Commentary by William Carter: Comforting memories of Granddaddy
By William Carter
I was thinking about my Granddaddy today – my mother’s father.
I suppose he’s always on my mind, just at the edge of thought, as are most of the people I love. And on the wall in front of me, above the computer, is a picture of him and me and my Granny standing on a beach somewhere. I’m probably 8 or 9 years old – a fat, little unformed grub of a person wearing a “Leave It To Beaver”- type T-shirt. But Granny and Granddaddy are how I always remember them: her looking like she’d have no problem at all whipping the world’s ass before going inside to bake a peach cobbler or two, and him, gazing into the lens with the beginnings of a smile on his face as if he’s privy to all kinds of secret, funny things.
Both are gone now – laid side-by-side in the little cemetery a mile outside my hometown’s city limits. A few steps in any direction from them would have you visiting others of my blood. Some had left for years to meander around the world only to be drawn back in the end. Small towns have great gravitational pull, I guess, though gracious in granting you freedom to lift off and roam beyond the city limits for a while – testing yourself – those towns never, truly let you go.
Granny left us in 1972, her and her bad heart carried away in an ambulance and leaving the beginnings of a pot of Brunswick stew steaming on the stove. She would have been mortified to know someone had to clean up after her. Granddaddy followed her 10 or 11 years later, forever set in his ways and probably laughing with his last breath at one of those secret things only he was privy to.
Granddaddy was an old, Southern gentleman who wore his head full of snow white hair swept back from his forehead and had a handle-bar moustache and a neatly trimmed goatee. He wore chinos and a short-sleeved work shirt all the time and seemed to always have an unfiltered Pall Mall burning between two fingers or from the corner of his mouth. He was the only barber in a 10-mile radius and his little shop was a repository of gossip and government conspiracy theories.
The building was painted, white clapboard with wooden floors and the first thing you noticed going in were two works of art called barber chairs. They were upholstered in leather and the metalwork was filigreed and etched with designs I imagined, as a child, were wrought by the hands of someone who knew magic. On one wall was a massive, mottled mirror fronted by a shelf filled with bottles of multi-colored hair tonics and blue and white cans of talcum powder. There was a back room in the barbershop I was never allowed to enter. Years later I learned there was a perpetual card game going on in the room and that, if you knew someone who knew someone, you just might be able to acquire a half-pint or two of your favorite beverage out of that backroom closet.
I’d go into Granddaddy’s barbershop once a week and he’d pay me 50 cents for the privilege of cutting my hair. There was a man named Doc who always seemed to be there and he had a half-nekkid woman with a red flower in her hair tattooed on his forearm. He’d been in the Navy in World War II and I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. While I waited I always dared to sneak a peek at the “Argosy” and other men’s magazines scattered about. Then Granddaddy would call my name as if I was a regular customer and I can still remember the hiss of the hydraulics in the chair and the snap of the sheet as he shook it clean before clipping it around my neck.
“Thank you, sir,” he always said before brushing me off with the little whisk broom when he finished and right before placing two quarters in my hand as payment.
I spent a lot of Saturday night’s at Granddaddy’s house playing gin rummy with him and my sister Marle at the enamel-topped kitchen table and drinking milkshakes he handcrafted from real vanilla ice cream and whole milk from a bottle. Granddaddy had a herd of three vicious and insanely jealous Chihuahuas who had the run of the house and strutted around grunting and coughing and spewing noxious fumes.
Granddaddy was meticulous in keeping track of the rummy points and I probably owed him $1 million in pennies when he died.
I had a good day today, thinking about my Granddaddy.
William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on: 7/20/2013