When I was growing up, my grandpa was my babysitter.
I remember he lived in this seven story retirement apartment. He lived on the 5th floor. The lobby door had a buzzer with his name next to it. At first we used it, but we went to see him so often we ended up getting a key. We went more than most of the other people’s families. In truth, I don’t remember seeing another kid there more than a handful of times. I went every weekend, and when school was out I went everyday.
It was so early in the morning, Grandpa was always asleep. I would go in, and set up pillows & blanket in front of the tiny television. Then I would put all my microwave foods & snacks into the fridge. Then I would set my bag of books, drawing paper, toys, etc. next to my blanket. Then, after Mom kissed me goodbye, I would watch as many cartoons as I could find at 5am. This was tough considering there were only five channels total, especially if it wasn’t a Saturday morning. Eventually, I would fall asleep before Grandpa woke up.
The days weren’t really full of adventure, or travel. Grandpa was already seventy-five by the time I was born. He shuffled so slowly that he left for lunch downstairs an hour early. That way he wasn’t late. We talked quite a bit. I should say he talked, I yelled nonstop for thirteen years. He was deaf, not completely though. He had lost some hearing due to an accident while in the Navy, and the rest quickly slipped away with age. He wore two hearing aids, large archaic looking things by modern standards.
We ended up more like roommates. He didn’t order me around, and I didn’t bug him to do stuff. I drew a lot, and this always sparked his interest since he was a cartoonist. He took courses on drawing while in the military. He would ask to see all my random drawings. If the mood struck him he would take out his fancy pen (it had a plastic pig on top) and ask for my hand. I would stand there, hand out, as he began drawing. The discomfort from the pen scratching the back of my hand was worth every second. Once he was done, I would quickly pull my hand back to see what cartoon character he had just marked me with. I can still feel the pen on the back of my hand to this day.
We would watch TV together a lot. He always had his specific shows he watched religiously. The funniest part about his favorite shows is the fact he hated every single character on them. The wholesome father on the show was nothing more than a show off who thought he was better than everybody. The snobby little girl, she needed someone to smack her silly. The friendly neighbor could kick the bucket, and no one would mind. The blind girl always carried on about being blind, and needed to shut up about it. The aliens on his other show, well they were just regular people with weird ears & odd-shaped heads.
It always made me wonder why he liked these shows in the first place. I suppose he was the epitome of a curmudgeon. He did always seem to bait Mom into an argument of one thing or another. Then quickly wink at me & smirk as she wasn’t looking. He argued with me too. It was the type of arguments people had when they were bored, nonsensical & funnier over time.
He chain smoked cigarettes, a family trait. He had one of the worst memories ever, and it was not due to age. I was called by at least a dozen names before he would correctly say my name. He did the same with Mom. Of course, he did have a large family with many grandchildren, even great-grandchildren at the time. I knew this because he reserved one wall for pictures…of every single person in the family. They weren’t in fancy frames. No, they were all taped edge to edge with various types of tape that was either yellow with age, or crumbling. It was a precarious mural, if one picture was taken off all of them would come off in a giant patchwork sheet.
He would get angry, and say he might as well kick the bucket. The only way to diffuse the situation was to grab a trash can, and set it in front of his foot. He would then get a grin on his face, kick the bucket, and the anger was gone. He also liked certain ladies that lived in the apartments. He always mentioned their ankles. I never understood, and still find his ankle obsession confusing.
We did have adventures though. He once got bitten by a seeing eyed dog in the elevator, because he petted it. An older woman sucked the wound, and patched him up. I wasn’t aware you had to suck any type of bite. He had a crazy stalker who called the police on him for climbing up the balcony to the 7th floor, and peeping at her bare-chested, a miraculous feat for a man in his eighties.
I became more useful to him over time. His old hearing aids broke so often that I had to mess with them to get them working again. I would disassemble the hearing aid, and reassemble them, cleaning & checking batteries as I went. The last thing he ever asked me to do was fix his hearing aid in the hospital because he couldn’t hear the doctor.
“Get the boy!” he roared, as the adults all tried to get his hearing aid working, “The boy can fix this damned thing.” I walked into the room, and had it working again in minutes. I still have the hearing aid. I am sure it works still.
It was how I spent the first thirteen years of my life. I had some friends in my neighborhood, but Grandpa was always on the list of places to visit each day. I occasionally have dreams that I forgot to go to his apartment. I rush in the door, and he asks me where the hell I have been. I apologize, and explain all the things going on with me. I spend most of the dream wondering how I had forgotten to visit. Even in the dream we usually end up watching old TV shows while he berates them for existing.
We watched out for each other. We spent a good deal of our waking time together. We baby sat one another, and I think that was the plan all along. I can’t say if he was a good man, or a bad man, in his life before being my Grandpa. I can say that he was the best friend to me for thirteen years. He was crazy, hilarious, cranky, and just a tad bit lecherous. Exactly the things I look forward to being when I am a Grandpa.