Take Your Granddaughter on a Road Trip

When you drive out to the Midwest to see your eldest son and his small family, there is no one to rotate the beers for the nine hours. But on the way back, you will have your 8-year-old granddaughter with you, and she is a good girl.

Put the granddaughter and a big metal cooler full of Schlitz cans and ice in the back seat. Show the girl how to rotate the cans whenever she hands you a fresh beer as you drive. Each can has to be turned and buried deeper in the melting ice so the beer is icy and refreshing whenever you crack open a new one. Her hand reaches up to give you a wet, ice-chilled beer as you chuck the empty out the window. You don’t ask her to open them. Her fingers are too small.

The author and her Pappap

The author and her Pappap

Smoke three Camel non-filtered cigarettes while you drink each beer, flicking the ash out the window, which is left permanently cracked. Light the next Camel off of the last one. Your wife, in the passenger seat, and granddaughter, sing songs while you hum tunelessly along and crack jokes about the road signs.

“Hey, why do you have to watch out for Falling Rock? She was an Indian Princess who ran away from home and her old man is looking for her!”, and laugh your wheezy, boozy laugh when your granddaughter groans that she has heard that one a thousand times.

When she asks, tell the girl all of the stories about all of the tattoos that cover your arms and legs.

“I got ‘em in the Navy. This one is the Fightin’ Irish! This one is your Grandma’s name, because she’s my Irish Rose.” Let the girl rub her fingers up and down your right arm, feeling the ridges of the tattoos.

Ask her for another cold one.

 

- Beth Dugan's previous essays for Dead Housekeeping are Blue and Grey and Brown, Evergreen, and Everything Can be Used Again. Her website is www.bethdugan.com.

 

How to Pierce Your Granddaughter's Ears

Ask your granddaughter to wait until she is ten.

When the time comes, seek the consent of her mother, your hard-working daughter-in-law.

Pull out the thinnest needle, cotton thread, and a lump of beeswax from your sundry box. Rub wax on the thread to make it strong and then run it through the needle’s eye. Hold the needle in the flame of a candle to sterilize it.

Sit the ten-year-old on a stool in the breeze of your table fan. Tie up her hair and dot each delicate earlobe with your ballpoint pen. Give her candy to suck on.

Place your pet parrot on the girl’s arm and teach it some tunes. Let her feed it hot peppers to sharpen its tongue.

While whistling a tune, push the needle quickly and smoothly in with your right hand, stretching the lobe with the left. Cut the thread and tie its ends while blowing on the red lobe.

“Bahadur girl. Bewaqoof parrot.” Let your roaring laughter drown the pain.

Repeat.

The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

Each month, dress up and trim your beard for going to the bank for your pension. Your granddaughters will ask you to get laddoos. 

Save ten rupees each month per girl for gold earrings—60 rupees in total.

Gold is on a rise but your life isn’t. Only two of the six have gold in their ears when you die.

You cannot fill all the holes in one lifetime.

 

 

- Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She now lives in the United States. Her life is blessed with plenitude but she is oceans away from her family. That pain makes her write and express herself. Her work has been published in Ms Magazine blog, The Same, The Aerogram, The Sidereal, Star 82 Review among others. She blogs at PunyFingers.

Hank Has a Cigarette

Hank settles into a lawn chair as the graduation party unfolds around him. He adjusts himself against the vinyl as he watches his youngest grandson swapping jokes with some of his buddies over by the big cottonwood tree. He’s a good kid. Got a bit of a wild streak in him, but honestly it would be a little disappointing if he didn’t.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Hank roots around for his plastic lighter. As his fingers close around the soft pack of cigarettes, he thinks back on 20 years of subterfuge. Joyce, God rest her, always on him any time the grandkids came to visit. Scrub out all the ashtrays. Open the windows and turn on a table fan to air out the three-season porch. Get those smoky polo shirts in the laundry basket and put on a fresh one before they get here. Keep up the routine once they arrived. Take the dog out for long walks by himself. Run unexplained errands after meals. Blame the smell in the mini-van on some wayward poker buddies. Always keep a roll of breath mints in a front pocket.

