I'm at my parents' house this week providing respite care for my Grandpa Jim so that Mom and Dad can have a few days away. It's not a difficult charge -- mainly preparing meals and dispensing medicine -- but the relentless everydayness of it can be draining, so it's nice to be able to give them a break.

My Dad describes his Dad as living in a five-minute window of time (sometimes less). Yesterday Grandpa and I had three interesting conversations. We had each of these conversations eight to twelve times in a row.

On each pass through the exact same subject matter, a little bit more would come to mind. He couldn't remember that he had already told me seven times that when he was a child delivering newspapers he always carefully placed each newspaper on the front steps of the house, unlike the paperboys for the competitor who threw the papers into the middle of the yards. But each time he recounted that memory, a little more detail came with it:
  • The paper he delivered was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; the competitor was the Press.
  • The Star-Telegram was a morning paper with a Sunday edition; the Press was an afternoon paper that didn't publish on Sundays. (Sure enough.)
  • The Star-Telegram had better coverage of national/international events; the Press was more of a hometown paper.
  • Many households, including his parents, took both papers.
  • He had arrangements with some of his disabled customers to walk right into their houses and set the newspaper at a convenient spot for them, so they wouldn't even have to venture as far as the porch.
  • In one such instance, he walked in on the customer and her guest, who was quite alarmed that this young man would enter the house like that uninvited. The customer told her friend, "that's just Jimmie, bringing the paper. You mind your own business!"
That evening we heard a teaser on Fox News about a ludicrous and ineffectual cussing ban before the California legislature. Grandpa opined that people seem to swear less today than they used to, because use of such language is considered in polite society to be a sign of ignorance.

Nevermind that the primary reason that Grandpa doesn't hear as much bad language anymore is that he DOESN'T HEAR, period. Or that his primary exposure to pop culture since retirement is Fox News, which isn't exactly representative of society at large. Or that even people who use obscenity and profanity in their daily lives tend to avoid it in front of their pastors, which he was for over fifty years. He would affably agree when I would suggest alternate explanations for his lack of exposure to bad language in the last twenty or so years, then immediately loop back around to how swearing seems to be on the wane, because people think it's a sign of ignorance.

After a half dozen or so go-arounds on this theme, I drew a parallel to smoking, which prompted him to go off on another loop about how his father had enjoyed cigars until he joined the Gideons and became convicted about having something in his life that he couldn't do without. This was a more interesting topic to me than a counterfactual decline in offensive language, so we spent some time reminiscing about my great-grandfather's civic involvement, from the smoke-filled American Legion post to smoke-free Gideons and CBMC meetings. He also recalled going to basketball and football games in his childhood and seeing the stands light up like so many flitting fireflies, only to be enveloped in a haze over the course of the contest. "You don't see that anymore."


Steve Lansingh said...

What a beautiful recounting of the day. Getting down those most ordinary conversations is something so important that is so hard to remember to capture.

Katie said...

My grandpa had a particular story he would tell over and over in a similar fashion and he also added additional details each time he told it.

AbrahamNee said...
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