A trip with grandpa/Tragic Tilly

February 20, 2022


Nothing like a translation project regarding automobile industry safety to put someone off of writing for a few weeks…

With the winter temps continuing to a be an unwelcomed guest and my impending booster shot nigh, I found myself back in my 4th grade classroom reading in our Weekly Reader about the Swine Flu virus. I remember being intrigued with its relation to pigs, and wondering if someone were infected they would look like something like the pig man Kramer witnessed in Seinfeld. Unlike this pandemic, the Swine Flu disappeared quickly and I never got to witness a Swine Flu survivor with a snout.

As I was back in 4th grade and we’re still in a cold winter snap I found myself revisiting one of the most puzzling couple of hours of my life from that time period. It involved my Grandpa Nick. Grandpa was…lets say…a man of few words, and even fewer for kids. At least that was the impression that was formed by me, and which happened to be 180 degrees different than Grandma Pearl who always had something to say, especially, “There’s pop in the fridge basement. Go grab yourself a can.”

Anyway, all of my childhood memories of my grandparents consisted of A) only Grandma Pearl, as Grandpa Nick was on the road working, or B) them being together. Either at home with us visiting or them in a car redolent of Juicy Fruit at a softball tournament.

Except today, on this blustery winter day, I was told my Grandpa Nick was here at school.

It was mid-morning. My mind was racing. What happened? Did someone die? Was I in trouble? Was it a surprise party for me? He told me to get my coat and we were gone.

Now at this age, I don’t know about you, but I had learned under no uncertain terms that orders followed by retorts such as “Why?” were not considered proper etiquette and may be followed with a searing stare that can burn holes in the back of your head, followed by a guttural and unnaturally emotionless tone of “Because I told you to.” So that ended any chance of me attempting to get any more information. And besides, being on a need to know basis made it kinda cool imagining places we might be going. Reality could squash all those ideas instantaneously.

We hopped in the extremely tired looking pickup whose paint job had a tone of pink or was a bleached red from spending its long life catching rays over many summers. The heater was no match for northern Minnesota, but tried to no avail.

So where were we going…may…be Grandpa knew of a store that I’ve never seen nor heard about (my parents kept it a secret) that sold all kinds of Oakland Raider jackets or Kansas City Royals gear and he just couldn’t stand I didn’t have everything I wanted.

Maybe he heard I loved the movie Rocky and wanted me to see it again? During school? Hey, what about lunch? I was going to miss lunch. I hope he knows I only eat hot dogs and spaghettios.

He said we’re going to the snowmobile races. Whatshat? To some that might seem like a helluva grandpa/grandson memory in the making. Allow me to provide some background why besides being alone with my grandfather for the first time this was a bizarre revelation. First, my family had no snowmobiles and snowmobiles were not even a topic of interest around the house. Second, I was what we call an indoor boy. My interests were comic books, super hero action figures, and tv. If I was forced to play outside, I required an agreement for two cups of hot chocolate, with marshmellows, when I came back in.

Now, in this case I knew kids in my class were snowmobile nuts and thought this might be a chance to rise the social ladder by using this silly event as currency. Yeah, I would turn this involuntary daytrip into the envy of all those gasoline reeking gear heads. I began to visualize beautiful blonde models in snowsuits, a 15 cent hot dog stand, and the best damn hot chocolate served for a dime. I was beginning to enjoy this. Then Grandpa took a right to go east.

Snowmobile races in my mind would occur north, in town, on the river. We were going east, nowhere, but farm land. There was nothing I coveted out there. But again, thank god for a child’s imagination. Maybe there was a wild and crazy snowmobile ground I wasn’t aware of, as my parents never educated me about the exciting world of snowmobile races. I hadn’t been around much, except to every softball tournament in a 100 mile radius in the summer and they aaaaalllll had hot dog stands. Yes, this was going to be educational, and beneficial to my ranking at school.

With visibility down to about 100 feet from the blowing snow I lost my bearings of what direction we were headed. What I did know was I didn’t see anyone else on the road except us. Many questions were beginning to develop in my head as we slowed down on the lonely road and backed into a 1/4 mile marker entrance of a farm field and stopped, but the intimidation factor kept my mouth zipped. But in my head I was asking why are in parked nowhere near civilization in a freezing pickup in a snowstorm? Where’s the races? The blondes? The hot dogs? Where the f%&#! is my hot chocolate? And most importantly, wheres my momma?

