The Great Grandpa Capers

There’s a scene in the Romantic Comedy “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are trying to guess what the “152” stands for in a mystery man’s screen name.

 “Mr. 152 Felony indictments…152 insights into my soul…He’s a hundred and fifty-two years old…He’s had one hundred and fifty-two moles removed, so now he’s got one hundred fifty-two pock marks on his face…”

Their random guessing using such vague clues mirrors the way my mom and I guess at what my grandpa’s trying to say, do, eat.  What are his motives?  What is he thinking?  If he is carrying around a bottle of ranch dressing, what is he really thinking?  It’s white, it’s from the fridge.  He probably wants a glass of milk.  Sometimes our guesses are practical; food?  relocation?  water?  bathroom?  Sometimes they’re dramatic; Are you mad? In pain? Trying to tell me you hate me?  But more often than not, we find ourselves (and our wild imaginations) creating a story that helps us with how he is behaving.    Whether as an explanation or self medicating with laughter, our versions are interpretations of my grandpa – based on years of (grand)daughterhood.

And so, as a twist away from the norm (because what is really normal these days) I give you Bob’s thoughts on the events of Wednesday, October 25th as interpreted by my mother and myself.

“Shit.  That had to have woken the dead.  Annnnnnnnnnd there’s blood.”  The right side of Bob’s body felt like it was made of cast iron, hot and heavy, weighing down his right leg, his words, his vision, his thoughts.

“Bob?!  Are you okay?” Destiny’s voice was tiny, faraway, hiding underneath the pain of the fall.

“Yes.” Bob grumbled.

“Did you fall?” He could hear her pressed against his bedroom door.

“Leave me alone.” He thought, collecting himself from the floor and trying to wipe the blood from his arm.  “NO.” He hollered back.  He was not going to let her see this mess.

The stairs creaked as she headed back down.  Bob slid through the door and hurried to the bathroom, locking the latch behind him.  As the water ran over his cuts he imagined Destiny finding the blood covered bedroom.  “Served her right.” He thought,  “Served them all right.  Why won’t they just leave him be?”  Sometimes, if he thought hard enough, he remembered why they were there.  Sometimes he couldn’t.  His left hand rubbed his bald head, the very thing he was trying to remember impeading his ability to do just that.

After 35 minutes his clothes were button, zipped and belted.

“Bob, let me see where you cut yourself!” Destiny pleaded as he entered the hallway.

He waved her away. “I’m fine.  I’m fine.” he thought, and stumbled past her.  “What a mess.  Are you hungry?  Do you want a cigar?  Time for bed?  I’m 85 – not 5.” he grumbled under his breath.

He could hear her on the phone.  Probably calling that man in the suits that keeps trying to sell him things.  He always comes over and sits in the blue chair and talks about options and choices and care.  “I don’t want to buy any of that.” Bob thought to himself.  “Gosh.” He said aloud.

He stumbled past the ground floor bathroom, then paused.  The wood floor was creaking as Destiny came down the hallway.

“Oh Bo-” He cut her off, locking the bathroom door in her face.

“I’ll just shave while I’m waiting for her to forget that I’m in here.” He thought, scooping up his razor and a can of shaving cream.  He pressed on the lid of the can.  Nothing happened.


“She’s gonna break down my door!” He thought.  “One minute!” He called, looking down at the can in his hand.  “What’s this?” He thought, and rattled the silver tube near his ear, pressing on the lid.  White foam spilled onto the counter.

“Bob!  Please!  Are you okay?!” She was worried, he could tell.  But she should just leave him alone.  He was doing just fine.

The foam continued to spill.  On the mirror, the counter, the bathmat.  Filling the sink, coating the toilet.

“Bob!  I want to make sure you’re okay!  Please!” She called.

“Leave me alone!” He mumbled, spreading the white foam around.  He scratched his 5 o’clock shadow.  “I need to shave.” He thought, surveying the damage and spreading the cream with his fingertips.


“Yes?” He poked his head out of the door.

“Are you alright?” Destiny asked, examining the visible parts of his body as quickly as she could.

Bob slid through the door and stumbled down the hall, smiling to himself as he heard Destiny discovering the foam mess.

It would be another hour before Destiny was free from the foam fiasco to check on Bob.  She found him sitting silently in the family room, proudly smiling in his alone-ness.

