Friday, May 20, 2005

Grandpa Tony

My grandfather’s car was massive
or so it seemed to my child eyes
Army green, a little rust, four heavy doors
(The way car doors used to be)
The kind of car that felt like you were
riding in a tank or a cushy, wide boat
Dipping along on spongy shocks and gliding over bumps
in the road, barely noticed
Back when seatbelts were things
crammed down between the seat cushions
or played with by kids (a pageant sash or a rope
your brother would pretend to hang you with)
because we didn’t know what they were used for
The extra huge front seat that stretched
across the width of the car
(the way front seats used to be)
Always a special feeling to sit up front
next to him while he drove

The carpeted black floor mats
a little sandy with dirt from the cleatted shoes
he wore on the golf course
Polyester upholstery (with it’s slightly raised texture design)
scorching hot on summer days
felt like it would melt
the skin on the backs of my
shorts clad little girl legs
Shimmering heat waves (like you might find on a desolate
deserted highway in midsummer)
rising up from the solid black dash board
threatening to turn the vinyl to tar-like ooze
Windows that rolled down by using
silver cranks with black knobs
(the way windows used to be)
The shiny, metallic radio knobs starring at me
adjusted carefully by thick grandpa fingers
to pick up sounds of
swinging big bands

Every stop light was a “hello”, or “hi Tón”
from guys grandpa’s age that looked
like well tanned gangsters, politicians,
or postmen
Weathered faces, probably handsome in their day
poking their heads out of car windows and giving a wave
Guys with names like “Babe”, “Jim”,
“Marty” or “Frank”
(the way names used to be)
Usually combined with some Italian-ish
last name that ended in a vowel and
always sounded similar to “Coolidge”
Everyone knew grandpa and he knew everyone else
One of the side effects from tending bar
in this small, East of Chicago,
gritty steel mill town

I was a child star, waving back at them
With my chipped, dress-up nail polished fingers
and smiling with my sticky Popsicle smile
On our way to play miniature golf
where grandpa would keep the tiny pencil
used for keeping score, tucked behind his ear
And he’d make every hole in two strokes
or less, even if it had to pass through
the windmill first

Back in the car
off to our next stop
The grocery store, not the corner store
where grandpa could flawlessly pick out
the ripest nectarines and cantaloupes,
but the bigger one across town
The one where the butcher paper painted
signs in the front windows advertised
the sale items of the week
The place where I spent more than
my fair share of hot summer vacation days
(for what seemed like hours)
waiting in the car with him and my brother
while my grandma shopped

The emblem on the back of the car would slid
open to reveal the hiding place where
he’d unlock the trunk from
Load up the groceries
Big enough for someone to lay down in
if it weren’t for the spare tire and golf clubs
Always the slight smell of gasoline
men’s hairspray, and Gary air

My grandfather
A quiet man, a gentle man
with a heart as big as his car
(the way hearts used to be)

1 comment:

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