My paternal grandfather was as cantankerous and ornery as they come; however he was fiercely loyal to his family and friends. He built the house my Dad was born and grew up in, always had grease under his nails from his job calibrating heavy machinery, and drove a 1966 Chevelle that most of my high school friends would have given their eye-teeth for. He was still driving it up until his death in 1999.
Grandpa took guff from no one and if someone were to start an argument with him, they more than likely would not win. He was a tough nut to crack and very few crossed him. Up into my thirties he was still handing me a dollar bill and with a wink of an eye would tell me not to spend it all in one place. You were either a Dumb-Ass or a Smart-Ass in Grandpa's book. Both words were interchangeably and were a regular part of Grandpa's vocabulary.
Grandpa came for a visit one year in the 1980s. I was about 16 or 17. Being the 80s and all, I had just spent a half hour in the bathroom with a can of Aqua Net hair spray to perfect that defied gravity look that most teenage girls my age were doing at the time. Grandpa took one look at me and exclaimed, "Jennifer, what the hell did you do to your hair?! Did you comb it with a pitchfork?" I, being ever so smug, responded,"Sorry Grandpa, I'm just a product of the music I listen to..." He shook his head, walked away and under his breath I heard him say, "Smart-Ass..."
On another occasion my family went up to Burlington, VT for a getaway weekend. We were out with Grandpa driving 30 mph in his old Chevelle down a 55 mph road when we stopped at a general store to pick a few things up. Apparently I was taking too long. Grandpa was leaning on the horn and shouting for me to come out. After turning about six shades of red, and paying for my Coke, I quickly got to the car. Grandpa beeped the horn one last time for good measure as I placed my hand on the door handle. "Get in the car, Dumb-Ass," he shouted. I wanted to hide under a rock, I was so humiliated.
Right before the turn of the new millennium, my sister called me to let me know that Grandpa had passed. I was sad but in all honesty he and I were not that close (as if you couldn't tell already). On the following afternoon before we ventured to Connecticut for the funeral, I was walking through my apartment when I could literally smell my grandfather. I could smell the grease that always coated his hands and also the smells of his home that consisted of cooking smells and cleaning products. If I had shut my eyes I could have sworn he was right there. I started to cry and I said out loud, "I'm sorry Grandpa that I didn't visit you more. I'm so sorry..." The smell faded after awhile.
The night before the funeral I learned that as rough as my Grandfather was, he had been supplying an underprivileged family with money for years anonymously. He helped many people when they were down on their luck and never brought it up or bragged about it. He was tough on his kids and grand kids as his own parents were to him. It was an extreme form of tough love.
On the morning of the funeral while waiting my turn for the shower, I decided to go down to the basement and poke around Grandpa's old workbench. He had quotes he had gathered over the years written in his own handwriting with a lead pencil all over the workbench. I started reading them and suddenly felt nostalgic. There was even a message from my Aunt, his youngest child, and it was dated 1960. As I continued to read and reflect on the hidden parts of his life that I had just found out about, a block of wood dislodged itself from the workbench and landed on my foot. Man, did that hurt. I reached down to rub my foot when I happened to notice the following quote that had been obscured by said block of wood: "Your looks may be fading but you will always be a Dumb-Ass. Nobody likes a Dumb-Ass..."
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Even in death Grandpa indeed had gotten in the last word.