The roads were snow packed and the wind gusting as we traveled to celebrate Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. My sisters and I were young and each had our favorite tradition at their house. My sisters would hang around the kitchen chatting with Grandma while she cooked Christmas dinner. Their objective was to be there when Grandma asked them to choose their favorite pie from the thirty or forty she had put away for such occasions.
My tradition was sleeping out on the screen porch. No one wanted to because it was so cold with no heater. I loved it. The lack of competition always ensured that I got the spot every time we would visit. What was so cool about it was the comforters. Grandma would put four of them on me, and they were so heavy that when she had them all stacked on me, I couldn’t move. Only my nose stuck out, and I could hide that if I wanted.
The tradition my sisters and I shared was grandpa’s fight with the squirrel eating his bird seed. Every visit we’d check the bird feeder to see what Grandpa had done to ensure the squirrel couldn’t get the seed. Sometime during the day we’d hear the cry “There he is!” We’d all run to the window to see who would win this time.
Year after year this battle went on without grandpa knowing we always rooted for the squirrel, and marveled at his Olympian acrobatic moves.
But, I grew up and became old enough to go fishing with Grandpa. We’d also walk in the woods together hunting Morel mushrooms in the spring. Eventually, he gave me the .410 shotgun my dad had used when he was 12 years old. This meant I could go pheasant hunting with he and Dad. It was great. I felt grown up.
I felt like a man at fourteen when I got my driver’s permit, and had been driving for about six months when we visited again. He had to go to his blacksmith’s shop, so as we were leaving the house Dad asked if I wanted to drive. Well, of course I did. I wanted to show Grandpa what a good driver I was. So, crossing the small town of Fayette, Iowa I followed the speed limit precisely, because I knew he was a precise kind of guy.
We arrived at his shop, and Grandpa excused himself, needing something in his office. Dad and I were surprised when he stood at the door in a black robe, requesting us to come in and take a seat. This was really strange to me. I’d never seen him like this, all formal and stuffy. So, I just did what Dad did. I sat down and shut up. I watched Grandpa acting so cold and aloof, filling out papers and such. I couldn’t understand why he needed us. Then I found out.
“Son,” he said to me in a stern manner, “We don’t cotton to city folks doing those California rollin’ stops in our little town. I observed you rollin’ through three stop signs from the house to this shop. By the power vested in me as Justice of the Peace, for Fayette County, in the state of Iowa, it’s my duty to issue you these three tickets for traffic violations. Maybe these will serve to teach you that a stop sign means STOP, not roll.”
I couldn’t believe what was happening. This was my Grandpa! I was confused. I looked into his stern face, then my Dad’s icy stare at him. When Dad muttered quietly “Why don’t you go, and leave us alone for a while,” I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, or get far enough away from them.
Eventually Dad walked across the blacksmith’s shop, took my hand and said, “let’s go home. I’ll come back for your grandpa when he’s done working.”
To this day, I don’t know what went on behind the closed door to Grandpa’s office. Dad never said a word about it, and I never saw the tickets again or paid any fines.
Though I was taught a lesson that day, I’ve never forgotten how I lost my relationship with Grandpa… when he put on the black robe.