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Honey & Grandpa
December, last year, I stood anxiously by the door just waiting for them. My dad went to go pick them up at the airport and I couldn’t wait for them to get home. I sat on my kitchen counter, listening for the door. Finally, it clicked and I heard it shove open.
“Hellooo!” My grandpa’s gravelly voice echoed through the house in harmony with my grandma’s kind soft one. My grandparent’s names are Shirley and John V.; we call them Honey & Grandpa. Both Italian; Grandpa is sturdy and scruffy. His skin is leather-like and extremely tan. What’s left of his hair is a mix of gray and white; he doesn’t bother combing it, ever, so it just sticks out in all directions. Honey has the same skin—leathery and the darkest tan you’ll ever see. Her hair is gray and thinning and she has huge dark brown eyes. Her figure is fragile and small which betrays nothing about her fiery personality. She’s the strongest most stubborn person I’ve ever met in my entire life. They walked through the door and we all anxiously hovered while they set their luggage down, waiting to give them hugs and hello’s. My grandparents were staying for Christmas this year; and holidays with my grandparents are always the best.
When we lived in North Carolina we’d always visit them on Topsail Island. The Fourth of July was always my favorite. Grandpa would come pick all the kids up in his cheap purple mini van. We all hopped in and he’d drive us to the beach singing us random songs the whole way or telling jokes and stories that I never understood. The beach is a part of my heaven on earth. Topsail Island, North Carolina holds a kind of peace in my mind. The bath-like ocean waves are perfect. I’d play in them all day—finding sand bars way out from shore, body surfing and just bobbing up and down; over and under the waves. We’d hunt for shark teeth and beach glass on the shore and at night we’d hunt ghost crabs. Grandpa would tell us stories about Blackbeard and how he hid treasure somewhere on Topsail Island, we’d search for it all day— sometimes finding someone’s old beer bottle or a flip flop. It was always treasure to us whatever we found. We’d go crabbing on their boat and dolphins would swim up to it; curious about the foreign metal object in their home. Sometimes we’d fish off the dock, hoping to catch the tiny little fish that darted in and out from underneath it. I don’t think I ever caught one but I never gave up all the same.
On the Fourth of July we’d let Honey dress us up in ridiculous red white and blue costumes—complete with ribbons and stars everywhere. Grandpa would load us all into a shiny red wagon and march us through the parade they had every year downtown. They proudly took pictures of us and tried to get us to sing patriotic songs; they were so blissfully unaware they’d shoved us into itchy hot ridiculous looking costumes and then packed us into a red wagon meant for only one child. Upon getting back to the house we’d play games on the beach—like water balloon tosses and three-legged races. My grandparent’s favorite is the watermelon challenge. Grandpa would oil up a huge watermelon and chuck it into the ocean. First person to make it to my grandpa standing on the beach is the winner and there are no rules concerning tackling, or any such situation. The winner always wins a can of spam; my grandpa’s favorite food. No one ever really wants to win in the end.
Whatever we did Grandpa was passionate about it. He is his own person; always has been always will be. When he was raising my dad and aunts and uncles he started his own business; something to do with medicine—he made medical supplies. It was a major success and they all of the sudden were just rolling in money. I didn’t know this until a few years ago actually; I didn’t know they had loads of money until they moved to Phoenix. My grandpa is possibly the cheapest person in the world. He buys everything from Wal-Mart. Cameras, cars, TVs, food, clothes, everything. Everything he buys cheap except for wine.
When I was eight my grandparents moved to Phoenix, AZ. Ever since they’ve lived there we’ve gone down for a family reunion over Thanksgiving almost every year. Their house sits on a golf course in a star-studded neighborhood. Their modest single-story house is dwarfed by my grandpa’s golfing buddy Alice C.— whose house sits right across the golf course. The quiet perfect neighborhood is always awakened when my family comes—all of my dad’s brothers and sisters are the loudest group of people I’ve ever met in my life. That’s really all I remember of my first Thanksgiving there; loud laughing, and loud talking. I fell asleep to it every night— it was comforting to hear those voices for some reason; it gave me security. I couldn’t decipher words I just heard laughter and talking, but it lulled me to sleep. Before thanksgiving Honey and Grandpa show us around Phoenix every year. Grandpa takes us up Squaw peak and we collect rocks along the way. My grandpa’s really into rocks now; he took classes at ASU on geology a few years ago; I’m pretty sure he was the oldest guy ever to go to school there. He points out every single rock and stone and tells us what it’s made out of and where it comes from; I love just seeing him so enthralled in a rock—one of the simplest things out there. He’s so happy just doing what he does. He has loads of knowledge that just pours from him in random situations. After marrying Honey he enrolled in Harvard. He majored in history but ended up just going his own way as always, and started his own medical business. He retains knowledge and facts in a way that I wish I could. He read the dictionary one time for fun and then moved on to the encyclopedia. It’s ridiculous all the stuff he knows. Every morning he does the crossword puzzle in the paper and every morning he completes it without any problem.