*a few hours later*

Bob stretched his legs out on the couch, pleased with the water he had poured on the kitchen floor, that distracted Destiny for the remainder of her stay.  As he did, he noticed a man fiddling with the locks on the door leading to the garage.

Bob stumbled to the kitchen.  His daughter and the brunette caretaker, Heather, were chatting at the kitchen table.  “What is this man doing?” He tried to say, but his words blended together.  He pointed furiously at the door.

“Lunch?” Heather asked cheerily.

Bob shook his head and turned the kitchen door knob back and forth.

“We are having them all changed to the same key, dad.” His daughter said calmly, as though she were expecting this to happen for years.

“Why!?” He wanted to scream.  What were they doing to him?  Why won’t they just leave his house alone!?  Every day they are taking something out, putting something in.  People are always here.  Always coming and going and smiling and cooking and helping and cleaning.

He stood in the kitchen, watching the man change knobs and locks and keys from hand to hand until Heather took him out to the porch, and convinced him to have a cigar.  She was always trying to change his mind about this that or the other thing.  When she wasn’t looking he tried the knob.  It wouldn’t turn.  He hurried to the kitchen and tried the knob there.  It wouldn’t turn.  The red key-chain wasn’t hanging from the door anymore.  He was trapped.  His mind became a blur.  Heather was saying something about keeping him safe.  That he needed to wait for her to go anywhere.  That he was too sneaky.  Sneaky?  He just wanted to go on a walk.  Alone.  He tried to door again then sat fiercely on the couch, waiting for Heather to leave.

She was mopping in the small room outside near the washer and dryer.  He had just enough time to remove the screen from the window.  “Where was it I wanted to go?” He thought to himself as he pulled on the screen.  He couldn’t remember.  To buy cigars?  The grocery?  The screen came lose with ease.  His hands felt along the frame for sharp parts.  Not finding any, he began to lift himself into the window, just as Heather came around the corner.

“BOB!” She shouted.  “What are you doing!?”

He jumped, and hit his head on the window frame.  “I just have a bit farther.  And then I can get where I’m going.” He thought to himself, tightening his grip on the sill as Heather pulled on his waist.  “Where am I going?” He thought.  He clung to the brick, pieces falling under the pressure of his nails.  “The park?  The store?  To get a shave?” He thought, holding tighter.  She was saying things about coming down.  Trying to change his mind.  He couldn’t tell how long he’d been clinging there, but the next thing he knew, the man with all of the suits that tried to sell him things was helping Heather pull him down from the window.

“We need you to stay here.” He was saying, wrinkles around his eyes.  He was more friendly than the last time he saw him, but Bob knew he was nasty.  What sort of man would try to lock a grown man in his house and then try to sell him things.

Heather was soothing. “Now Bob, I don’t need you running off.  We like you here.  If you want to go somewhere, well I’ll just go with you!” She smiled.  She was always smiling.  It rarely helped but it was nice.

Bob pouted.  “I hate this.” He thought, crossing his leg and breaking eye contact with the man in the suit.  He found that if he looked away, his granddaughter or one of his children normally filled in the missing parts.  “When did they get so good at reading my mind?” He thought, staring out the window.

He drifted out, dreaming of snow and Labrador Retrievers and some sort of ginger bread cake.

“Grandpa….hey….hey it’s me.”

Mary was leaning over him with her hand on his arm, her brow furrowed.

“I heard you had a hard day.” She laughed, sitting on the edge of the cushion near his shoulder.

“Humph.” He grunted, coming out of the haze.

“I’m going to make you dinner now.” She said, as she always said when she came over.

Bob sat up and looked at his watch.  “Just about time for the 6 o’clock news.” He thought, as he watched Mary grab the remote and change the channel to PBS.  She was getting the hang of it.

“So…how about lamb.” She was saying, covering his toes with the blue afgan.

“Humph.” Bob replied again, scratching his head.  His eyes wandered over towards the window, where he had tried to escape earlier.

“No.” She said matter of factly.  “No windows, no shaving cream.  Nothing.  You’re staying right here.  Like it or not, we love you and you are going to stay right here and eat the lamb I make you and….and….like it!”

“When did she get so fierce?” Bob thought and turned toward her laughing.  “They were all starting to sound a lot like Nancy.  Bob this and Bob that.  Wipe your feet, wipe your mouth, close the door, sit down.”

