Granpa Albert

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A reminiscence of a step-grandfather

Submitted: November 20, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 20, 2016




by Thomas Albert Roll

Actually, he wasn't my real grandfather. Grandpa Albert was my step-grandfather. My mom's father had been killed in a bizarre accident as he was walking along a road. A lumber truck passed him from behind, and a board sticking out the side of the truck caught him in the back of the neck. Just like that, my mom and her little brother lost their daddy.

For some reason, my grandmother remarried. She remarried to Grandpa Albert. He was a typical man's man of the period (the 1930's): domineering, iron-fisted rule of the household, no leniency for the weak. He considered Grandma as used goods - a widow-woman (with two kids, no less!). If he ever showed tenderness toward his used bride, it was never demonstrated in public or before me. That would have been unmanly. Grandpa Albert didn't seem to like much of anything. He liked other people's opinions even less. His favorite word for someone he didn't like was "shit-heel", a word he employed quite often (even in front of me). That would be when both my mother and my grandmother jumped all over him about speaking in such a manner in front of an innocent child. Their admonishments didn't seem to have much effect on him, however, as the word "shit-heel" became so indelibly etched into my vocabulary that I got into serious trouble for using it in kindergarten.

One other fact I needed to bring up is my name. When I was born, my parents had yet to arrive at a name for me. This precipitated an argument between my mother and father in the recovery room which culminated in my mom yelling, "Damn it, Jimmy," (my father's name she used when she was angry with him), "Tom, Dick or Harry - take your pick." They settled on Tom. To add insult to injury, they gave me the middle name of Albert to try to smooth over family bonds and satisfy the old coot - it didn't work.

By now, you may have noticed that I don't speak too fondly of my Grandpa Albert. This was mainly caused by the fact that from the earliest I can remember, whenever I walked into his (and it was "his") house, from his chair he would pick up the nearest magazine or newspaper and hurl it in my direction. Newspapers and large, leafy magazines like "Look" or "Life" weren't too bad, as they tended to fly apart in mid-air. It was the small more compact periodicals like "National Geographic " and "Reader's Digest" that really hurt. Every time he would throw something in my direction, I would hear his raspy laugh as I went diving behind some protective furniture or behind my mother's skirt. He thought it was funny - I was terrorized. I sometimes think that the only reason he allowed Grandma to subscribe to "Good Housekeeping" and "Redbook" was so that he could keep a good stock of ammo in every room in the house.

Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole to protect me. Grandpa Albert had a permanent tracheostomy implanted in his neck after surgical removal of some cancerous tissue. This tracheostomy was constructed of stainless steel and was held in place with what looked like a dirty shoelace tied around the back of his neck. When he inhaled, there was a barely audible "click". When he exhaled, however, there was a resounding "CLINK" which would reverberate throughout the house. I am convinced to this day that this "click - CLINK" sound saved my life on numerous occasions, as it prevented him from sneaking up behind me and nailing me with a rolled up copy of the Sunday newspaper. All-in-all, I felt this was no way to treat a namesake step-grandson.

When I was four years old, we went to my grandparent's house for Christmas Eve. As soon as I had entered the living room, Grandpa Albert let fly with a "Popular Mechanics" in my direction. I artfully dodged the first fusillade of the evening, but it managed to catch the cat broadside, sending it screaming up into the Christmas tree and almost knocking it over. A family tumult followed which included threats to Grandpa Albert's general health emanating from both my mother and grandmother. It was serendipitous that Grandpa Albert was already halfway through his gallon of beer that evening, thus he mellowed out without too much of a fight.

After an interminably long Christmas Eve dinner, it was finally time to open the presents. Positioning myself as far away from Grandpa Albert as I could in order to keep from getting clocked with an emptied box, I gleefully tore into my presents as only a four year old could. By far and away, the neatest gift I got was a junior printing-press kit. It was little more than individual stamps with letters and numbers you could arrange on a small rack, press on an ink pad, and then stamp the resulting arrangements onto a piece of paper; but I thought it was great.

I stole away with my prize to the linoleum-floored kitchen. I had always seen these magic shapes that older people call letters and numbers on the T.V., signs, and magazines, and now I had them at my command. Quickly I poured the contents of my present onto the floor, first pressing individual letters and numbers onto scrap paper, and then combining them onto the base rack. I had reached that "jumping off" point when a child's mind ends its subjection to reality and journeys into the unknown and fascinating realm of fantasy.

I stamped out such classic words as "pCxe" and "Rz4is" and the like. I was definitely entering into my glory. I cleared the rack and anxiously perused the stamps in my never-ending quest of mastering the mystery of the printed word when I heard it:


I had let my guard down and he was right behind me! I sprang to my feet, ready to dodge the missiles of magazines that I was sure were already heading in my directions. When I looked back over my shoulder, however, all I saw was a non-alarming Grandpa Albert with a strange look on his face and his hands on his hips.

"You're grandmother was right," he rasped disgustedly, "I should have never bought you that press - Hell, you're only four years old. You can't even read, yet."

Up until that moment, I thought everything I received came from Santa Claus. Still, he seemed disgruntled about something I really enjoyed.

"No, grandpa," I protested, " I really like it."

But by then, he had already turned and started shuffling down the hall on his gimpy leg, the "click-CLINK" fading into the Christmas Eve celebration in the living room. It was the most non-threatening interaction with Grandpa Albert that I could ever remember.


A lifetime later I was visiting with my parents at the assisted-living nursing home into which they had moved. Age had forced them out of their two story home of 50 years. They had long passed that sad time in life where one stops dreaming of the future and only reminisces about the past. Sitting next to mom, I listened to her recall memories about her father: how tall he was, his calm and commanding demeanor, how his face used to break out when he shaved with his old straight-edged razor....Her recollections tailed off to a lengthy silence.

Filling the void, I asked her a question which for some reason I had never asked before.

"What did he do for a living?" I queried.

"Oh," she responded matter-of-factly, "He worked in a print shop."

Like lightning, my mind flashed back to Grandpa Albert's kitchen floor on that long ago Christmas Eve. My mouth dropped open as I audibly gasped.

"What's the matter?" my mother asked, becoming visibly concerned at my reaction.

I was speechless. My perception of my Grandpa Albert's behavior throughout my entire life had just been completely demolished. How could that mean, uncouth, scary, grumpy, old asshole who had terrorized all my formative years of childhood have had enough humanity in him to give his step-grandson a gift from his real grandfather? How could he have so easily discarded that pride of manhood that had been fortified by being that other, secondary man in my grandmother's life?

I stammered out all of this to my mother: my surprise, my feelings, my amazement at the turn of events of my guilt. Here was a man I should have been venerating all my life rather than deriding.

A strange look came over my mother's face as a tear crept into her eye. She turned towards me and put her hand upon my knee.

"Don't place him on too high of a pedestal, Tommy," she comforted, "Sometimes he could be a real shit-heel."

© Copyright 2018 Thomas A. Roll. All rights reserved.

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