I mean.  Work…work hard.”

“I know what you mean, gramps.”

He changed the subject.  “I’m going to Florida with your mom.”  His smile was big.

“You mean Columbus?” I asked him, knowing that he had a date set to visit his brother who lived near the capitol on Friday.

“Yea,” he said, disappointed, “Columbus.  That will be Fridee, of course.  I guess it’s probably not as nice as Florida, but it will be ok.”