My sister and I were swinging on a creaky wooden swing set. It was mid-afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We were outside with Grandpa. He stood to the side as we were swinging. Tonight, like every Friday, we would have supper with the whole family. Everyone would be just getting off of work and coming to eat. My sister and I were swinging barefoot on the warm June day. Our feet were almost touching the tall pine tree in front of us. It was always a game to see how much we’ve grown. The closer we got to the pine tree, the taller we were. We came up with ways to reach out further. Grandpa understood the game because he was willing to help us win. He grabbed the tree branch and brought it to our feet and tickled them. We giggled and he smiled, as Grandpas do when they’re having a good time with their grandchildren.
He was a tall man. Thin and darkened by all of the time spent outside in the sun. He was a farmer who couldn’t live a day without doing something productive. He had a comb over that we would laugh about at the dinner table, as families do when they love someone. He had big glasses with a thin frame and always wore a long sleeve button up plaid shirt. To go with that shirt, he’d wear his work boots, jeans, and a baseball cap. The most important thing about him was that he was my Grandpa and that painted him in a different light. He wasn’t just a farmer, he was a wise old king whose life was fascinating and mysterious and his jokes were hilarious. He loved me because I was his granddaughter.
We were on the swing outside with Grandpa until we were called in, reluctantly. It was much more fun being outside with Grandpa. But the family was here and the food was ready. We sat down around the long wooden table surrounded by eight sturdy wooden chairs and a dozen folding chairs. Those who couldn’t find a chair after that would sit on laps or share chairs. We were a close family, so the house was always full at dinner. We ate in a serve yourself type of matter because we always filled up the table too much to fit the food on it. All of the finished food sat on the island in the kitchen. Along with the food sat stacks of plates and silverware. We’d get into a line and dish ourselves up some food. Grandpa would usually try to sneak into the front of the line, and he usually succeeded. Then everyone would return to the table. Grandpa always sat at the head of the table and Grandma sat at his right.
The whole time we laughed and talked. It was a great time to see what everyone was up to over the past week. Some stories were serious and others were hilarious. Every time Grandpa laughed there was a sparkle in his blue eyes. It went along well with his deep chuckle. He loved us as much as we loved him and he found all of our stories exciting.
Of course Grandpa’s comb over was brought up. We wondered aloud how long his hair was on the one side of his head. Grandpa smiled along but denied everything. At dinner anything could be brought up. It was a time I would learn things about my aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
“Grandpa used to be a boxer. He received awards for his boxing, too.” My Uncle threw out there. It seemed to be a known fact in the family. It was new to me and my Grandfather started laughing, fondly recalling all the time he spent boxing as a young man.
“Whenever the boys would get angry at eachother, I’d give them my boxing gloves and let them fight.” My Grandpa said laughing. He wasn’t one to talk about himself too much, so it was no surprise the story went away from him and to his family.
“Howard.” My Grandma said shaking her head. She didn’t seem to find my uncles fighting as amusing as we all did. But Grandpa didn’t seem to notice.
“They never hurt each other. They’d fight on the stair case and in the basement.” He said as if a boxing match on the staircase was safer in some way.
“It worried me when they did that.” Grandma said. Everyone laughed. My grandfather was an interesting guy.
Afterwards the uncles, older cousins, and Grandpa went into the living room. They sat down and talked and the rest stayed at the dinner table and talked. As kids we would shift and get antsy. Afterall, Grandpa was in the living room. Eventually, the young grandchildren went giggling into the living room to talk to him.
“Do you mutts want to see a magic trick?” He asked us with a smile on his face. It was his way of being affectionate. Calling us mutts was him telling us that he loved us and we were called mutts daily.
“Yeah!” We all replied. He then pushed his bottom row of teeth forward.
“Ewwww.” We all squealed running away and covering our faces. We didn’t understand that he wore dentures. We just thought he had an amazing ability to move his teeth forward. Everyone else in the room would laugh and shake their heads. We’d later come laughing and ready for Grandpa to do something else.