I’m stuck here. Going to miss school lunch. How long do we sit here? Then a snowmobile faintly came into sight, riding in the ditch on the other side of the road. As we were within 100 feet, we could catch a glimpse, maybe see the snowmobile manufacturer, which was a big deal to some. Unless Batman was on a Batsnowmobile, I couldn’t’ve cared less.

Every 5-10 minutes a snowmobile would zip by us, and the time flew by. I’m joking. It was interminable. How long do I have to sit here? I can’t frown. I have to paint a semi-smile on my face to make sure I didn’t get left out here for being an ingrate. Hey, was this a punishment? Because if it was, I AM SORRY!!!!

I bet those snowmobiles were headed for a place with blondes, hot dogs and hot chocolate.

They weren’t headed for some dreary godforsaken countryside farm field.

After eight hours, well, maybe an hour, Grandpa said “Let’s go”, and that was it. We headed back to school with me having learned to never take a warm classroom and hot school lunch for granted ever again.

Friends asked me where I went, but telling them I went to an edge of the farm field, sitting in an old pickup with no heat and watched others on snowmobiles go somewhere else didn’t seem to be advantageous comment so I’m sure my improve skills were put to the test.

When I went home I remember telling my mom about the odd day, figuring she was in the know. Nope, her reaction was to be more surprised than I was, which took punishment of the table as an explanation. And even more surprising I never heard about it again. I think I willfully removed it from my memory bank to make room for Suzanne Somers who was going to become very important in my life in just a few weeks.

Now almost 50 years later, all the parties are gone, except me. Grandpa died a few years later and I never got to the age where I could reminisce over what the hell he was thinking that day. And, thus, it just went the way of many other childhood experiences that formed my personality and were eventually deleted by alcohol use, other more traumatic life events or time.

So, if I had to hazard guesses they would all be merely conjecture. One theory is an argument with Grandma Pearl drove him out of the house and he didn’t want to be alone.

The question I have for that one is why did he choose me when there was 10 grandchildren to kidnap?

Another theory is he thought it could be a seed for a new hobby for a boy who continually spent every waking moment in a fantasy state. And if that was the case, yeah, it worked. That day I swore to find a new winter hobby so no one would ever come looking to take me outside ever again. I chose basketball and I don’t think I spent any time outside over the next 20 years, but still never out of reach of a hot dog and hot cocoa.

Tilly’s Shock and Disappointment

Every morning, Tilly’s first steps have a purpose and its to immediately head to Tsukayama Park. Oh, you don’t know Tsukayama Park? Well, according to Tilly, it’s a park with trees, walking and pee-pee areas, and a bench. A lovely bench situated in the open square where an old lady sits with a bag of fresh treats for Tilly and other passing dogs. Unfortunately, her beliefs are not completed based in fact. Yes, there is an old lady on that bench with treats for dogs, not just Tilly, after the lady and other neighbors participate in morning exercises at the park. She’s not there all day, waiting for Tilly, as Tilly would want you to believe.

So timing is the key. Arriving at the park 6:45-7:00 raises the treat possibility exponentially. Unfortunately, Tilly hasn’t mastered time yet and just assumes when she enters the park an elderly figure will be parked on that bench. Even though in reality it may be 6:15, 6:30 or 7:15. To her it’s a certainty.

Coming from a curved hill, and being taller than 30cm, I can see the situation before arriving. And it may sound cruel, but there’s nothing cuter than watching Tilly strut around the curve, down the hill, certain for an event that sits in her memory, across the road, up the stairs and then….!!! No one. The shock, the exclamation points jump from her head. Like from a comic book. I swear I’ve seen them on a few occasions. Like someone who expected a surprise party, opened the door, and….no one.

Then the disappointment. The bench check to see if her eyes are deceiving her, or if that old bat deceived by getting her hopes up by setting a precedent. The walk away is met with repeated looks over her shoulder to see if she’s being played. The strut is gone and replaced with a step that reflects a survivor of trauma.

Until the next morning when the strut returns.

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