Dear Grandpa

George Hotchko

Dear Grandpa,

I thought I’d write to you today.  It’s been such a long time since we had a chance to sit and talk about things.  I have so many memories of you, I don’t know where to begin.  It was so long ago.

Remember when I was a little boy?  You lived with Grandma in a big white house beside a lake in Pennsylvania.  In all the time I was growing up, you never had to go off to work in a factory or a coal mine.  You did all those things before I was born.  You spent your time tending a little garden behind the big house.  Once you showed me how to graft two different apple trees together.  I was amazed when, a year later, I could go out to the tree and have a choice of different apples on one tree!  Your garden had several fruit trees and I remember at the far end of your rows of plants was a steep bank that led up to an old railroad bed.  There was a short path up the hill.  In the far corner of your garden, you had a little white shed.  I think it was once an outhouse, but I was never sure.  There were so many hoes and shovels and rakes, sacks of seeds and old bottles, that I could never see whether there was a potty hole or not.

When my family would drive down to visit you from our house in Owego, NY, we’d almost always find you on an old chair beside your shed, sitting in the shade.  Or, under the big apple tree in the yard…always sitting in the shade.  Every time we saw you, there was a pipe either in your mouth or in your vest pocket.  I remember that you had a strange pipe lighter, not like a Zippo or Bic.  It was silver and round.  It was the size of my thumb.  And, you’d push it together somehow and there’d be a flame to light your pipe.

I would always run up to you and hug you and say: “Hi, Grandpa!”  When I was a little boy.

You’d always say: “Well, if it isn’t little Paddy.  You’re so big now.”

Once my brother and I found you on the front porch…in the old rocking chair.  We begged you to tell us a ghost story.  But you said you didn’t want to scare us.  You said that sometimes when you think about those things you couldn’t sleep.  You gave in one time and told us how you were walking home from a day in the mines and you saw a friend sitting on the stonewall of a cemetery.

“Hey, George,” the guy said to you.  “How about a plug?”

You reached in your back pocket and broke off a plug of chewing tobacco and gave it to him.  You talked with him for a few minutes and then you walked on down the street.  A few blocks away, you stopped in your tracks.  You remembered that the guy had died three months earlier.  You said you’re not supposed to look back over your shoulder when you see a ghost so you ran the rest of the way home.

That story did scare me.  When I was a little boy.

I remember that you always planted potatoes in your garden.  My brothers and I giggled when you told us that for good luck, whoever planted the potatoes, had to pee on the first mound.  And, you always did, but it was never when we were around.  I wondered for years how you managed to pee on the correct potato mound in the dark of night.  Did you hold your flashlight under your arm?

Whenever one of us tried to talk to you, you always leaned over and said to talk louder into one of your ears, saying you were hard of hearing.  But, sometimes you heard us just fine.  My father thought you were “deaf” only when my grandma was trying to tell you to do something.  I still wonder about that.

Well, Grandpa, have I got news for you!  I have a grandson now!  That makes me a grandpa, just like you.  When I was a little boy.

His name is Elias and he is your Great, Great, Grandson!  He’s very adorable. (Did you think I was adorable when I was little?)

Well, I better say good-bye for now.  I’ll be seeing you sometime…someday.  We’ll have so much to talk about.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, you can tell me more ghost stories.  I don’t think I’ll be afraid to hear them when we talk again.

We’ll sit under a tree and I’ll watch you light your pipe again.  I’ll make sure we’ll be in the shade.

I think I’ll go and poke through some boxes for those old 8mm home movies my dad took of you.  I saw them a few years ago.  You didn’t seem to change much over the years.  But, I have.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting my grandson and someone took a short video.  Someday, maybe Elias will look at it and see himself as a child.  And, next to him will be an old gray-haired man.

In the old jerky, flickering films, you were holding me…when I was just a baby.  There is another one when you and I are walking, hand in hand, down the old railroad bed.

I was just a little boy.

Good-bye for now.  See you soon, Grandpa!

