By Patricia Hemingway
Roy M. Crandall, M for Marion, was my mother’s father. He showed up at our door when I was thirteen, and he was broke and sixty-five and couldn’t work anymore. I don’t believe he had anywhere else to stay while he waited for his old age pension, so he came to San Antonio, Texas, to the duplex of his oldest daughter and her three kids.
Granddaddy was a man from the depression. Everything about him said so: his thin face and the way he never ate much; the way he wore his brown felt hat in the summer, when anybody else would have left it back home; and the pipe he treasured, practically his only possession. When he came to stay with us he had one penny in his pants pocket. My mother told us.
He was still nice looking, and sported a pure white mustache. Wearing his hat, his pleated pants hanging on his slender frame, his was a pleasing silhouette. He neither stooped nor asserted himself unnecessarily.
Granddaddy joined us in our regular family entertainment: watching tv. On the ‘good program’ nights, it was mandatory that we all sit down together in the living room. Nothing like a good drama. That’s how my mother raised us. Granddaddy sat right there, with tears rolling down his cheeks, when it was a really good one.
My mother told of Granddaddy when he was young, set up in a business of his own. He had a full head of auburn hair and wore a nice tweed suit with a belt in the back. Granddaddy never met a stranger – male or female. He would start up a conversation with whoever was waiting for the bus beside him, and by the time the bus got there, he would have a name and phone number on a scrap of paper, with promises to get in touch.
But he didn’t have much to say to children. He and I walked to the Piggly Wiggly many an afternoon. The only words Granddaddy would say, when we got there, were “Well, we’re half way”. Being a man of the depression, maybe he figured his thoughts weren’t a fit topic for kids. He’d had four of his own, and my mother was the first. She recalled the nice house they’d lived in when she was still the only child, and the well-off family next door who treated her like one of their own. The way she told it, I could tell that was the greatest time of her life.
When Granddaddy got his pension, he left on the bus for Guadalajara, where he could live on his few dollars, and be around Mexican people. He especially loved Mexican women, my mother said. She also said Granddaddy liked to sip brandy in the afternoons. She found out one evening when she went to offer some to a friend–she rarely drank unless she had company: Granddaddy had been getting into it while she was at work, and filling up the dark-colored bottle with tap water.
When I was 35 I took a plane trip to Guadalajara and stayed for a week. I wanted to see the plaza full of roses Granddaddy had described to us, and in 1980 they were still there. He spoke often of ‘Tilackey-packey’, that’s how he said it. Like a wooden cart coming down a cobblestone street, one turn of the wheels at a time.
Granddaddy always said he boarded at Miz Whitehouse’s. Where Miz Whitehouse’s was I never knew. My sister says he fished the lake in Jocotopec. All I knew was Miz Whitehouse favored him; she kept his room for him while he came back up to stay with us for a month at a time.
He brought us a serape made of rough, dark gray wool with colored stripes across the top and bottom. We kept it for as long as I can remember, even though the wool was scratchy. It was from a place none of us had ever been to. Our world was small, neighborhood-bound. No car to travel even to the other side of town.
Granddaddy had actually lived in a Mexican city with a beautiful plaza, its shrubs cut delicately into the shapes of animals, where he sat on benches between beds of roses and watched another world go by.
While I was in Guadalajara, I took a bus tour around Lake Chapala. The bus stopped in several small towns, and we were allowed time to shop. In Ajijic I found what I was looking for: a beautiful white wool serape. I made the bus driver wait while I paid for it in a tiny shop that had a dirt floor swept clean and a manual device for running through credit cards. I can still hear the click-smack! as they made an impression of the raised plastic numbers, and the serape was mine.
Granddaddy lived with us for several months before his first pension check arrived. He smoked a tobacco that smelled sweet, like burning cherries. When he turned his pipe upside down and tapped it on the ashtray, I pretended to empty it but instead I put the small wad of tobacco in a fruitcake tin I kept under my bed. After Granddaddy left us for Guadalajara, the house was empty. I got out the tin and sniffed the sweetness of the tobacco and cried for him.
Granddaddy loved to tell about a parrot that lived in the bar around the corner from Miz Whitehouse’s: Whenever anybody in the bar would use a ‘cuss’ word, the parrot would squawk: “shee—wha—whaa!!” Granddaddy told and retold this story, and whoever was over that day would die laughing. Granddaddy would slap his thigh and tilt his head back and laugh out loud, showing his tobacco-stained teeth. “Shee—wha—whaa!!” He would say at least one more time.
I can see him in that bar overlooking the lake. After a day of fishing, he goes there. Everybody knows him: “Ola, Raoul.” He sits down and orders a glass of brandy and pays for it with his pesos. He has enough left over to buy a drink for the beautiful woman who slides into the booth beside him. The parrot perches nearby, and waits for someone to speak.