Josh says that when your grandmother calls you on your cell phone, you have to pay attention. Disregard the fact that she is using a regular phone, that to her it is a regular phone number that she dialed, and that the cell phone is the only phone he has. When your grandmother calls you on your cell phone, you better sit up, son.
She called about sweaters and pocket knives. She was going through his grandfather's things and had called each of the grandchildren, maybe even on their cell phones, to ask them if they wanted anything. But she didn't want them to take things that they didn't need, she didn't want to be the reason for clutter. After all, there was a neighbor man who was going to come and look through the clothes after them, and she supposed that whatever was left could be taken to the Goodwill.
We showed up with a pitbull for Sunday lunch. Grandmother was still wearing her church things, an old lady purplish pantsuit. I wonder what I will wear when I'm old.
She remarked what a pretty dog we had, and I only had to stop Remix from jumping once. The rest of the time, she wandered around the house, smelling the new smells. Whenever her tags stopped jingling, I went looking for her, afraid that she was up to mischief. She must've heard my footsteps, because she always appeared almost instantly from some other room, her head cocked to one side. You needed me, boss?
Grandmother showed Josh the two closets and the couch covered with folded sweaters and told him to take whatever he wanted. She said again not to take things just to be nice. I told her that we had a high tolerance for clutter.
While he was looking, she went into the kitchen to make lunch. I decided to follow her and help. It seemed perfect in that it fulfilled my twin goals of being a more helpful person and talking to old people. Maybe some people just do things like that, but I still have to decide to.
Brunswick stew was heating on the stove. She made the coleslaw and assigned me to cut up the peppers and onions. I asked how she wanted them cut, because some people care about these things. I know I do. I diced two small white onions carefully, and they only started getting to my eyes at the very end. I felt a strange need to show her that I was competent, that I knew how to dice vegetables. I diced half a green pepper, too. I was instructed to slice the other half, in case someone wanted to just have some to munch.
Grandmother asked about marriage and babies. I don't know why I worry about her opinion of my onion-dicing skills, since she is clearly anxious to see my child-bearing skills. She always asks, but I can tell her that there are no firm plans and she lets it go. Well, she lets it go after saying that she doesn't understand these young people who aren't interested in babies.
Remix stretched out in the middle of the kitchen floor. I made a comment about her being in the way, but Grandmother was fine to step around her, not minding an animal that is content to lie down wherever the people are. She told me about a dog she had growing up, named Poochy, who they fed corn flakes with sugar, even when the sugar was being rationed and the kids ate their corn flakes unsweetened. She said that she loved dogs, but that she had finally convinced her concerned daughters that she didn't need one.
Lunch was leftover Brunswick stew, coleslaw, baked beans, and tea. Dessert was some kind of fruit cake and Heath bar ice cream. Just in case you were thinking that those things do not go together, I'll let you know that you're right. But it was fine.
She talked about some of the clothes that Josh had picked out; several items that had come from the "Snob Shop," which I gathered was some kind of consignment shop. She and Josh talked about secondhand clothes.
"Sandra, surely you don't buy used clothes with that good job you have."
I looked down at my outfit for confirmation, then said, "Everything I'm wearing was bought secondhand."
"What do you do with the extra money?"
"Put it on the mortgage," Josh said, beaming proudly. Money management was emphasized in my childhood home, but not in his. He's taken to it very quickly. I suspect that he learned to appreciate thrift in this very house. I have his grandparents to thank for him being attracted to a woman with a good credit score.
After lunch, we went back to the bedroom, where Grandmother put a pile of pocket knives on the bed. Grandfather subscribed to the Boy Scout motto of being prepared, and that must have meant always having a pocket knife. Then they went through the jewelry, the tie pins and watches, the attendance pins from the Lions Club, still in their little plastic boxes with the spongy blue squares of padding. There were several watches, and Grandmother seemed a little dismayed that she didn't remember which one he had favored. They went through everything, even drawers and boxes that she hadn't gotten to yet. They came across a piece of shrapnel that had landed right next to Grandfather in France and that he had saved all these years. Josh had heard the story many times and was in awe at being offered this lump of family history. All his cousins had already come and made their selections, so whatever was left was his, but he felt guilty at getting so much. I got the impression that no one else had taken much of anything. Admittedly, the clothes were old-fashioned, and it's possible that some people don't like those kinds of mementos. A high percentage of our stuff was separated from its previous owner by death. We thrive in the past.
We needed to leave. Josh had to work that afternoon. I was getting antsy, not because I needed to be anywhere, but because schedules and the adherance to them make me anxious. But it was the kind of scene that I didn't want to break up, so I went in the other room to look at the sweaters. They were mostly cardigans, folded up and stacked up in four piles. Grandfather was a man of sweaters. And a man of taste: most of them were cashmere. There were a couple that I found myself admiring, and I went ahead and tried them on. While they were too small in the shoulders for Josh, they fit me pretty well. I picked out two - a gray and a vibrant fall orange. Grandmother seemed happy to let me have them. I felt a little weird about it, but I shouldn't. After all, Josh has some old ammunition boxes salvaged from my grandparents' house.
Finally, we really really had to leave. We loaded up the car with sweaters, shrapnel, and a pitbull. Half an hour later, we stopped for gas. I filled up, while Josh went inside. He came back out with a large soda and a Snickers bar that held two half-sized bars in one package. A share pack. He pulled out one of the four pocket knives he had just inherited and cut the wrapper neatly in half so that each fun-sized bar had its own sheath. He handed one to me.
"My grandparents used to do this. Cut a candy bar in half. I thought it was stupid, because I was a little kid and I wanted a whole one. Now I think it's sweet."