My grandma had told me everything. And despite all that drinking, the abuse, and the abandonment... my mom and all her brothers and sisters remained so loyal to him. There were pictures of him on the shelves and walls in all their homes... that movie star smile of his in every one... his army uniform, the boxing ring, another with his shirt off in the garage, drinking with the boys... and if that wasn't enough... they were always making it a point to visit him on the holidays and for his birthday, taking him gifts and food, and cards. This annoyed me because I could never recall him ever calling my mom, or grandma, on their birthday's or during the holidays.
“How come you’re so nice to him if he was so bad to grandma?” I asked my mom one day.
She thought about it for a moment. “He wasn’t always so bad to her… and he’s the only dad I have. I can’t just go and exchange him. For good or for worse, he’s all I have, and I still love him, and you should, too... even though he wasn’t very nice to grandma.” she told me.
I shook my head in disagreement. The answers and explanations over such matters were never good enough for me... even at six years old.
“Well, I only have one dad, too... and he wasn’t nice to you and you don’t see me taking him presents and stuff.”
She dropped the clothes she was holding and smiled at me. She always did this when I managed to make some sense, annoying as that probably was for her.
“This isn’t the same thing,” my mom pleaded, “You’ll understand it more when you’re older,” she said. “And he’s still your grandpa. You can’t exchange grandpa’s either... you get what you get. At least you have one. There's plenty of children in the world who would love to have a grandpa.”
She had a point. But there was no backing down at this stage in the process.
“Well, I like my other grandpa better.” I told her. "He's nice to my other grandma... and I wish he could be married to both of them. Then you would have a nicer father, too."
She gave me a look, 'the look.' I knew it was time for me shut the operation down.
"We're leaving in 30 minutes. I don't want it here it anymore... you're going and that's that."
If I continued, the screaming would begin... a screaming that reached a pitch that would have all the dogs in the neighborhood howling for dear mercy the same way they did when they heard sirens on cop cars and fire trucks. In addition to the screaming, certain restrictions could be placed on how much TV I watched, or what toys I would get to play with. It was a risky line to hover near... and I could only go so far without having to pay a dear consequence.
All these things were still racing through my head, very much in the way that the clouds and blue sky were, as I sat in the back seat of the car, staring out the window.
"Just be nice to him, please." my mom asked.
I looked at the back of her seat and made a face, imitating what she has just said.
"I saw that you little monster!"
"Can't you just drop me off at grandma's while you go over there?"
"No! You have to meet him sometime... he's your grandpa!"
I shook my head and looked back up at the sky. It was the only thing I could do.
The car stopped a while later. I got out apprehensively.
The door to the house we had stopped in front of, opened up. A sharply dressed man walked towards us. There he was, that smile, like it was in all the pictures on all those shelves and walls.
He hugged my mom and kissed her. My mom introduced me to him. He kneeled down in front of me and opened his arms.
"Come give your grandpa a hug," he said. "I've heard so many things about you."
"I've heard so many things about you, too." I told him.
He laughed. My mom did, too... nervously though. Then she gave me 'the look.' With his arms still held open, and me not wanting to jeopardize my toys and TV watching privileges, I leaned in and let him grab me. He gave me a good squeeze and let me go. When I stood back I realized something magical had taken place. The corn and rice that had been on my shirt, was now on his.
I smiled back at him. He liked that.
He may have had everyone in his pocket, but not me, not ever.