Grandpa is sitting at the table every time we come to visit, in the corner of the kitchen by the window. That’s his seat and no one else sits there. He’s never said we couldn’t, but we never try. Sitting there seems like cheating. So we don’t and that’s the right way to do things. While he sits, he smokes. We think this is a good thing for a grandpa to do, though they don’t have to.
We hug Grandpa as soon as we can. He doesn’t seem to like the hug, but he likes what it means. He smiles his big white teeth at us when it’s over. He has nicknames for us that no one else uses. I’m Fitz. My little brother is Hap. He doesn’t use them much either, but then out of nowhere he’ll say “Whatcha think, Fitz?” I like being Fitz.
Grandpa says he’s full of dry red leaves, and that he isn’t missing any pieces even though he was in the war, except for his teeth, which he lost later. We asked if it was from not brushing. He said no. We’ll keep not brushing unless we have to. He takes out his teeth all the time, and we can’t really tell a difference unless he smiles. He doesn’t talk any different. This means he is magic, or partly magic, even though we know there’s no such thing.
Our grandpa is a skinny-legged grandpa. We had another grandpa who was Big Grandpa, because he was a big grandpa like lots of kids have, but we don’t remember him very well, because I was little and Hap was not even a baby most of the time that that Grandpa was alive. This Grandpa has a normal grandpa-sized chest but legs like sticks, so he’s always pulling up his pants a little, and his hair is all completely white. I think he looks a little like Thomas Edison but my mom doesn’t think so. I say not exactly but some.
Grandpa’s skin is brown and leathery. His arms are covered in black scabs. Every time we visit we look for a pattern, but there isn’t one, just changes. He gets the scabs when he’s outside, in the garden or in the garage. Lots of things bite him: bugs, pliers, gophers, shovels. We ask him if he bleeds black and he says no, his blood’s red just like anyone’s, it just dries funny. We want funny drying blood. We want big black scars on our arms to make all the other kids back home be scared. We can tell them stories about the giant beasts we had to fight off with grandpa’s extra tools, the ones he lets us use when we explore the caves and planets we hid around his house. Once we tried to give each other the right kind of scars, but Hap cried until I said he could go first and then cried even more when I actually tried to scar him and then grandpa took away his tools for a while. I didn’t even break the skin. Grandpa acts like a regular adult at the worst times.
Grandpa always wears his straw cowboy hat outside, to block the sun. Sometimes he talks to the sun as if it can hear. Once he asked it to give him five minutes so he could weed the potatoes and the sun went behind a cloud. Grandpa tipped his hat and went to the garden.
Grandpa sometimes smokes a pipe, but usually he makes his own cigarettes out of paper you can kinda see through. He has big tin cans full of tobacco. We watch him make his cigarettes, watch him seal them like a funny envelope, he licks one edge with his shaky tongue and then pats the tube sealed with the tips of his fingers. The cigarettes he makes are bumpy and look stuffed or kinda sat on. They smoke fine though.
Grandpa only eats cow and potatoes. He calls it cow even when other people tell him it’s beef. He says he will never eat pig or chicken, especially fried chicken, because it’s too greasy. And he only eats dinner, unless he eats breakfast before we’re up. He’ll sit with the rest of the family at lunch, but he doesn’t eat. He just drinks coffee.
He drinks a lot of coffee.
We think that may be why his blood turns black when it dries, because he only drinks black coffee and he never eats, so there’s not enough of the right kind of stuff in his blood to make it dry right. We would drink coffee so we could get the black blood but we hate coffee.
Usually in the afternoon I play chess with Grandpa. I haven’t beat him yet but I think I will. Hap doesn’t play, he just watches for a while and then gets bored. Grandpa drinks coffee and looks at the board or smokes and looks at the board and says “Well, let’s push this pawn right here like we had a right to.” when he moves a pawn. Hap goes and plays with the dog.
After chess, I get Hap and we go exploring again or we make boats from notebook paper and float them in the ditch. There’s a part of the ditch like a tunnel and we can never be sure the boats will make it through, so we scream like the passengers would scream when the boat goes through it. Then we scream more if the boat gets smooshed.
Sometimes if we ask enough Grandpa shows us the bullwhip he keeps by the potato chips in the kitchen closet. He never says where he got it from, he just smiles and cracks it, and we laugh and laugh because it’s so loud and snappy and Hap starts running around in circles until Grandma says Grandpa has to stop and Grandpa says “Yes, madam” and puts the whip away. Grandma is usually kind of smiling when she tells him to stop but she tries to hide it. Then we play cards with Grandma and Grandpa sits on the back porch and watches his garden or sometimes he waters it. Sometimes I try to help Hap with his cards but he gets angry at me even though I’m older and smarter.
When it’s time for us to go we hug Grandma and then Grandpa again and Grandma walks with us to the front of the house. The last I can see Grandpa he’s sitting at the table again, drinking coffee and smoking. He sees me looking back at him. He says “Adios, Fitz” and waves at me in a big slow circle. I say adios too and wave back at him the same way. Then I run to the car. Grandpa keeps smoking, because that’s what he does.