Grampa always says, “It’s not a lie if you say it with a twinkle in your eye.” Gramma is crazy honest. One time she got upset because she had to tell a little white lie to keep Uncle Louie’s surprise birthday party a secret. Going a trip with them is always a blast.
I forget when I finally caught on to Grampa, but I remember the exact day Sarah did. It was a couple of years ago. I was thirteen, Sarah was ten, and Tommie was six.
As we rolled down the highway, Sarah called out to Gramma and Grandpa, “Hey look at the cool billboard.” It was one of the digital ones.
Grandpa glanced at it and then at us in the rearview mirror. “When I was a kid, we didn’t have billboards. If we wanted to sell something, we painted the side of somebody’s barn.”
“Really?” Sarah and Tommie asked at the same time.
“Really. And it wasn’t for something silly like cell phones or fast food. It was for something people really needed. Like chewing tobacco.”
“Warren! You may be a grampa, but you’re not that old. You went to Woodstock for crying out loud!” Turning around to face us, Granma said, “That might have been true in Grampa’s grampa’s day.”
“Nonsense,” Grampa retorted.
“Warren, these children are going to believe you if you don’t stop.”
“And well they should.”
Gramma made her “hurmphing” sound and we all fell silent for a while. After a minute or two, Sarah whispered to me, “Is that really true?” I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t going to give Grampa away. I could tell Sarah was thinking about it for a while.
But, before too long, she called out again. “Hey look at that billboard!”
“Oh, now Sarah, that is a very important billboard.”
“That’s right!” shouted Tommie, “It’s Chic-fil-A!”
“Well, that’s what they want you to think,” said Grampa. “But really, it’s not.”
“It’s not?” Tommie and Sarah asked.
“No. That billboard was really put up by some people doing an incredible public service at great risk to their own lives. Those people are breaking through the government lies. The government keeps telling the American people that we have nothing to fear from mad cow disease. But just look at those cows! Look—that one is on the other one’s back, and they’re painting letters. I can tell you that cows don’t start painting until the madness is pretty far along.”
“Well, it’s true. I remember one time when I was a kid, we had an outbreak of mad cow disease. We didn’t even know about it until one day we woke up to discover that every barn in the county had been painted up as advertisements for Quaker Oats. But that was nothing compared to these billboard-climbing cows!”
“What is it, Sarah?”
“You know.” She couldn’t bring herself to say it, but Gramma and Grampa and I all knew—that one was too big a “twinkler” for a ten-year-old.
“Good for you.” Gramma was talking to Sarah, but she was looking at Grampa.
“Those cows weren’t even real! Don’t you think we’ve ever been to Chc-fil-A?”
“Oh, I think they were. You’d better ask Tommie if he got a good look at them.” Grampa was talking to Sarah, but he was looking at Gramma.
“Maybe not too good, Grampa. I didn’t think they were real either, but I'n not sure.”
I couldn’t believe it. Tommie had been to Chick-fil-A about a million times, and he was six, but still he was acting like he might actually fall for it.
“I better turn around so we can go back and take a look.”
“But what if you were right, Grampa?”
“Why then, you and I will climb right up there and make those cows come down.”
“But aren’t mad cows dangerous, Grampa?”
“Oh, you’re right, Tommie! Thank goodness you’re here. Let’s get away from here as quick as we can!” Grampa stepped on the gas; Sarah and I looked at each other, grinning; and Gramma hollered, “Warren!”
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