Tuesday, January 4, 2011


One of my greatest joys as a child was visiting my grandparent's house. It was not a house filled with many rules. The only ones in place mostly had to do with food. We couldn't freely dip into my grandfather's beloved Twinkies, hot dogs, or liver worst; permission must first be sought. The other rule was that we definitely were not allowed to touch the thermostat, although we didn't know about that rule until my Uncle John, the youngest of my dad's eleven siblings, dared to touch the heat one day and chaos ensued.

I guess my grandfather was highly attuned to temperature settings and sensed that something was amiss. He went and checked the thermostat and when his suspicions were confirmed he started carrying on in a manner that was somewhat amusing. My grandfather wasn't prone to speaking, let alone yelling, and he wasn't even prone to moving out of his chair, so to see him running through the hall, flailing his arms and opening his mouth to scream was too much for my ten year old self to comprehend. My siblings and I ran upstairs, caught between nervous laughter and my Uncle John, who was trying quickly to remove himself from the scene.

At some point the crisis was diffused and we went back to doing things like making prank phone calls. My grandparent's house was a hotbed of prank phone call making. I think the fact that my grandfather was always reading and my grandmother was always working on puzzles meant we could get away with this for several minutes at a time without anyone becoming suspicious. When we were home in our tiny apartment, with a mother who had an uncanny knack for overhearing everything, we never even bothered trying.

My children started asking me questions about my grandparents yesterday, which started me down this path of reminiscing. One of my happiest memories is something I think about quite a bit, specifically every year when October rolls around.

The particulars are fuzzy, but it was fall, I was probably not more than ten or eleven and there was a baseball game on t.v. It was an important game, probably a play-off series, and the Yankees, who my brothers loved, and some other team, maybe the Red Sox, who my brothers hated, were playing. It may not have been the Red Sox, but my disdain for them makes telling this story more enjoyable.

Honestly, it doesn't matter that much who was playing. What matters is that my grandfather, who never watched sports, who never engaged anyone in conversation, who never got excited over anything other than people screwing with thermostat settings, started watching the game. The game grew more interesting and my grandfather moved up to the edge of his chair, which was quite shocking, and then he got excited and started pointing and wiggling his fingers at the t.v. and yelling out "WHAMMY!" whenever the pitcher threw the ball, and just like magic, each time he yelled that, a strike was called.

At first I think we may have thought he was losing his mind. A man doesn't go from never speaking to yelling out whammy without people thinking something is wrong, but the more he did it, the more we screamed and encouraged him to keep going and he did, right on through to the end of the game, which the Yankees won. Even now, as a forty one year old woman who should know better, I believe the reason the Yankees won that game was due solely to my grandfather's special powers.

If not for that small incident many years ago I may simply remember my grandfather as someone who never wore anything other than a black suit(I think he even wore it while he was sleeping) and someone who was obsessed with the air temperature of the house. I guess that's not a horrible way to remember someone, but telling my kids those things wouldn't have captured their attention the way the baseball story did. (Although a man who never,ever wears anything but a black suit, even on the weekends, even on vacation, even in the heat of muggy summers, is suddenly becoming more interesting for me to think about.)

update - After I wrote this my dad emailed me and let me know it was the Kansas City Royals, not the Red Sox, who the Yankees beat. I knew either my brothers or my dad would remember this seemingly minor detail -minor only to women. Julie, I hope this makes you feel a little better.


Terri said...

I love your grandpa!

My grandparent's house was also a hotbed of prank phone calls. We used to unscrew the phone at the bottom and take the speaker out so we could LAUGH, LAUGH, LAUGH and the person on the other end couldn't hear us.

Julie said...

I just got two for one!! I was coming on here to tell you how much I loved your magazine article that I just finished reading. It brought tears to my eyes, that's not uncommon when I read your writing, but usually I'm crying from laughing so hard! (like I am with this recent post)

Although, I'm not sure that we can be friends anymore because I am a Red Sox fan!! (I guess we can be friends though because after 16 years of being married to a Yankee fan, I've learned to deal with it!)

Tiffany said...

Your grandfather sounds like a very unique man. Love the whammy--such a funny word to choose.

ann marie said...

I thought of you when I put that Red Sox thing in the post :) hehe
Thanks on the article thing. I liked it until I read it in the magazine and then started cringing. I never like what I write when I see it in print. The kids loved it though, so that made me happy.
Terri, you were smarter than us. Weren't the days before caller id fabulous. Poor kids today, don't stand a chance

Julie said...

Much better!

Cheryl said...

I want to have more memories of my grandparents... love that you're getting it down. I can't wait to see the article!

Julie said...

Ok Whammy was a good one, but it's about tine for another blog post don't ya think!