My first recollections were vague. Being the very first child in the family after many years, my Nana protected me from anything dangerous, evil or disgusting at all times. I was wrapped in a nest of pink at her home in the Oakland hills. I watched her sew beautiful things, had tea parties, and made up stories about “Mrs. McGillicutty” the grouchy lady next door for fun. Enter Gramps…”Christ-All-Mighty Lila, that is just nutty! There’s no Mrs. McGillicutty. It’s just crazy talk I tell ya. What are you teaching that kid? Come with me Linda Lee and I’ll show you some fun.”
Out in the yard we would go. He’d let me play with the garden hose, dig pits, and make mud pies while he told me about stories when he was in the Navy working in the sun until his hands bled. Then, Nana would swoop me up and give me a hot bath in a sea of pink bubbles just before the stories got too salty. That is when I realized that the loud, rough, sweaty, grimy man, was really FUN. He wasn’t very tall, he was wiry, very strong, sparse gray hair, light blue eyes behind wire rimmed glasses and smelled of Old Spice after shave at the end of the day. How could he be Nana’s husband and my Gramps? He was so different.
This type of activity went on all through my childhood. We were lucky kids having such attentive and adoring grandparents. They never batted an eye at including us in their excursions around the countryside.
My most memorable memory was when I was 13. Nana, her sister Beth, me, and my 2nd cousin Lynette piled in the car with Gramps at the wheel to careen down to Santa Barbara, and Joshua Tree National Forest (actually in the desert!). Along the way we were going to take the Hearst Castle tour. In Morrow Bay, we pulled in to spend the night at the Jade Motel that was just across the sand from the ocean. Lynette and I felt sick from the hours trapped in the car lurching to and fro…gas pedal to the floor, swerve, slam on the breaks, pedal to the metal again, screeching tires, more swerving. Where’s the Dramamine?
So Gramps tells us to sit tight while he goes in to wrangle the best deal in this “Sucker’s Paradise” of a place. Did I mention it was REALLY hot outside and there was no air conditioning and the car kept overheating? Anyhow, he came out of the little Motel office beaming, stating that he got a good deal from the “GD idiot” inside and we could now go upstairs and get unpacked before he took us out for burgers down the street. He said it was up on the second floor, orange door, can’t miss it.
Nana, Auntie Beth, Lynette and I trudged upstairs with our stuff while Gramps attended to the overheated radiator. The orange door was cracked open a bit, so we went into the steamy room and plopped down on the bed. We were discussing who would sleep where and that we’d have to rent a roll away bed for Gramps since we 4 women would utilize the 2 double beds. I started to mess with the air conditioner in the window when Nana screamed at the top of her lungs to “GET OUT OF HERE! What in the world are you doing in our room?” A poor befuddled man with a towel wrapped around himself was speechless as he saw the 4 of us and all our stuff all over the room. He stammered that WE were in HIS room and what were WE doing there? At this point, Gramps came in and asked us why we were in there “I said the orange door!” All the doors looked orange in the setting sun. Oh brother! What a mess. Lynette and I stared giggling and ran out as fast as we could. Gramps thought it was funny too. Nana and Auntie B didn’t. Gramps was going on and on about how funny that stupid knuckle head looked just standing there with us gawking at the bizarre situation.
Dinner was eaten and we got the air conditioner working in our room, Gramp’s roll away bed was delivered and we settled in for the night. The air conditioner was so loud we couldn’t have it on. We opened the window and listened to the waves crash instead. As we were laying there sweating, hearing the ocean churn, a new noise began…Gramps was snoring. Then, Snap! “Damn it! Get me out of here!” Nana flipped on the light to find that Gramp’s bed had folded in two with him sandwiched in between as he squirmed to get out. The blue streak of military swearing was going full force as two of us on either end of the bed tried to force it flat so Gramps could get out. We searched for the locking mechanism and found it.
It took us a good hour for us to stop laughing, and him to stop swearing before we could get settled down again. Nana had to bang on the wall several times to let the over zealous neighbors to tone it down a bit so we could sleep. Lynette and I thought it was absolutely hilarious. At last we were breathing softly as sleep was finally coming to us, when the Snap….Damn it, started all over again. We found that the bed lock was broken. Enter Gramp’s ever present bailing wire. He scampered down the outdoor hall and down the stairs in his “skivvies” to retrieve his famous fix all bailing wire from the trunk of the car. In no time he had that bed wired open never to close again. We finally fell asleep just in time for the alarm to go off for us to get ready to get in line to get our tickets for the Hearst Castle tour. He was fresh as a daisy that morning and we felt like we had been up all night. Wait…we had!
There were many situations like this with him that as we look back on now, was some of the funniest/happiest times of our childhood. Dear little Gramps, just being himself.