After squaw peak we are taken to go panning for gold; another favorite past time of my Grandparents. Honey & Grandpa always go panning for gold— Honey packs a lunch, grandpa grabs the pans and they go off-roading to some undisclosed location, and pan for gold. They never find more than a few flakes; just like us, but Honey loves it because Grandpa loves it and they never get tired of it. When we go back to the house my grandpa always gives us his Wal-Mart special Pilgrim and Indian hats—the pilgrims are Amish looking top-hats and the Indians get plastic headdresses with beads and feathers dangling off of them. Then we eat. It depends on the year but lately my grandpa’s been really into deep-frying the turkey. He tried it as an experiment one year and it just never gets old to him. Honey makes the rest of the food, and it’s delicious. Honey is a cook; it’s just something that she’s good at. Every time we visit I look forward to the food because it’s always amazing. I personally am not a fan of thanksgiving food; I’ve never really liked Turkey or potatoes or anything really that is served on thanksgiving. But every year I’ve spent in Arizona for Thanksgiving I’ve eaten almost everything off my plate. As the night goes on the adult side of the table gets louder and louder as they consume more and more of grandpa’s fine wine and the kids side (our side) gets more and more restless. When we get excused we always run outside to play on the golf course. It’s usually dark out by then and the golf course is closed for the night; so it’s all ours. Grandpa followed us out one time; golf clubs in hand. He bent and cradled a T in his hand, motioning me over at the same time. He taught me how to swing the club, how to hit the ball, and gave me a few practice shots. I was doing well I guess because he decided to test my skills. He pointed to their pool and told me to hit the golf ball over the fence and into their pool. I tried once; missed. Tried a second time and broke their window. Grandpa hasn’t asked me to golf with him since.
One year, our Thanksgiving trip was canceled. Earlier that year Grandpa, being so cheap, decided to hire some guy from off the street to fix the hole in his roof of the beach house in Topsail. He paid him in full and then took off for Phoenix trusting this man, who spoke broken English and probably never repaired a roof before to fix his roof with no supervision and money already in his pocket. He most definitely kind of tried to fix the roof, made it worse, gave up and left with my Grandpa’s money. Then a hurricane hit Topsail and the hole in the roof turned into half a roof and their entire house was gutted. The neighbors called my grandparents and Honey & Grandpa took off to topsail for Thanksgiving that year. Grandpa, not wanting to spend money again, just camped out in his broken, torn up house. He slowly built it back to new; refusing to stay in a hotel for the entire time. We’d get periodic emails from him telling us about his progress and adventures of re-building the house. Honey just stayed with some neighbors and brought Grandpa food. It was a project for him and I think that’s why he decided he needed to camp out in this place even though he didn’t have to. He wanted to rebuild it himself and it gave him an adventure; something to do.
So my grandparents were here for Christmas last year. The last time I spent Christmas with them was when I was about six years old and they still had their house in Boston, Massachusetts. It was an old house and had a passé look to it; both of these traits fit my grandparents accurately, they are both old and old-fashioned. It was elegant in a primordial way. I remember that Christmas was beautiful. The light played off the white snow blanketing the ground outside, the massive tree was lit up and there was a fire crackling in the fireplace where my stocking was hung up. The ground was littered with presents in an organized mess. It was perfect, so cliché, and yet so wonderful. My six year old mind was completely overwhelmed. I opened my gifts, played with them all day, and then went home the next. My grandparents sold the house in August 1997. I’m not sure if it was the house, my age, my grandparent’s or maybe a combination, but that Christmas was marginally better than any other I’ve ever had. Now my grandparents were at my house for Christmas. It wasn’t the same as the Boston house but I was still pumped to be spending another holiday with them.
During the week they were here my grandpa dug out some home videos—ones with Grandpa leading all of us around the house in a parade, banging pots and pans together in absolutely no rhythm, pattern, or beat whatsoever. Another was of just my Grandpa explaining the foot fungus he had and still has. His philosophy is that if it is not harming him then why fix it? He doesn’t care if his toes look gross so why pay money to remove the fungus. His toes are so gross. There was one of Honey cussing a telemarketer out, asking him why he was calling if she didn’t ask him to. One of my favorites was of my grandpa explaining Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving to us. Grandpa always thought it was funny to tell us, when we were little, that the Easter bunny came on Christmas and hid turkeys around the house and on Easter Santa came and put Easter eggs under the tree. It’s something he’d always tell us and it’s a really distinct memory of mine. When my grandpa told me about these crazy mixed up holidays when I was really little, I most definitely believed him. I had my holidays so mixed up as a child because of him and it always took my parents a while to get me sorted back out after he’d visit. I finally figured out he was just trying to be funny and he wasn’t actually serious.
No matter what they do, they are characters and never fail to entertain. Christmas was fantastic and there was never a dull moment. Even when Grandpa was sleeping—we’d see who could sneak into the room and successfully wedge a penny in his belly-button. If caught you received a knuckle sandwich and were sentenced to one day of servitude to him. It was a fair trade off for the entertainment it provided us with. I never got caught. Before they left, Grandpa measured our height against the wall—as always. He recorded it on his sheet he keeps in his wallet; he has heights on there from when we were seven or eight years old. It’s his record of our age, his record of time. We say our goodbyes and they head off to the airport. I haven’t seen them since then. They’ve slowed down a little; Honey got breast cancer and is still recovering. Even though they’ve been unable to travel and visit or have guests, they’re still the same crazy grandparent’s I’ve always had and that’s how they’re going to stay in my memories. This story is for them.