My maternal grandfather was a quiet man with sparkling blue eyes and breath that smelled of his beloved Dunkin Donuts coffee. Large, with cream, no sugar. Same way my mom takes it. Same way I take it.
He grew up in poverty, in rural Texas but my memories of his voice have no trace of a Texas accent. He said years of living in Chicago, where he moved when his Yankee new bride (Grandma) couldn’t handle Texas, had caused it to fade.
As far as my siblings and I were concerned, Grandpa was a real life superhero. At 16, he lied about his age and joined the Navy during WWII, knowing it was the only way he could get out of poverty. He could fix anything; often coming over to do odd jobs around the house and fix the things his destructive grandsons broke. Compared to our paternal grandparents and the grandparents of friends, he was extremely fit. He could flex his arms, body builder style, and we could hang from his biceps. He was bench-pressing over 180 well into his late 70s. Despite not finishing high school, he learned and enjoyed the intricacies of the stock market, creating a secure financial future for he and Gram.
Most importantly, our Grandfather was incredibly patient. Patience I have only seen in one other person- my husband. While my childhood memories have been reduced to glossy snapshots, I rarely recall a time when he was upset or frustrated. The occasional “Aww Come ON!” yelled during his beloved Texas A&M football game was the closest he came to raising his voice. Perhaps he got annoyed when he had a bad round of golf or bowling match. He did give an eye roll and heavy sigh when all of his granddaughters declared themselves politically liberal. (Hilary 2016!). My mom says this wasn’t patience earned over time. He was like this during her childhood as well. Being gentle was just his nature.
But there was one time. One time he cracked. The events leading up to it and the events immediately after are hazy. I’m not even sure how old I was but it was at least in high school, if not my early years of college. I was in the kitchen when I heard my grandfather cry out from the living room below.
“These damn kids just can’t take care of anything”.
He said damn. Grandpa said damn. We all froze and our faces fell. It’s not like we hadn’t heard the word before. Mom occasionally throw out a “shit” when something dropped and broke. Dad was no stranger to the F-bomb. But Grandpa was different. He simply didn’t swear because he didn’t get upset, especially at his grandkids.
While I don’t remember specifics, I do remember a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t. As time went out his frustrations grew and his patience receded. His hands became less nimble, keeping him from being the primary handyman. Names were forgotten. The words on his Wall Street Journal stopped making sense. Slowly and painfully he drifted into dementia and his amazing blue eyes stopped sparkling. We lost our beloved Gramps long before he died.
I try not to think of his final few years. I choose to remember the superhero of my childhood instead. Still, the time Grandpa swore will always haunt me, not for the word, or the sentiment behind it, but because it was our first signal something wasn’t right.
This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop prompt “The first time you heard your parents cuss”.