|Stories from Grandpa
“Your Grandpa looks just like the Sheriff from an old Western,” a little cousin once whispered to me, clearly impressed with his handle-bar moustache and silver hair. And though there is not much cowboy in this man raised in the heart of Los Angeles, it is a good look for a story-teller – a role he plays more often. As his body slows down his sharp mind turns to reminiscence. “That neighborhood I grew up in was a funny place,” he begins. . .
“In other cities, the different races and nationalities mostly kept to themselves. Well, and so they did in LA some places, I guess. But not where we were. There were all sorts of families in our neighborhood. Also a bunch of old bachelors.
“One of ‘em lived across from us. One day he gets a barrel and some copper pipe – guess he was gonna make some home brew. But didn’t know what he was doing. He lights a match and next thing BOOM! bout blew the roof off,” Grandpa’s impressive belly shakes as he laughs at the memory.
“An’ up the street from him lived these two brothers. The upstairs brother was blind and the downstairs brother was drunk – we’d hear him come bangin’ home late. Well, that house didn’t have electricity – it was all piped for gas. Go in there and you’d see these blue flames ‘bout two inches high shooting from the wall. That place was just a wood shack, not a lick of paint on it all dry wood like a tinderbox. And that drunk in the basement and the blind brother upstairs and just those gas lights with no chimney lamps at all.”
“But it never burned down, Grandpa?” I ask.
“No it never did.”
“Then down the street was a black family with a boy just a bit older than me who could skate backwards just as fast as forwards. You’d be walkin’ and he’d be talking to you and skating backwards away from you just like that. Never even looked over his shoulder,” Seventy-five years later his voice is still full of awe.
“And the Italian family. One day a big truck pulls into their drive and down comes a wine press and boxes of grapes. Whole family went to work right there making wine – just like those fancy wineries they have everywhere these days!
“Of course my father was a builder – he built a lot of the houses in those neighborhoods, and the one next door to us was one we rented out to a Russian family. It was just a tiny little house – one bedroom and a sleeping porch and a little living room and they had, well, I guess about eight or nine people living in there – never did know where they all slept. Their old man thought he was John the Baptist. He’d stand on the porch and read from his Bible at the top of his lungs. Guess he was calling God’s judgment down on the city, but he read it in Russian, so if we were supposed to repent we couldn’t tell,”
We laugh together at the idea of the misplaced prophet and he continues with stories about his playmate whose mother was a cigarette girl at a large downtown club and the large-busted woman next door whose freshly laundered braziers on the clothesline became targets for little boys’ bb guns. I make a note to myself to bring a notebook next time I visit, so that I can begin to save these stories, to do them more justice than I do them here.
This poem first appeared in Measure (2006)
I saw once a woman and a man
Turning their coffee mugs in hand
Like two tense lovers pining;
Formica and the seated crowd
Smelling of hot beef, chattering loud
Kept their arms from twining.
Their eyes were wrinkled, tired with age;
I’d not looked close enough to gage
Their hard, serious murmur.
The woman wore a pendant heart;
The man showed her accounts and charts,
As fits an estate lawyer.
Hence this girl on a bench with me
Would seem my bodied intimacy
To one on a walk passing.
And by my smile at her words
He’d think what I’d desired heard
Like the sounds of undressing.
Perhaps the lawyers called to bar,
The strollers strolling in the park
Are equal to their seeming.
But in my frustrate polite blush
Lingers no knowledge of her touch
Or satisfactory meaning.
~James Matthew Wilson
A Joke from the Bar Jester:
An elderly couple goes to visit a psychiatrist. “We’re getting terribly forgetful,” says the old man. “We’re afraid something is wrong with us.”
The psychiatrist says, “well how old are you?”
The old woman says, “I’m 84 and he’s 85.”
The old man says, “No, you’re 85 and I’m 86.”
“See what we mean?” says the old lady. “It’s very distressing.
“Look,” says the psychiatrist. “When you get older your memory fails you sometimes. But this is nothing serious. Just try writing little sticky notes to yourself whenever you think you might forget something you need to remember.”
The elderly couple goes home. Later that night while they’re watching The Lawrence Welk Show the old woman says, “I’m hungry. I think I’d like some ice cream. “
The old man stands up and says, “I’ll get you some.”
She say, “better write yourself a sticky note.”
He says, “I think I can remember ice cream.”
Well, he’s gone for about thirty minutes, and from her easy chair the old woman can hear the banging of all kinds of pots and pans.
At length the old man emerges from the kitchen with bacon, eggs, coffee, and hash browns.
“You damn fool!” says the woman. “I told
you to write yourself a sticky note. You forgot the orange juice!”
FPR Weighs in on the News of bin Laden’s Death:
Russell Arban Fox – He Deserved It: That’s a terribly unChristian thing to say, I know. To speak in moral terms–to speak of “desert”–in matters of war is to invariably invest those actors which participate in war.
Jeffrey Polet – The Death of bin Laden: On Violence and Civil Religion: Around 11:00 Sunday night I received a text from a friend informing me that Osama bin Laden had been killed by US military and intelligence units. I confess to indifference.
Front Porch Conversations Online
Doug Sangster – Preserving Local Culture:Last Sunday I sat on the church porch, smoked my pipe and listened as some of our musicians played their guitars and mandolins. One of the songs we sang was “Paradise,” my favorite Bluegrass ballad.
Mark Mitchell – Why We Need Jane Austen: or How to be a Gentleman with Examples Good and Bad.
Jamew Matthew Wilson – History’s Long Road to Tyranny: I have just finished teaching Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America with my freshmen students. In a way I have not witnessed before, they were compelled by his account of American culture and society…
Jason Peters – Let’s Build a Dumber Planet:There’s no future in the past.
John Medaille- The Mosh-Pit of Philosophy, the Pedestal of Science, and a Plate of Green Beans: Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of addressing the ISI Conference at Taylor University, “Whose Capitalism? Which Free Market? Exploring the Moral Dimensions of the Market.
Mark Mitchell – Pride and Prejudice and Porn: If we are witnessing the passing of the gentlemen, there is much to lament. Perhaps it’s time for the gentleman to make a comeback.
Front Porch Conversations face-to-face
To connect for face-to-face conversations with readers near you visit our Porches page at the FPR website
If you would like to bring an FPR author to speak at your event, please visit our Speakers’ Guild page at the FPR Website
Mark your calendars! On September 24, 2011 at Mout St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, FPR will hold its first annual conference, titled “Human Scale and the Human Good: Building Healthy Communities in a Global Age.” Make plans to join some of your favorite FPR authors and other writers and practitioners concerned with Place, Limits, and LIberty. We are looking forward to a great event.
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