by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
January 6, 2002
KINDNESS, TURPENTINE AND PENNY CANDY
SAN DIEGO -- He used to call me "windy Cindy from Windy City." I just called him Grampie.
Whenever I think of aging not just gracefully but with joie de vivre, I think of Gramps. Not that he'd have ever thought of himself having anything so fancy or high falutin' as a French whatchamacallit.
He was just an ordinary man who'd had a nervous breakdown from being too kind during the Depression.
Story goes, he owned the first Harley-Davidson shop in Hudson, Mass. And he was so good-hearted that he found it difficult to collect debts when folks were down and out. He went bankrupt and was found one day crying in a closet. They sent him away to a hospital (henceforth called "hospickles" by him and two adoring grandchildren), and he came home a much different man.
We never knew the man that left for work that morning, but the one that came home from the hospickles was our hero.
He made funny cat sounds with his mouth and let his top dentures drop when talking to us. Each occurrence would set off screams of delight and fits of laughter.
We loved him because he constantly defied the proper. He lifted his cereal bowl and drank it with both hands. We'd never seen anyone do that. Something, it seemed, was always dribbling down his chin (preferably lobster butter). He snored in church and during the nightly rosary. He dressed funny and argued daily with Gram about shaving.
Even his stubbly-chinned kisses weren't like anyone else's. They were small explosions of love. He blew on our cheeks to make obscene sounds that drew glowers from a straight-laced Grammy. She failed to see the humor in most of his shenanigans, but then she was German to his Irish.
I don't remember that she was too much fun.
No one ever told the Dettling family about joie devivre. They subscribed to that immensely barbaric credo, "Children should be seen and not heard." It scarred them all for life.
How one Henry Clark ended up with Teresa Dettling is beyond me, but one unexpected outcome of his nervous breakdown is that it liberated us from the Gloucester gulags of Eastern etiquette and into the transplanted quirk and whimsy of County Cork.
The ultimate utilitarian family meets the rain man.
Daily he would escape across the street and up the wooded hill to his workshop where he formed and fashioned useless and most wonderful things; birdhouses, wind vanes, wooden creatures on sticks that ended up all over the yard at Lake Boone. Things all antithetical to pragmatism, not to mention feminine control.
I will never forget the smell of that small, white shed on the hill, a magical combination of wood sap, paint and turpentine. Grampie was a firm believer in turpentine and loved dark, smelly salves and ointments of all kinds. He loved Horehound coughdrops, too, and penny candy. In fact, he must've been a deacon in the First Church of Penny Candy. My brother and I were his willing converts, both of us with lousy teeth that still give ample witness.
When he did die, I understand he just fell face down in the washroom with a massive heart attack. He didn't suffer, just went down with a great crash like one of his big trees on the hill. No fuss or drama. No long good-byes.
I've been thinking a lot about Gramps lately and how much joy he brought into our lives. Noone and nothing was spared his leprechaun humor, his sprite's sensibilities. Not even the fearsome aging process itself.
I remember him when things get too serious, and since I can't drop my dentures (yet) when talking, I settle for drawing spectacles and moustaches on pictures in the newpaper like he used to.
I can say, "Ah g'wain," when someone is being pretentious or preposterous. When I have one, I too will wave my cane when the situation calls for it.
I will give the children I love his little explosions of love and teach them to go often into the woods and the hills. I will teach them it's okay sometimes to dribble stuff when you eat.
That it's perfectly respectable to say "Grace, wish you were here," for a mealtime blessing. But above all ... I want to teach them that being too kind is never an illness.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com.