While growing up, I was very close to my cousin Paul. He was two years older than me and that meant we had a lot of fun together. We lived in separate states, so we valued the time we could spend together.
During the summer, Paul would come back to Texas and we’d visit Grandpa Joe. We went to the park, the zoo. He’d take us to movies, too and not the kiddie kind, either. These were movies he wanted to see. Adult stuff like “Cool Hand Luke”, “The Wild Bunch” and “Midnight Cowboy”. Usually, one huge bucket of popcorn for each of us, plus Milk Duds, a box of Jordan Almonds and two uber sized soft drinks and private giggles would keep us occupied…except for that one perplexing part in “Midnight Cowboy”.
After that flick, we asked Grandpa Joe, “What’s a homosexual?”
His response? “Oh that’s a swishy someone named Bruce or Charles who likes to wear lots of leather and shit while doin’ faggedy ass things like messin’ with women’s hair, decoratin’ rooms and such. Flower arrangin’ and workin’ in retail. You know, like your Aunt Bob!”
Even though we were on the nascency of pubescence, we still didn’t really have a grasp of what he was talking about…save for the Aunt Bob reference. THAT, we got. Even so we just responded with the clarifying, “Oooohhh” in unison and pretended to understand.
As you might imagine, my mother had issues with her father-in-law. So did Paul’s father. Grandpa Joe was a free spirit and did as he felt, whenever he felt like it—his charges be damned. If he felt a like getting a drink, he went for a drink….and if we were with him, we went for a drink, too! Our parents thought Gramps was a bad influence on us. And in retrospect he was, but so what if Grandpa Joe wasn’t a walking dictionary and lacked a little where the King’s English was concerned? So what if Grandpa Joe wasn’t up on the latest child rearing facts from Dr. Spock? Paul and I loved being around this man. He was fun. He took great care of us—well, sort of— and every time we were out with him, it was an adventure.
As the consummate Texan, he loved hunting and guns and in the off season, he’d go to the shooting range and yep, he’d take us with him. He made us pick up shell casings. The real fun was in trying not to get burned by the expended cartridges.
Grandpa Joe would also take us to his neighborhood bar.
We’d stay outside in Stumpy’s parking lot most of the time. We’d play tag, hide and seek and see how many different brand of cigarette butts we could collect. Bonus points for finding a Viceroy (this was 1967, by the way).
We’d even earn a little extra money from our grandfather’s friends by running across the busy highway to buy cigarettes at the Stop and Shop. We’d make 25-cents for every pack we bought. Some afternoons, it would be enough cash to go in to Stumpy’s to buy dinner: two pickled eggs, we’d split a bag of vending machine Cheetos and a club soda set-up.
When we weren’t running cigarettes for bar patrons, we’d play in and around the trash dumpster. For hours.
After a night of drinking, Grandpa Joe would try to drive us home and he did so with one hand over his eye. I guess this helped him see. Maybe he had a headache. Sometimes, he’d stop at the corner of Chow and Main and talk to some of the women standing there. Paul and I thought they were gardeners that our grandfather knew because he kept referring to them as hoers. This was confusing—they sure weren’t dressed like people who knew how to hoe the soil or grow tomatoes and such.
He’d give one of these ladies a ride every once in a while. I guess it was because she was tired. You see, he’d make us get in the backseat while she went to sleep with her head in his lap. Grandpa Joe was a religious man, too because right before she’d wake up…which was about five minutes later… he’d always scream, “OH GOD!! OH GOD!!!!”
Once she woke up, he’d drop her off at the same corner. What was strange was that he gave her 20-bucks for taking a nap in his lap.
I remember one Christmas, Grandmom Ellen made Grandpa take us to the mall to help him do some gift shopping. He gave us a $20 and told us to go buy something pretty for Grandmom. He’d be at the bar in the T.G.I Friday’s at the other end of the mall. He mentioned something about having to watch a horse race, two grand and a pissed off bookie–whatever any of that is supposed to mean!!
We found a pretty little angel figurine that we thought Grandmom Ellen would like, but it was 25 dollars…five more than what Grandpa Joe had given us.
We asked a swishy sales guy named Bruce to hold the angel for us until we could go hit up Grandpa for more money.
There he was–at the bar. Four empty old fashion glasses with melting ice sitting in front of him. He was screaming at the TV and audibly expressing worry about some bookie’s enforcer named “Rocco”, wanting a piece of his ass.
He hastily threw ten more bills in our direction and we ran back to the store and not only bought the angel for Grandmom Ellen, were were able to have another swishy sales guy named Charles to wrap it up for us. It was so pretty! We couldn’t wait to show Grandpa Joe.
But when we got back to the bar, he was gone! Paul checked the men’s room. He wasn’t in there. We asked the bartender if he knew where Gramps went and he said he saw Grandpa Joe leave right after we’d asked him for more money. He was apparently despondent that his horse lost a big race and that his friend Rocco was going to come find him to help him…..I guess mourn the horrible defeat. Apparently, when someone loses a bet in a horse race in Rocco’s world involves a lead pipe and something about both of Grandpa’s knees.
We had no idea where our grandfather had gone, why he left us or how we’d get home. We were a little panicked. That’s when Paul saw a police officer walking through the mall and we felt it best to report our Grandpa Joe missing.
We told the officer that we couldn’t find our grandfather anywhere and that not only were we worried, but without the man, we were stranded at the mall. He asked us a few questions, such as when we saw him last, where we last saw him, what he was wearing and also, the nice policeman asked, “Please tell me kids….what’s your grandfather like?”
Paul answered, “Big titted woman and Scotch, but that’s not important right now!!! We gotta find Grandpa!!!”