09 February 2007
my grandpa corrona used to take me to the VFW lounge with him. I must have been about 7 or 8 and let me tell you-- the smoky, amber basement of the VFW was nothing less than fantastic and otherworldly. something about the crack of the pool sticks and the one dim, lonely television in the corner announcing baseball scores to no one in particular. all so terribly exotic and unknown to the seven year-old me. and the sour smell of the place was something I could never quite seem to identify. it sounds depressing, I know-- but it wasn't. not to me, not at the time. more than anything, I was just thrilled to have been chosen to go. my small hand disappeared into his large brown-skinned one as we took the stairs down into this other world. I remember being helped up onto a barstool at which point I was served ginger ale. or 7-up. I loved the squatty glass the bartender set in front of me, the skinny brittle straw and the tinkle-tinkle of the ice cubes. I loved the way the barstool spun me around and around. I pretended not to listen while my grandpa talked with the bartender, which was easy to do because there was just so much to see. I knew I wasn't supposed to be there. it felt like a forbidden place and kids always know-- they instinctively know about forbidden places. for this very reason, I paid close attention to all that was around me.
it was on one of those trips to the VFW that my grandpa played a little trick on me. he gave me beer instead of ginger ale and I gagged at the taste of it. he smiled that rare, wide and generous smile and I remember how special it made me feel. I was in on the joke and everybody laughed and I felt cute and important. I don't remember him playing a lot of jokes like that. not that he wasn't funny or didn't smile, I just seem to remember him more for his reticent nature, his stubborness and short temper. I was sort of afraid of him too, I think everyone was. I've heard stories about the temper (a trait that runs in the family though I wouldn't know ONE THING about that).
I stayed with my grandparents a couple weeks each summer and one afternoon when I was bored, I stuck a bead up my nose. in my defense, that bead looked just like a genuine ruby-- red and sparkly and absolutely impossible to resist. I'd found it while digging all through grandma's big candy tin of buttons and was instantly convinced it was the most beautiful thing like, ever. I had a fabulous two-piece pajama set that looked exactly like something a genie girl or belly dancer would wear and believe you me, that bead begged to join the costume party. I didn't know it would get stuck, how could I have ever predicted that? I was a hot frantic mess trying to dig that thing out, scared to death of what grandpa might do once he discovered I'd been putting beads up my nose all the live long day. the harder I tried to dig it out, the further up it went. and then my nose started to bleed and MOTHER OF MARY, the blood and the ruby, the ruby and the blood. who could tell the beginning or the end of one or the other? that's when I broke down and told them. he was just as mad as I thought he'd be and I did my best to hold back tears. in the end, it was nothing a trip to the emergency room and a good, strong vacuum couldn't fix-- sucked that ruby-colored bead right out of my left nostril in no time. they gave me a piece of spearmint gum afterwards too, I remember that. I had survived the legendary wrath of grandpa and felt stronger for it. plus, I'd gotten a fresh stick of gum out of it. juicy fruit would've been my preference, but still. I never wanted to be on the receiving end of his anger again.
even in the most prosaic of moments, he was something to look at. velvet burning eyes and hair the color of the blackest night. his hair never changed color either, even in later years and we pitied anyone who dared tease him about it. heaven help the fool who insinuated that a shade of hair like that could only come from a drug store bottle. I do believe this caused steam to come from his ears (and I'm being kind, if not a tad dramatic). again, even when he was sitting in his favorite chair with his feet up (watching benny hill or gunsmoke or hawaii five-o), he was something to see. he smoked a pipe (like all grandpas should) so he always smelled sweet like tobacco. and always just a little bit like home-fried fish. several years ago, when ward and I were in italy, we visited a tiny, colorful island near venice called burano. there was a neighborhood fish fry happening the afternoon we arrived and I wanted to cry big salty tears over the thick scent of it. in that moment, I was transported back to my childhood and my grandparents' home in southern illinois-- back to the living room with the dark pine-knotted walls and I could see him sitting there, legs crossed, pipe in hand. I wanted desperately to tell him all about italy-- he was so proud of who he was, where he came from. funny, I grew up thinking we were italian, only to find out later that we were, in fact, sicilian (which is a very, very different thing according to family). all the same, there I was-- halfway across the world, wandering the streets of this sleepy italian island and he was everywhere I looked. but most especially in the scent of the fried fish that wafted past hanging laundry and all through the narrow alleyways that afternoon. he was right there, he was all around me.
so many photobooth friday stories this week, my friends:
scrumdillydilly (last week)
scrumdillydilly (this week)
the whole self
woof nanny (last week)
woof nanny (this week)
acumamakiki (last week)
acumamakiki (this week)
matt (last week)
matt (this week)
(and please do not forget the photobooth friday flickr group, lovely peoples)