“I love you to pieces, Perry.”
“I’m Joseph, grandpa.”
We all laughed about grandpa and his hearing. We always joked that he couldn’t hear thunder. Of course, he never heard the joke either. We pooled our money once and bought him a hearing aid; he said he didn’t need it. He always said, “If it’s important – speak up!” But when he said it, it was more like shouting.
He couldn’t hear himself either.
When he died, we were all there. Five sons, three daughters, fourteen grandsons and seven granddaughters, six great-grandkids – we all turned out in what was referred to as our “Sunday best.” Nothing less for grandpa.
I borrowed one of dad’s neckties; I couldn’t tie it, but dad stepped in. With tears in his eyes, he reminded me that grandpa taught him how to do it when he was my age.
I’m Joseph, the number twelve grandson, 15 years old and full of ‘piss and vinegar,’ as he would say. I idolized grandpa. From the first day that he did that rocking horse thing and bucked me off onto the floor, I never wanted to leave his side. I was a baby when that happened, my mom would tell me, about ten months old and hanging on for dear life. I never got enough of him.
He made me laugh as a baby, took me to the hospital when I got a fishhook caught in my finger, showed me how to hook up the ice house and drive it onto the ice so we could auger the hole and - in quiet times, gave me life lessons on becoming a man – just the two of us.
It was funny; we all had memories like that. How in the world did he have enough time to make each of us feel special? Both girls and boys? But he did. As we shared stories, we laughed. Standing at the back of the church before the service, he still made us laugh. Fourteen of us ‘boys’ and I was one of the youngest. Looking around, we all looked the same, black slacks, white shirts and black ties. I noticed Jason, the oldest, looking at everyone’s shoes. If they were scuffed, he took the offender aside, pulled a shoe cloth from his vest pocket and shined it up. Grandpa always said, “There’s no excuse for scuffed, un-shined shoes.” Well, again, he shouted it. For as long as I could remember, he shouted.
The seven girls were up at the front of the church, near the casket. They were seated, all in dresses, talking quietly. Just like grandpa would have expected them to be. “Always behave like a lady, and everyone will know you are a lady,” he would say.
The great-grandkids were all back in another corner, with the oldest one, at eight years old, checking out the shoes of the younger ones. I had to laugh. None of us escaped grandpa’s lessons. They were standing by the restrooms, sometimes they didn’t have much warning before they rushed in to go. At least there were none in diapers right now, I thought to myself. The youngest is three years old and already going to the bathroom all by himself. That is, until he appeared in the hallway with his pants down to his ankles. The eight year old grabbed him and hiked his pants up, tucking in his shirt at the same time. It made me sad to know he would never know grandpa like I did.
I nodded to the group and headed up to the casket. Tears welled up as I saw him there. I couldn’t take it, so I quickly returned to the group at the back. I missed him already.
The organ started playing softly and we knew it was about time to take a seat. The little ones were all corralled and taken up en masse to a section on the right. Three of the fourteen ‘boys’ had gone with them as their wives motioned for them to go sit with their broods. Eleven of us still stood at the back, we heard a voice, but we ignored it.
Again, a voice called out in a hushed tone for us to get a seat. We didn’t move.
Then, the impatient tone of the new patriarch of the family: “Boys, get in here and take a seat!”
The organ stopped for a moment.
In unison, we responded, “Huh?”
We knew it would make grandpa laugh.
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