She smiled.  “I’ll be in the kitchen cooking if you need me.”

He sat up and looked at his watch again, it was 6:15.

“I know.” She said, patting his arm, “I’ll be back in ten minutes.” She held 10 fingers up to his face, “TEN MINUTES and I’ll change the channel.”

“Good.”  He thought.  “I won’t need to cause any more distractions for the evening.”  He settled back on the couch and let the jumble of words from the TV set pour over his ears.  Words like “Dow, Afghanistan, Kardasian” rolled around his brain as he closed his eyes.  “Good.” He thought.



A different kind of Swing

“Do you want to go to the park with the pond?  Since it’s hot?”  I waited to hear his seat belt click.

“No no no!  We have to go this way!  Go that way!”  He was pointing out his window towards our usual park.

“Okay okay okay!  Calm yourself!”  I turned out of his driveway, preparing for the obligatory U-turn.

“Turn here!  Turn all the way around here!  Now!”

“I GOT it Grandpa!”  I rolled my eyes.

“Slow down!  Slow down!” He said after a bit.

I looked at my speedometer.  I was under the speed limit, every one was passing me, probably shaking their fist too until they saw my grandpa’s white hair peeking up over the seat.

“TURN HERE!”  He pointed at small store in an otherwise empty strip mall.  “WINE, CIGARS, BEER, MILK” plaster in white across the green awning.

“What are we doing here, Grandpa?” I asked, pulling into an empty space.

“I need a rocket.”  He was already opening his door and struggling to unfold his long legs from my mini hatchback.

“A what?”  I trotted after him.

“One of these!”  He drew his fingers to his lips and sucked in and then blew out, tilting his chin up.  Cigars.

Back in the car my Grandpa patted me on the shoulder.  “Thanks for taking me!  You’re a good…a good…”  He blinked a bit, “Well what are you?”

“I’m a good granddaughter?”  I asked.

“That’ll work.”  He replied, unsure if that’s what I really was.  “Boy that woman at the desk sure is friendly!”  She clearly knew him from his recent months of cigar smoking.

After we arrived we took a short walk to my grandpa’s favorite spot.  It’s a wooden porch swing, donated by the Boy Scouts, deep on the trails of a nearby metro park.

“There’s someone in our spot!”  He looked surprised at the idea that anyone else might ever sit there, as though it were actually located on his own back porch.  His eyes narrowed at the two year old and his mother who swung violently  on the swing, laughing and drooling (the child not the mother).

“Well let’s wander a bit further down the path and then we will come back and sit there for awhile when they are gone.”  I guided him gently away from the swing, worried that if we didn’t get moving there might be a throw down despite the 83 year age difference.  Grandpa followed me, glancing back over his shoulder at the mother and son.  After we descended a bit down the hill we stopped.  “Can I take a picture of you?”  I held up my SLR, hoping to use up the semi-expired black and white film inside.

He eyed the camera.  “Okay.”  He put his arms at his side and gave me a big goofy grin.

After a few minutes of idly waiting just out of sight from the wicked mother and son on our swing, I was kneeling down, trying to focus on a flower.  I somehow lost the ability to take pictures manually and was verbally cursing the digital age.

“Hey!  Over here!” Grandpa called, standing in front of a few trees.  “Take my picture with this behind me!”  He threw his thumb over his shoulder, gesturing at a giant tree, eyes wide with pleasure at his new find.  Next we took a picture of him on a bench, then in front of a field, then grinning, then looking pensive, one solemn, one happy.

Grandpa and the large tree (quite accidentally hidden behind him)

Grandpa posing for me in a field.

This is my grandpa, laughing as I cursed the digital age.

Grandpa doing the Captain Morgan pose. (ish)

“Your turn!”  He grabbed the camera from me, but before he could snap a picture the cursed mother and son came over the crest of the hill, the boy falling over some roots.  “IT’S FREE!” he hollered.  “Hurry let’s get it!”  He jumped a bit as he hurried toward the swing, stumbling as he fell back on the seat.

Swing dominance. Thank you Boy Scouts of America.

We swung for a bit, talked about the weather, the economy, his brother, dogs.  “You know that guy that tried to sell me stuff yesterday?” He asked, referencing the gentleman from the home care facility we met with the day before to talk about hiring extra help.

