I recently had the misfortune of seeing my grandfather kiss his fiancee. Have you ever seen this? I doubt it, because you weren’t at my house when it happened.
It had never occurred to me that I might ever be witness to such an act, until a few months ago, when my grandfather, back in California, announced he was getting married. My grandmother was furious.
Ha! I kid. She died a year ago. So it was perfectly reasonable for grandpa to get married … except that he’s my grandfather, and that’s not the sort of thing you want your grandfather doing. You want your grandfather to sit on the porch, doling out quarters and saying, “How’s school?” Maybe he can find some kind of hobby, like whittling, but you don’t want him DATING, for crying out loud. Dating is what young people do. Not ME, specifically, but other young people I know.
For me, part of the oddness of the situation was realizing that my grandfather had a girlfriend and I didn’t.
Now, don’t go thinking my 70-year-old grandfather has taken up with some 25-year-old girl who is only after his money. My grandfather has no money, evidenced by the fact that, as far as I can determine, he has worn the exact same pair of pants every day for his entire life. These pants are made of polyester and their color is best described as “brown,” although it is not a brown that I have ever seen occur naturally. The pants can be seen clearly in my parents’ wedding photos, and indeed there are certain cave paintings in the hills surrounding Lake Elsinore, Calif., in which these pants can also be seen.
I would also like to mention that in addition to the pants, I think my grandfather has also been bald all his life. Even in the photos of his first wedding, when he was 20, he already had very little hair on his head.
But despite the pants and the baldness and the ear hair and the eyeglasses which are older than his pants, my grandfather is probably the most kind-hearted, generous, respectable man I’ve ever known. Even great men who have traditionally earned respect, such as Abraham Lincoln and Dick Clark, would pale in comparison to my grandfather. And that, I suppose, is why a 70-year-old widow would want to marry him.
My grandfather’s new wife — “Grandma II,” as we call her — is named Margrit. You may think I have misspelled “Margaret,” but actually, Margrit is the one who has misspelled it. She’s from Switzerland, which is located in Sweden, and that’s how they do things over there.
One thing they do NOT do over there, evidently, is throw wadded-up wrapping paper at each other. I learned this when we had our huge family Gift Exchange and Wrapping Paper Fight on Christmas. The way this works is, everyone opens their presents, says “thank you,” then wads up the wrapping paper and throws it. Before long, the air is thick with wrapping paper, and everyone is involved, including infants and invalids. Margrit didn’t seem to notice the commotion until she got hit in the face with a ball of it. This particular ball had been thrown by the following person: me. The look on her face indicated that she did not consider this to be standard day-after-Christmas behavior. In fact, the look on her face indicated that she would have expected better behavior from felons, or monkeys. But it seemed to us that if she was going to be part of this family, she was going to have to get used to wrapping-paper fights.
Another thing she’ll have to get used to is the extremely casual and violent way we treat each other. The entire extended family has always been close. We get together at least once a month to celebrate whoever’s birthday it is, and we have dinner and cake and ice cream and of course a wrapping-paper fight. So we quite clearly love each other, but you might not know it from watching us. Unlike some families, aunts and uncles are not referred to by the youngsters as “Aunt Janna” or “Uncle Kenny.” It’s just “Janna” and “Kenny,” and in fact when we were young and Kenny was mean to us, we referred to him as “The Ogre.”
This may not sit well with Margrit, coming as she does from Denmark, in the Netherlands, where people are unfailingly polite to their elders and where disrespectful youths are punished by having to eat European food.
Yes, the very prim and proper Margrit no doubt finds our family odd and appalling, and I have not yet even TOUCHED the subject of belching. My brother’s wife, the diminutive and sweet Roni, can belch with such velocity that it will set your necktie on fire. I can only imagine what Margrit thinks of this, assuming she is still capable of coherent thought after experiencing it.
So anyway, it was weird to see grandpa kiss someone who wasn’t my grandmother, and it was even weirder to see him get married. But we’re all sure grandma, up there in heaven, approves of the whole thing. She wants grandpa to be happy, and she knew Margrit, and liked her. I’m sure she’s glad a good woman like Margrit gets to take care of grandpa, and I’m REALLY sure she’s glad someone ELSE has to wash that pair of pants from now on.
This column went through the entire review process without a single controversy. The only potential problem even mildly suggested was my rather blunt way of mentioning my grandmother was dead. I assured everyone that my grandmother would find it funny -- she was always my biggest fan -- and that, well, she IS dead, after all. It's not like I was saying something untrue.
Grandpa and Margrit's marriage was actually very sweet, despite our displeasure at having to see them kiss. Grandpa was gentler and happier than I'd ever seen him, and Margrit was as nice a woman as you'll meet, despite being from wherever she's from. They breathed a lot of life into each other, and I'm sure that makes their deceased spouses very happy where they are.
And by the way, the title for this column -- "Grandma II: Margrit's Revenge" -- came from my brother Chris (whose wife was the aforementioned belching Roni). That's what he put on the wall calendar for the wedding day. However, I distinctly remember coming up with the "Grandma II" part myself and saying it aloud to several people. I'm guessing Chris added the eloquent embellishment of "Margrit's Revenge." So it was sort of a collaborative effort for me and my brother.
It took a couple months, but someone finally showed the column to my grandfather. Here's his response, which he wrote in his monthly letter to me:
I'll let you know if you need to get a doghouse after Margrit reads your story. [You know, the expression 'in the doghouse'? I assume that's what he's talking about here.] I thought it was real funny. Weird funny, but funny -- almost hilarious at times. I guess I'm glad Margrit and I qualify for subject matter.... Keep up the good work, even if you pick on me and Margrit!
Good ol' Grandpa.
A decade later, Margrit still remembers this column, apparently fondly, and in particular the reference to the brown pants. She made a "joke" about it when I was home for Christmas in 2006, and yes, her elderly, European sense of humor mandates putting quotation marks around the word "joke."