Now that I am a grandpa myself, I often think of my own grandfather.
As a young child, I saw him as a very old man -- even though he was only in his early 50s. Goodness, I'm older than that! To me, my grandpa was very classy; he always wore a shirt and tie, a vested suit and a straw hat. Today, my wardrobe generally consists of sneakers, a baseball cap, jeans and sweatshirts. Grandpa would be shocked.
As a child, I thought my playmates' mothers were dowdy-looking old-timers. None of them could have been more than 40. Their clothes were drab, their hair was tied back in a bun, and, except for special occasions, they always wore Hoover aprons. Now, when I see a 40- or 50-[year-old] (or older) woman, I see a smartly dressed, vivacious teenager. To me, that's wonderful, but grandfather would not approve.
When he arrived from the "old country," he opened a small, neighborhood grocery store in Brooklyn. When I was not at school or playing with my friends, he let me work there. Actually, I never got paid, so I guess I just hung out there. To me, it was a wonderland filled with fascinating treasures. It seemed like there were thousands of different products in containers with beautiful pictures and unusual names. One that fascinated me most was Uneeda Biscuits. How clever; when you need a biscuit, try theirs.
Stacking canned goodies on the shelves, meticulously lining up the boxes of Cream of Wheat, Old Dutch cleanser, Gold Medal flour and bars of Oxydol soap was more of a game than a chore. Recalling the names of some of those old products reminds me of an even older joke: What did the red soap say to the green soap? "May I have your palm, Olive? Not on your life, boy."
Grandpa didn't think it was funny, either.
Working for him was fun, and, best of all, I had all the Mallomars, Twinkies and Mission Orange soda I could consume. To me, my grandfather was a very talented man, an artisan of the first order. He could cut a quarter-pound slab of butter from a huge wooden tub, and the scale always proved him right.
Customers never ordered pound cake by the pound; by the inch would be more accurate. By spreading their fingers, they would show how much they wanted. Grandpa would respond, "That's about three-quarters of a pound," and he rarely was wrong.
Why people always ordered three rolls at a time was puzzling. Why not five, or half a dozen? Guess it had to be that way, same as potatoes, onions and pickles had to be in barrels, and eggs had to be "candled."
Each and every egg that was sold had to undergo that test of purity. No longer are shoppers concerned with what's inside the egg (we assume modern technology protects us); we just check to make sure the box doesn't contain any that are cracked. Boxed eggs? No way. You got them in a brown paper bag, the same bag used to tally up your order. For some reason, the pencil was never more than two inches long, and Grandpa, like fellow grocers everywhere, always licked the point before writing.
Rarely did anyone pay for their groceries. Money was so tight, they merely charged it, and far too often, Grandpa was left holding the bag.
As I got older, so did Grandpa, and he sold the store and moved in with us. No longer would he wear his white apron and have that tiny pencil resting above his ear. He would now become the fashion plate I mentioned earlier. To complete his new wardrobe, he purchased a fancy walking stick and proudly strutted all over town. Everyone seemed to know him. I'm sure his former profession made him a minor local celebrity. Where he went or what he did, I never knew. But I do know that he tried to earn his keep by helping my mother around the house.
Because of the loss of my dad at an early age, my mother had to take a full-time job. As much as she appreciated Grandpa's good intentions, she was too respectful to criticize him for his mistakes.
Donning my mom's favorite Hoover apron, he busied himself with carpet sweeping and rearranging the canned food and soap products in our pantry (my old job, on a much smaller scale). Mom ran her household one way, and her father had other ideas.
One day, when my mother was working late, he prepared dinner for me. It started with his own recipe for potato soup. My first tablespoonful was so sweet I could not swallow it. No problem for Grandpa, the chef; he just stirred in a tablespoonful of coarse salt. When I tasted that, I gagged. Now, it was too salty. Before he could stir in some more sugar, I politely told him I wasn't that hungry. "That's the trouble with you American kids, you don't know what's good," he responded. "In the old country, sweet and sour soup is a delicacy."
My grandfather was also a magician. He was constantly making things disappear. Whenever something was missing, my mother knew it was her father who was the culprit. He meant well, but somehow his methods of storing things were a mystery to all of us. Of all his "tricks," the one I liked best involved my missing report card. I wasn't too eager to have it found because the marks were pretty bad. After lengthy questioning, Grandpa admitted he thought it was a piece of garbage (which I guess it was), so he tore it up and burned it in the stove. Thanks, Gramps, for that and so many other great memories.
Now that I'm a grandpa, I wonder what my grandchildren will remember about me.