Love,   Paddy

P.S. Here’s a picture of your Great, Great, Grandson, Elias:

Elias Tractor February 2015

[Photo: Bob Goldstein]

P.S.S. Here’s a picture of your Great Grandson, Brian:

brianboy

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The Postman Always Winks Twice

Vicgoria'sSecretCatCover

Sometime in the late 1990’s, my wife and I drove to Owego, NY to visit my aging father.  My mum had passed away in 1992, so my dad was living quietly and alone as a widower in our big rambling family home on Front Street.

Room by room and closet by closet, any objects or artifacts that was evidence of my mother living in the house for nearly 50 years, began to disappear.  And, this is as it should be.  My father had lost his wife and really didn’t need or want to see constant reminders of their 56-year-old marriage.  My mother liked to save things, as many folks of their generation did.  So, it was no big deal with me, when I was a child, to open a drawer in the dining room chest and find several hundred buttons.

However, little things get swept under the rug, so to speak.  When I was cleaning out the house after his death in 2004, I found quite a few buttons in quite a few drawers.

But, buttons do not play a part in the story I want to tell.  This is a father, son and son’s wife tale.  I can attest to you that every word is true, although I may have fudged on the dates a little.  I mean, I’m getting old too, so my memory for certain things is a bit dicey.

On our visits, which were quick weekend jaunts from New York City where I was living, all went pretty much the same.  We’d call him on the cell when we approached Suicide Curve in Binghamton and he would phone in an order from Pizza Hut.  We’d pick it up and head to 420 Front Street.  The rest of the evening would be just talking until bedtime.  In the mornings, I would sleep in a bit and Mariam would get up early and sit with my father and have coffee.

It was on one of those mornings that my wife decided she needed a pair of boots.  She had seen the ideal pair in a Victoria Secrets catalog back in the city.  So, she called from our apartment and arranged to have the boots delivered to my father’s house in Owego.

Well, on this particular visit, things went smoothly.  The boots were waiting at my dad’s house.  Good fit.  Nice boots.  Everyone’s happy.

Several months later, we were again visiting my father.  He mentioned something to us that was annoying him.  It seems that Victoria Secrets saved the 420 Front Street mailing address in their data base.  Naturally, my father began to receive the catalog(s) on a frequent basis.  They would arrive and he would put them into the recycling.

One morning, he happened to be on the front porch when the mail delivery person came up the steps with the bundle for my father.  According to my dad, the postman gave him a wink…a knowing wink. And then another wink.

My father was 84 years old!

My father thought about this for a few days before he realized what the wink was about the almost daily delivery of the Victoria Secrets catalog.  Now, this won’t mean anything to someone who was born yesterday or happened to drop in from Mars last night, but the catalogs had more than a few scantily clad models in very sexy lingerie, in fact, the company is well-known for the way it peddles the bras…it’s nothing short of a PG-13 version of Penthouse. [Not that I would know, mind you, I never saw any of the catalogs, or a Penthouse, Playboy, Mayfair, Swank, Gentleman or Hustler magazine in my life! Certainly not at the $8.99 cost per issue.  I simply had no idea. I spent years thinking an underwire was something on a radio.]

As usual, my wife solved the problem with a simple phone call.  My father was taken off the mailing list.

And, that’s pretty much the end of the story.

It might be worth noting that my father was a frugal man, as many Depression-era folks were.  I often wonder why he didn’t realize that he would never have to shell out $8.99 for an issue of Playboy, when Victoria Secrets came to his house for free.

At least he would have known what an underwire was used for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forever and a Day

 RomanticLove

Absolutely nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

There may be some things that last forever.

One thing lasts forever.

You’re waiting for me in the cafe.  The place beside the old church and next to the cemetery.  The only place in the city where I can sit next to the fire and feel warm…on a night like this.  We have so much to talk about.  It’s been so many years since we’ve had a chance to sit and think of the days gone by.

You’re waiting in the cafe–I just can’t remember how to get there.

I was very young and you had an uncanny ability to determine when my diaper would be wet.  You would change it for me.  I couldn’t talk to you.  You just knew when it was time.  You held my hand when I could barely walk.  I never said a word.  You cooked my food for a thousand dinners.  You sent me off to First Grade with a clean, freshly ironed hanky in my pocket.  No matter what my grades were, you dutifully signed my report card.  On those many nights when I couldn’t sleep, too many times for a child to fear closing his eyes, you would allow me to sit with you and we would eat crackers with chives and cheese.  The black and white television blinking away in the dark living room.

