Saturday, March 19, 2005

Grandpa Vernon & the New House

Our new house was really a wonder. No more big chunks of coal. Coal was delivered in small pieces that slid down a slide into the coal room in the basement. All we had to do was shovel some of the coal into a container, walk a couple of steps, then empty the container into a hopper that had a screw auger to move the coal into the firebox of the furnace. How long the auger ran depended on how we had the thermostats set upstairs in the house. Wonder of wonders.

When it came time to move everything out of the rental house, perhaps on a Sunday, almost all stores and businesses were closed, probably because of "blue laws." There were lots of friends and relatives on hand to help. Uncle Doc [Fred Vernon] borrowed an open-sided, flat-bottomed dolly from the Union Pacific freight house where he was employed. A tall chest of drawers could be lifted onto that dolly, then it could be wheeled up to the new house with a man on each side to keep it balanced. The grunt work came in getting it up the front sidewalk, onto the porch, then through the door and into the house. The ladies would tell them where to put it, and if that didn't suit they'd tell them to move it to another place or two. Finally we got to spend our first night in the wonderful new house. My sister and I each had a bedroom of our own!

Do you remember that I wrote that Pearl Harbor would bring a lot of changes? Those came into play then. Thanks to the war, there were good jobs available in Walla Walla. My cousin Ella Faye came back. Her brother Lester Gusey was soon in the army. My Aunt Leona was left alone when Uncle Harold went into the Coast Guard, so she and Ella Faye took over my bedroom. I was moved down into the basement, but it was worth it to have Ella Faye back.

Uncle Doc met a woman named Clara. He married her and adopted her little girl, Lurraie. That would have been no trouble, but it meant that the house Uncle Doc and Grandpa Vernon had been living in was now too small. Where did they put Grandpa? In our new house. And where did they put him in our new house? I bet you can guess where and get it right. Yup, you got it: down in the basement with me. There wasn't any other place to put him.

Now that would have been all right, but he was an "early to bed, early to rise" kind of man who had spent most of his life working on various farms as a hired hand, especially during harvest time. He might have started working as early as 12 or 13. And he complained his father stole all his wages. I was glad that I never had to meet my Great-Grandpa Vernon. What I didn't know was that most fathers collected their children's wages back then. Grandpa's full name was John Wesley Vernon, though the "John Wesley" part was a misnomer: while the historical John Wesley founded the Methodist church, my grandpa used to say, "All churches want is your money!"

Anyway, Grandpa Vernon wanted to go to bed right after the evening radio news. He'd say the same thing every night: "Well! It's time for all good people to be in bed and the thieves on the way." Then he would invariably ask, "Is your dad home yet?" The answer was usually no, but none of us still up would answer him. We'd just say, "Good night, Grandpa." I think Ella Faye would call him "Gramps," though he wasn't her grandpa. I would be a little angry at the very idea of mentioning thieves and my dad almost in the same breath!

The old man had gotten up at what to me was the crack of dawn most of his life, and he continued to do so. At first he got up quietly and lit a cigar. I didn't like being around cigarette smoke, let alone cigar smoke, so I told on him to my mother. She had a talk with her father.

After that the old man got up just as early, opened the basement window--which made a lot of rattling noise, in my opinion enough to wake the dead--sat on a chair under the window, and fired up his cigar. That went on for a couple of days, but not all of the smoke went out the window and the noise was the same. Saturday and Sunday when I did not need to get up early to get ready for school were the worst. So I again complained to my mother and she forbade Grandpa to smoke anywhere in the house. He then smoked on the front porch. During winter he would go out to the garage and smoke in there.

As I got older the old man and I grew closer. I do remember thinking that I ought to teach him how to read, but he wouldn't have anything to do with any snot-nosed kid teaching him anything. I think he helped me learn to count money to see if a clerk gave me the right change.

One time I got home from somewhere to find that the only one home was Grandpa, but that didn't bother me because I'd got money from my folks earlier so that I could pay for a movie ticket and I had enough for bus fare too. I got ready, doing what I thought Mother would want me to do before I went downtown. I got to the front door, then explained to the old man that I was going to take the bus downtown and go see a movie. "No, you ain't," said he.

Now I was getting hot under the collar. This time I was defiant: "Yes, I am, and you can't stop me." I got the door open and then the old man said, "The reason you ain't gonna take the bus downtown is that the bus is gonna take you."

You know, I don't think I realized until now that I do the same thing the old man did all the time. I take a word someone said literally and change it into what I consider a joke. I must be more of a chip off the old man's block than I thought.

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