My maternal grandfather was a thief. And he was proud of it. He boasted, to anyone would listen, of all that he had pilfered from the navy during World War II. After his death, we found a large sextant still in its original packaging, a silver sugar and creamer set from the Officer’s Club, a pair of binoculars, and a life raft from a ship that he wasn’t even on. He had no compunction of stealing the paper from his neighbor and it was not unusual for my grandmother to have to supply a new one to the angry fellow next door.
Although he married my grandmother, a well-to-do only child, he was extremely tightfisted and shopped at the local Salvation Army, stuffing all he could into a brown bag for a quarter. I remember as a child, him offering to spring for my own 25 cent shopping bag, and how excited I was to pick out whatever I wanted. He had closets of old clothes, none of which really fit but he knew exactly what was there. He didn’t mind stealing, but he became extremely angry if he thought anyone was stealing from him. We were always were grilled as we left the house after a visit, sometimes even emptying out our pockets to prove we were clean.
“the Old Man”
Anyone who knew him called him “the Old Man,” and he had a reputation of being belligerent, cunning and lithe. At eighty-five years of age, we witnessed him riding across the yard on a unicycle. When he was a mere eighty, he set himself up a small sled he had made with a bucket on a wheel-less skateboard and took it down their steep icy driveway. He had the nimble physique of a monkey and my husband loves to tell the story of “the Old Man” jumping up on a counter to change a light bulb with more dexterity than a twelve-year old.
My grandparent’s beautiful home was littered with junk. “the Old Man” was a hoarder and his yard was full of stolen prizes as well as trash he had picked out of local dumpsters. You could find anything from an old Model A car to water skis to old street signs buried beneath the rubble and we would spend hours combing through his treasures – but only when he was not around. To be caught meant enduring his wrath, something we were terrified of.
Even with children he held grudges, as though there was a secret covenant to try to trick him or put one over on him. He once accused my fourteen year-old son of stealing a moth-eaten fedora from him and until the day, he died he referred to Marcus as sneaky. If he took a disliking to you, he had neither the manners nor the inclination to hide his feelings.
He treated his only daughter terribly and told her to her face that he wished she had been born a boy. He took to calling her “Myque” (Mike), a nickname that stuck, and it wasn’t until I was a teen, I realized my mother’s real name was Claudia.
Franks and beans, anyone?
The first time my husband met “the Old Man” was during a holiday dinner at my mother’s house. My grandfather showed up, in the middle of a snow storm, in loose nylon running shorts from the eighties (the really short kind), penny loafers, and a tattered, sleeveless, gray wool vest. He pulled a bar stool up to the table and sat higher than the rest of us, leaning over to eat. He chose not to wear underwear that day and shared his own pride and joy with anyone who had the courage to look. He startled everyone by announcing in a loud angry voice “Who the hell took my goddamned fork?” He repeated it again until someone offered to get him a new one.
He was an odd man and I didn’t like him very much – he scared me. He died when he was eight-nine, his skin stretched so thin you could see the numerous tumors that filled his stomach. My grandfather dictated that he wanted to be cremated and requested no funeral or memorial service. So there was no closure in any way, for anyone. He just disappeared.
Lise Marinelli, Author