You were in third grade when I looked over at you–two rows away–and watched while you tried to open an ink bottle.  You pressed it hard against your green school shift.  You’re bangs fell away from your forehead.  Years later, you allowed me my first kiss.  Still later you wore my corsage on your taffeta prom dress.  Then you would find someone else and you broke my fragile teenage heart.

I was curious about the color of your hair beneath your stiff white habit.  Your black rosary hung from your black belt around your black dress–your habit.  You taught us to be kind.  You taught us to feel guilty.  And once, you told me: “Don’t ever be afraid to say no.”  It’s taken me many years to really understand what you meant.

I lit your cigarettes.  I bought you drinks.  I slept in your bed.  We made love under three quilts when the winter was cold and dark.  We sweated on the sheets in August when it was bright afternoon and hot.

I kissed you only once.  I kissed you many times.  I kissed you in my daydreams when you were thirty feet away on the Boardwalk.  Your hair was blonde, then black and red and brown and straight and wavy.  Your eyes were blue, gray, brown, hazel and green.  You were older.  Then you were younger.

You walked down the aisle of a church to meet me at the altar.  We were happy, sad, angry, contented, miserable, joyful and jealous.

We came and went through each others lives.  My hair slowly turned from brown to white.  Your’s from jet black to salt and pepper.  You sang to me.  I couldn’t carry a tune.  We sipped ale in England and wine in France.  We walked on muddy glacier ice in Alaska.  You watched me watching the topless twenty-somethings on a beach in Jamaica.  You never missed a trick.

You said you loved me when I didn’t think I would ever be loved again.  You saved my life, not with a toss of a rope but with a phone call.

You’re waiting in the cafe.  I’m trying to hurry.  I can hardly walk.  When we sit next to each other you will somehow know if I have wet my trousers again.

Is this a hallway or a street in Paris?  I can’t remember.

But, all those memories are so sharp and clear, like everything happened yesterday, or this morning.

You will still be waiting for me, won’t you?  I remember what I said so many, many years ago:

“Nothing lasts forever.”

I was wrong.  Love lasts forever.  We love each other, don’t we?  Still?

Love last forever.  Forever and a day.

CoupleInArmsSitting

 

 

 

 

The Pink Flamingos of the Pacific Northwest

Flamingos

I asked my daughter, Erin, about her opinion of pink flamingos.

“They have their place,” she answered, without taking more than five seconds to think it over.

That place was in a front yard, several blocks from her home in Orting, WA.

My wife and I were walking back from a brief shopping trip to Safeway.  I was carrying a whole pineapple in the plastic grocery bag, it’s spiky leaves poking holes through the word “Safeway”.  The pineapple had me in a reflective mood about the tropics.  I thought of Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree on a  Caribbean island several years ago.  He was a grandfather.  I’m a grandfather and I was thinking what it would take to climb a pineapple tree.  I wasn’t even sure they grew on trees.  Maybe they grew like really large odd grapes on a rather large vine.  (I’d have to look that up later.)

We were here to visit Elias, my adorably cute grandson, my daughter and her husband, Bob.  My grandson had just turned two a month before.  I’m not going to post a picture of him because he’s so gosh darn cute, I would lose my readers who would just go straight to the photo and then make comments about him.  I didn’t want to use his unbelievable cuteness to simply grab your attention and beg you to follow me on WordPress.  I’ve been accused of similar tactics using a photo of Fluffy the lamb. But a child? Never!

When I mentioned pink flamingos to Erin, she knew exactly what property I saw them standing on.

“Oh, he’s the local “neighborhood watch guy”…”a sort of vigilante”.

I thought of Clint Eastwood.

Then I fully realized the implications of vigilantism and its consequences.  I was thankful I didn’t step off the sidewalk and onto his yard.  I may have been blasted by a pump-action 12-guage shotgun.  I know enough about guns to realize that even an indirect hit would do some spectacular damage to my appendix.

That’s alright.  I never had mine removed as a child like my brother, Dan, who had his appendix operation sometime in 1956.  Everybody in my family doted on him.  They lavished tons of attention on him.  I was left alone, sitting behind the sofa, staying out of the way…me and my intact appendix.  I was the youngest of four boys so nobody really paid much attention to me anyway.  When I was a young boy, my father was too tired to teach me to play catch.  I often stood in the backyard with my mitt and ball…me and my healthy damn appendix.