“Yea, I can’t remember his name though…” I replied, wondering if Alzheimer’s is contagious.

“I think he was a fruit.” Grandpa replied, decidedly.

I laughed.  “You do?!”

“Well don’t you?!”  He looked at me.  Expectantly.  “I suppose that’s ok though.  He wasn’t trying to sell me work.  Just people.”

I let it lie, allowing the steady rocking of the swing relax me a bit.

“You know, I love these walks.” He said after a bit.  He folded his fingers, rubbing his index finger back and forth in an uneven rhythm.

I patted his leg.  “I do too.”

“I haven’t done much since my grandma died.”  He thought for a bit scratching his melanoma scar on his forehead.  “My wife.”  He said, editing his last thought.  He had pointed out the hospital she was taken to after breaking her arm on our drive to the park.  “That’s where we lost my friend.” He had said, pointing out the passenger side window.  “She went there and never came home again.”

I looked at him swinging, lost in thought, possibly trying to organize his words, possibly trying to remember them.  “You have done a few things that were fun.”  I reminded him of his trip to Michigan, playing bridge every afternoon, and riding his bike, anything to smudge out the gloom on his face.

“Yes but I don’t have her to play with anymore.  I have to play alone.”

I stayed silent, uncertain how to respond.

“You know, I like to combine things.”

“What kind of things, Grandpa?  Like when you’re shopping?”  I turned toward him, trying to gauge if we had changed the subject or not.

“No.  Not shopping.  Like…you know…this.”  He squeezed his fingers together and moved them up and down against the air.

“You like to write?”  I asked him, following his hand with my eyes.

He nodded, lips pressed tightly.  “I’m a good writer!”  He smiled at me, “I’m like Allen Edgar Post!”

“Just like him?”  I was laughing now.  “Do you write about ravens too?”

“No!  No no no!  I don’t write about birds.  I like people.  And the sky.”  He was very concerned with this.  “We could exercise together!”  He seemed excited.

“Like we are doing on this walk?”  I asked, trying to connect this to birds, or writing, or anything really.

“No.  You know for money.  I’ll do this,” he scribbled at the air, “and you’ll do that.” He finished, pointing at my camera.  “Together.”

When we got home he rummaged through the end table drawer next to his faded leather couch.  “Here.  See?” he said, handing me a birthday card.  “I designed this..this rocket.”  I took it from him, already knowing it’s contents from my hours of snooping and organizing as I cleaned his house.

A Poem by Bob
To N:
When the cool Spring air has warmed into Summer’s heat,
When all the leaves have fallen and Winter’s silence descends,
I will love you still.
And when the city lights have dimmed,
And the city’s hum has hushed,
When all the music has been played,
And life’s beat has left,
I will love you still.

Happy Birthday,
Your husband



I apparently had drifted off in thought at the stop light, watching the first leaf of fall drift lazily to the ground and failed to notice that it had turned to green.  I had just left Grandpa’s.  I had quickly dropped by to leave some lunch for tomorrow.

“I’m sorry you had a bad day today, Grandpa.”  I hugged him tightly around the middle.

“It’s okay,” he said patting my back, “I have had a few bad days in my time.”

“You’re still smiling, though.” I pointed out, noticing he still had his chin up.

“Well, things aren’t always great, but I’d like to go down swinging.”

“Swinging, hm?” I joked, nudging him in the side.

“Yea, swinging.” He gave the air a good one-two, then added, “You know, that kind of swinging, not this.”  He shook his hands out to the side and did a bit of a jig.

“What about this kind of swinging?” I asked, swinging my arms like I was hitting a homerun.

“Well maybe that one.  But I mean this one.”  He gave the space in front of him a few more good punches then smiled again, waiting for me to leave.

“Well, I’ll see you Wednesday!”  I hugged him once, quickly and headed for the door.  Before I cleared the doorway I turned, my hand still on the knob.  “Still smiling?” I asked, one eyebrow raised.

“I’ll keep my teeth like this until you leave.” He said, bucking his teeth out over his bottom lip.  He stood in the doorway waving, a goofy grin plastered across his face until I reached the bottom of the drive.  Then he dropped his arm, slumped his shoulders and disappeared into the shadows, undoubtedly contemplating his plan of attack and the strength of his 85-year old left hook.