"My Maternal Grandpa, Harry Austin"
Harry Austin, I suspect, had already hidden himself from his private reality by the time he left my grandmother Jean, mother and Aunt Iris on their own. It was at a time, I am told, when things like this just did not happen very often, and if they did, they were hushed up. "Such a shanda!" Grandpa Harry, young man that he was, I am sure, gave no thought to how this might come back to haunt him in the future. As a matter of fact, he didn't and it did.
A slightesh man who wore a green iridescent suit with brown wingtips for far too long, double vents in the back, my mom's dad smoked cheap cigars and suffered from a Parkinsonian tremor in his later years.
"Hand me the sugar cubes there boy." My grandpa loved tea, and I enjoyed watching him. Such a tough guy. Though he did know my name, he called me "boy."
"Grandpa, what are you doing?" I asked, as he placed a sugar cube between his lower lip and gum.
"Having my tea, " he answered as though he had a few marbles in his mouth.
Now Grandpa Harry was hard enough to understand much of the time. Add some marbles or a sugar cube and you can well imagine.
His trembling right hand desperately seized his tea cup. It shook so much it was as though it were afraid of him.
His hands were as hewn as the bricks he had once laid, his manner gruff, coarse, an unschooled man about whom my grandmother Jean-- whom I've told you he had left years before-- never stopped wondering if ever he inquired about her. In truth, on all my excursions out with Grandpa Harry, I don't recall any inquiries he ever made with me about his one-time wife as though he had put her out of his mind long before.
"Oh, hi Grandma! I didn't realize you were here," I remarked, caught by surprise as it were because I had just seen Grandpa Harry who was staying by Aunt Iris.
"Alan Dear," Grandma called me over by her on the couch. "Does your grandfather ever ask about me when you are together?"
"Oh sure Grandma." Her eyes brightened. "He knows you're here," I said, rather deftly skirting the question put to me, but you know something, it made her happy. After all, she was my grandma, and even though she wore too much makeup, I had to protect her.
Now there were instances when Grandpa simply crossed the line.
“Grandpa, don’t ask her? I pled, whispering loudly from behind my menu. We were out for pizza with my older brother Ron and cousins Craig and Neal, Uncle Marvin and Aunt Iris's boys.
“Why not? he retorted gruffly. "It’s dark in here. I can’t see the menu," he complained, with some merit. The place was dark. Each table had but one rather puny candle. "Ambience" I think they call it. Oh, Grandpa Harry Austin was as irrepressible as that pizza place was dingy. We sat giggling.
“Missy, do you have a flashlight?"
"What, Sir? she asked unsuspectingly.
"A flashlight," he repeated.
"Why Sir, may I know why you need a flashlight?"
We groaned. He said it. He really did.
Grandpa Harry was a man I dearly loved in part because I felt bad for him. He had made it very hard on my Grandma, aunt and mom in their earlier years, but he was always good to me as well as to his other grandsons. I know he knew I loved him. Upon his passing, each of us received a tidy sum of money, but I alone was the grandson to whom he had bequeathed his diamond ring.
Alan D. Busch