When everyone was done sitting, it was time to go outside and play horseshoes. It was something we did when it was warm outside and tonight was perfect. We went out just as the sun was starting to set. Giving the sky a light orange glow. Or maybe it was the family that was glowing. We were together and happy. The crickets were chirping and the cars whooshed past. (The highway is only a few meters away.) We went to the pits behind the house and the scoreboard was set to zero. Everyone who wanted to play was broken into teams. The rest stood to the side and watched. I sat on a splintery wood bench and watched. From that bench, I would get a cloud of dust every time a horseshoe was thrown into the pit just right. I could taste the dust on my tongue. But I didn’t mind it too much. I liked hearing the clang as the horseshoe hit the metal post in the ground. And it often did because Grandpa was a very good player. He had more experience than anybody, and he was the person to be on a team with.
As people played they talked. My favorite was about the old tree on the lot. And I think it was Grandpa’s too.
“You know, that old tree by the road has treasure buried under it.” My cousin told me with a smile on his face.
“Really?” I asked skeptically. I was wondering how treasure could possibly exist under that old tree.
“That’s what Grandpa always says.”
“How does he know?”
“I don’t know. Grandpa, how do you know?” my cousin asked him.
“The person I bought the land from told me. The bootleggers hid their treasure under that tree so they’d remember where they put it.” Grandpa said. Everyone was looking at the old tree that sat in the tall grass.
“How come you’ve never tried to dig it up?” Someone asked.
“I’d have to cut the tree down.” Grandpa replied simply. The game carried on and everyone talked about what they would do with their share of the bootleggers’ treasure when they dug it up. Some people talked about buying a nicer house or a car. We never have touched that tree. So the legend lives on.
The lightning bugs were just starting to fly around. Grandpa’s house was the only house I ever seen lighting bugs, so as a kid I assumed that his house was just that magical. The lightning bugs were drawn to the man and his stories. People were getting tired and the young cousins were getting fussy. We stayed a little longer than the rest of the kids but it was obvious that my sister and I were tired. It was time to leave. I hugged Grandma and then I hugged Grandpa. I breathed in his smell. He smelled like dirt almost all the time and his cologne that was exactly what an old man would wear. It smelled faintly like spices; cinnamon, sweet pepper, and cummin. A smell that brings memories to the surface if I catch it in the air. Grandpa squeezed me tight and finally let go.
“Bye Grandpa.” I told him but I really meant to tell him that I loved him.
“Goodbye Kate.” My Grandfather replied with wink. I loved it when he called me Kate because he was the only one who did that. My mom told me the story about that nickname. When I was born and Grandpa came to visit me he asked my mother what my name was. She told him that my name was Katelynn but Grandpa didn’t think the name suited me. He told her “Her name is Kate now, and I’m not calling her anything else.” And he never did call me anything else. I was Kate and he was the only one who ever got to call me that.
As I finished hugging Grandma, Grandpa was talking to my mom.
“Are you three going to swing over again during the week?” He asked my mom.
“Yes, we will probably come over on Wednesday.”
“Alright, we will see you boys on Wednesday.” He told my sister and I. We smiled but we didn’t correct him because we were his boys. In my grandpa’s mind we were all boys. I didn’t really matter who you were.
We got into the car and left to go home. As we pulled out of the driveway, I kept my eye on the bootleggers’ tree. My grandfather always had the best stories. I couldn’t wait until we’d see him next Friday with the rest of the family. We’d always have Friday. Or at least for a few more months. In three months Grandpa would be diagnosed with cancer. In six months he’d pass away. Grandma would never celebrate Christmas after that. The time of year would be a tough one every year. But we’d still have Friday dinners. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same as that Friday because he wouldn’t be there. We’d always lack that extra spark in conversations and things would get quiet at random times. But we could always remember the fridays with him because those were the best fridays.