Sitting across from me at the Hayward Family Restaurant was an empty chair with a menu in front of it. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if he had snuck in through the back. The people around me were starting to grow suspicious of my constant scanning of the diner.
“Would you like me to take your order, dear?” the waitress asked.
“He should be here any minute. Check back in another five minutes, please.” I gave her a halfhearted smile. We had talked on the phone last night and he told me to meet him here. I pulled out my phone and checked my messages and Facebook for what seemed like the hundredth time. My chocolate milk was starting to get warm.
A car door slammed and I peaked through the window to see if it was him. With silver hairs flowing out of his camouflage ball cap, three layers of shirts on in 60 degree weather, and a pack of Marlboro Reds peaking out of his front shirt pocket; it was Grandpa Bob alright.
“What can I get you to drink?” the waitress asked Grandpa.
“Got any liquor?” he chuckled.
“Not this early in the morning,” she said.
“Well, I’ll take a coffee then,” he replied.
Grandpa flipped through the menu and then reached for his glasses. As much as he didn’t like to use them, he figured it would save him some trouble if he just put the darn things on.
“Do you know what a pig in a blanket is?” he asked.
“Yes Grandpa, it’s when you take a hot dog and put it in a-.” He then cut me off.
“No, no. Not the actual thing.”
“What do you mean then?” I gave him a puzzled look.
“A pig in blanket is a Polish prostitute.” He said as he threw his head back in laughter. I laughed along with him, but I really didn’t think the joke was that funny. The waitress came back and took our order and Grandpa didn’t try to crack a joke this time, he was all business when it came to ordering his short stack of pancakes.
The wrinkles under Grandpa’s eyes carried the weight of many stories that I could only hope to hear a fraction of. The stories about his days working on the railroad would have been enough to keep me entertained for hours on end. He scanned the restaurant looking for people that he knew and waved at a couple of people he didn’t know. “I think I saw him at Phipp’s before,” he’d say. “But I am not quite sure.”
* * *
Grandpa likes to walk to the beat of his own drum. He’ll tell you how it is and if you don’t like it, well then you can go to hell. His brother Joe and him haven’t been getting along lately because he says, “Joe is too controlling.” Grandpa said that the two of them haven’t talked in awhile because of that fact. He reminded me though that things weren’t always bad between he and his brother. They actually used to pull pranks on each other all of the time.
“I once got him to think that I was somebody else on the phone,” he said in-between bites. “This was back before Joe had caller-id. I’m pretty sure I’m the reason why he’s got it.”
Joe picked up the phone one day while he took a break from stacking wood and asked if the person on the other end of the line was Larry. Joe was hard of hearing and still is. “That cheap bastard got his hearing aid from a dollar store,” Grandpa said. Grandpa took advantage of Joe’s difficulty hearing and told Joe that he was in fact Larry and that he needed help clipping his wife’s toenails. Larry was an older guy that lived next to Joe at the time. The funny thing is that Joe actually went over to Larry’s house to see if he needed help. “I just sat by my phone and waited because I knew he’d be calling me back soon,” Grandpa said with a smile.
Not even fifteen minutes went by before Grandpa said that Joe called him back and was “madder than an albino person trying to hitchhike in a snowstorm”. Grandpa puffed his chest out a little bit and proudly proclaimed that he told his story to “everyone in the county”. His brother Joe tried to get him back, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the time that Grandpa got him.
* * *
Once we finished our meal at the diner, we headed on out to his trailer in Stone Lake. As much as he won’t admit it, Grandpa Bob is a borderline hoarder. I barely could step into his kitchen and the both of us couldn’t be standing next to each other at the same time. Newspapers upon newspapers, egg cartons (for his chickens) were everywhere, and other miscellaneous items contributed to the cluster. “I get lazy and then I just throw things,” he told me. Once he finished changing into his “shit shoes” as he called them, he told me that I better watch where I step when we head on out to the chicken coop.
Little tiny chicks were peeping and tweeting as soon as grandpa opened the door. Grandpa started talking to the chickens as he fed them, “Grow faster so I can eat ya.” Although they were a lot of work to keep up with, the chickens were what kept Grandpa busy nowadays. He was a retired railroad worker for sometime now and thinks he finally found his niche.
* * *
One April 1st night, just before he went to bed, he heard something trying to get into the chicken coop. He was able to find his shotgun and shells in the helpless abyss that was his living room and headed out to the coop to investigate. He crept inch by inch, not because he was that slow, but because he didn’t want to startle whatever was causing the trouble. As he got closer and closer to the coop, he realized what the culprit was; a skunk. He called out, “Don’t worry little skunk. I left my gun in the house.” The skunk poked his head out of the coop for a second and Grandpa blasted it with the shotgun. “April fool’s,” he uttered and he headed back into the trailer.
* * *
“I’m a bullshitter. I can bullshit with the best of them, but I am not a liar,” Grandpa Bob told me while he finished replacing the chickens water.
Grandpa Bob may tell a lot of stories, he may pass gas and blame it on one of his ten cats, he may even buy you an “expensive” breakfast, but he is not a liar. He takes pride in what he does and he’ll be the first one to tell you it. He’ll welcome you in for a cup of coffee if you can find a spot to sit, but will greet you with a Smith and Wesson if you show up with bills in your hand. “My body may be old, but I sure as hell don’t feel that way.”