But I digress.

I stood looking at the pink flamingos.  There were two of them, as tradition dictates.  But both heads of the birds are bent to the lawn as if mucking about in the muck of a shallow swamp.  I thought about what I was seeing, in this yard, in this little town in the Pacific Northwest.  I began to remember all that I had learned about flamingos in school.

There are only four species of these beautiful pink birds that are native to the Americas.  I assumed I was looking at a pair of Phoenicopterus ruber.  I mean, when you think about it, it was an obvious choice.

I leaned closer to the pair and noticed that each one had a black stick supporting its body.  They were perfectly still.  I wondered.  Were these two pink flamingos really alive?  Perhaps the black sticks were meant to create the illusion of life.  I’ve heard of unsavory pet shop owners who have done this very thing.  I recalled the incident of one owner who nailed a dead parrot to the perch and insisted it was just sleeping.

Then again, maybe these flamingos were alive?  The owner (remember, he’s a vigilante) may have doped them and kept them from completing their annual migration.  But, migrating from where? And, more to the point, to where?

At this point I remembered taking my sixth grade science class to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey on a field trip.  We were all in the IMAX theater watching a film about…I know it had to do with science and there were beautiful scenes of the Grand Canyon, an Ultralight flying into a sunset and herds of elephants (filmed from the same Ultralight) creating clouds of dust on the Serengeti Plains of Africa.  Just before I fell asleep, I remember a scene at a lake somewhere in Kenya where tens of thousands of flamingos were taking flight.  (Most of them were pink, by the way.)  It was very impressive.  Not as good as the opening moments of Miami Vice, but still pretty colorful.

Just before commercial breaks at the Master’s in Myrtle Beach, there were pink flamingos there also.  But, here in the Pacific Northwest?

I began to question my very own sanity.

It all began to add up.  Real live flamingos were Tropical birds and Orting, WA was in the Temperate Zone.  Granted, the temperature on this day was in the mid-40’s F with a near consistent rain.  My eyes narrowed into furrows that depicted suspicion.

I picked a crumb from a Granola bar that had fallen apart in my coat pocket.  I tossed it to the bird that looked like it was foraging.  Nothing.

I’ve been to college so I knew a thing or two about deductive reasoning and junk like that.  I came to the conclusion that this pair of flamingos were made of plastic.

The black sticks were holding them up because otherwise they would fall over.

It all came back to me in a rush as I thought about one of my favorite movies, Pink Flamingos by John Waters.  Seeing the movie drove me on a quest to catalog lawn kitsch.  I knew that the classic design I was looking at was first designed by a Don Featherstone in 1957 when he was working for Union Products.  I was ten years old.  Another company bought the molds and copyright in 2007 and continue to manufacture them.  BUT, you can tell if you have an “official” pair…Featherstone had his signature put on the rear underside of the birds.

I was not going to step on this guy’s lawn and look at the rear underside of his pink flamingos.

There are certain things even I won’t do.

My wife and I continued our walk back to my daughter’s house.  Elias would be up from his nap by now and, if I was lucky, he’d be asking: “where’s grandpa?”  I wanted to be there.

So, when we come back for our next visit, maybe in about a year, I’m going to take a walk with Elias to look at the pink flamingos.  He’s a smart child and will surely know that they are not native to the Pacific Northwest.

But we’ll walk hand in hand…a big grandpa hand holding a tiny 3-year-old boy hand.  If he asks me about my opinion about pink flamingos in the Pacific Northwest, I will answer truthfully: “They have their place.”

“OK, grandpa,” he’ll say.

Then he’ll point into the distance over his parent’s house at a large snow-covered peak.  Or, perhaps, the peak will be covered, like a bashful maiden, in clouds.

But he will know where to point.

“Mount Rainier is over there!”

“Yes,” I’ll say. “It has its place too”

EliasDrums

[Did you really think I wasn’t going to put a photo of Elias in this post?]

RainerLenticularClouds

[Lenticular clouds over Mount Rainier. Photo: Bob Goldstein (Son-in-Law)]