No one ever really knew how bad Gramp’s hearing was. He liked the TV loud. Sometimes I would stay over at his house, sleeping in one of the upstairs bedrooms. I could hear every word of the basketball game or the 11 o’clock news being broadcast on the TV in the living room. It was like that.
Most of our conversations in his house were yelled to one another. Often when he would come over to our house for a family function, he wouldn’t say much – just sit in his chair and observe the rest of us.
It was Gramp’s tradition to go out to dinner every weekend. Our favorite places were Ponderosa in Groton, Conn. and Sun Valley Restaurant in Wyoming, R.I. When we would go out to dinner, I always kept my voice to a dull roar – no yelling involved – and he managed to hear every word. Not only that, he managed to speak in a normal voice as well.
His ability to hear me clear as day in a restaurant and the fact that he heard every nasty, mean, rude thing any one of us said, no matter the volume, led me to believe he had an acute case of selective hearing. There’s really no other explanation.
Gramp was a fascinating guy; his selective hearing skills were merely a tiny part of what made him so amazing.
He raised five children and provided for them and my grandmother by running a dairy farm nearly all his life.
He had four siblings of his own – three brothers and a sister – whom he managed to stay close to until his dying day.
He knew our little burg like the back of his hand. On the weekends he would drive me around and tell me all about what the area looked like when he was a kid.
He only yelled at me one time the whole time he was alive, and it was in defense of my mother while she was going through the divorce with my dad. He more than made up for it by taking me out for black raspberry ice cream at the R&R truck stop during one of the bleakest moments of the divorce proceedings.
He managed to charm almost everyone. He could be crusty and foul-mouthed when he wanted to be, but mostly he was funny and happy and charming with twinkly blue eyes.
He loved sweets, just like me. He always kept a bag of candy in the dining room hutch – Three Musketeerses, Milky Ways, those caramels with the white sugary centers. When I was a little girl, he and my gram, Lois, would order soda from a delivery company. There was grape, lemon-lime, regular cola and all sorts of other flavors. They clearly made quite an impression on me.
He had funny table manners. He would squeeze my hand as hard as he could under the table during grace, trying to get me to make a noise to interrupt the quiet moment. He would stab your hand with a fork if you reached across the table. He was a picky eater and would push food from his plate onto mine, then yell at me to clean it.
He gave me my first real playground in his dairy farm. I swooned over the tiny kittens produced by barn cats. I climbed high on hay bales. I slid down sky-high slides made of grain. I oinked along with the pigs. I fed grass to cows who would try to suck in my hands with their bumpy tongues. I pet the little veal calves. I picked warm, fresh eggs from the chicken coop.
Most of all, he was a role model. He was someone who made me proud. Today, even though he’s not here with me, I still try to make him proud. I have no doubt he’s out there somewhere, sitting in his leather recliner, drinking a Pepsi and quietly rooting me on. Or maybe loudly rooting me on, hoping I can hear him.
His given name was James, but almost everyone called him “Stub.” I called him “Gramp”and he called me “Grumpy.” Gramp was my favorite person in the family, even though I know it’s bad form to admit it, and I was crushed when he died in 2003.