An irritating routine, but all for a good cause. Filthy habit and all that, and certainly not one he’d want to pass on to a couple of impressionable young boys. But they’re not boys anymore. They’re men. And now that high school is over, they can make their own decisions.

Hank 1.jpg

Hank pulls a Newport out of the pack and lights up with all the casualness of a six-decade smoker. He’s aware of the multiple shocked gazes that have settled on him. He takes a slow drag and exhales a smooth white cloud as he watches a red squirrel winding its way up the trunk of the cottonwood. They’ll get over it.

 

Ira Brooker lives in Saint Paul and writes anything for which people will pay him, plus a lot of things for which they will not. He has a site for professional stuff, and another for pop culture.

 

How To Be A Racist And Raise Your Granddaughter To Be An Anti-Racist On The Sly

My Cumby grandfather’s racism lay curled around the stoop rail like a concrete hound made alive. Heavy, slow, heaving - almost too much trouble to keep up with breathing. Somehow, it sighed.

Once, as a child, he said, he and his brothers had tied a black child to a tree and played slavery. A child myself, I put a finger in my mouth to pay excruciating attention to a hangnail. My hands my tell clear as tea leaves.

The story went on. The child was no more than three. My grandfather no more than six or seven. They were neighbors. I’ve been to the site of both houses. Nothing but glass from broken tail lights and disembodied flocks of daffodils show there was ever anything there. Lumber company land now.

“It was all in fun,” he said.

I don’t think it’d be fun to be tied to a tree. I’d be scared.

“Well no one would do that to you.”

I’d fight and scream and cry.

“I’d come a-running. I wouldn’t let them.”

No one stopped you, Hugh.

“No one needed to.”

Who would have? Stopped you.

“No one.”

Alright, then.

“No one stopped you, Hugh” could have been his epitaph if he hadn’t been cremated. His ashes blew in our mouths as we tried to say the things you say when someone dies. We pretended against the wind.

Cumby derives from Cambow. Our first American ancestor was African. Remembered now.

image by Meredith Counts

image by Meredith Counts

- Jennifer Cumby is an editor at Dead Housekeeping.

How to Grow and Preserve a Garden

Don’t worry overmuch about details. Consult a grandchild about where you should put the garden, and then dig up the lawn wherever they point. Pretty much if you till the ground and throw some seeds in and make sure it gets watered, things will grow. You will have to do the tilling, but little kids like to help plant seeds. Show a grandchild how to do the first one and then let them do the rest however they want. If they get bored and abandon the job, you can finish it.

The best way to water is the beer method: stand out there watering for as long as it takes you to drink a beer while the child swings on the rope swing. When your beer is done, or the child wants to do something else, you are done watering.

Harvest when there are too many strawberries for the child to keep up with by eating them straight from the vine. For veggies, harvest whenever. If several are ripe together, then you can preserve them.

People worry about canning, but really the process is pretty easy. It’s okay if your kitchen is dirty as long as the jars are clean. Boil the jars in a stock pot while you are cooking the preserves. For the preserves, measurements can be approximate; let a grandchild do the measuring, but don’t let them stir the preserves if they are young, lest they burn themselves. They can help transfer the hot preserves to the jars if they are old enough and carefully supervised. Details like head space and pretty labels don’t matter; if the jar is 2/3rds full, it will be fine. Process the jars in the stock pot and then take them out and line them up on the counter. Draw your grandchild’s attention to the popping sound as each jar seals.

Give the preserves to your children: the grandchild’s parents, aunts, uncles. The labels can read “cranberry something” or “corn peppers onions.” A general idea of what the jars contain is fine.

Months after you die, your children will open the jars, and you will be able to feed them again.

 

- Tedra Osell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in California with her precocious son and a bitey cat. She used to be a famous blogger and a non-famous English professor. Her father died of pancreatic cancer this spring.

How to Clean Your Plate

It’s not how you make an omelette that’s important. It’s how you eat it.

You have to eat it all. Stay focused: there is one piece of toast, cut on the diagonal, because your son is too poor to buy extra bread. He is too poor to buy extra bread because you threw him out of your house when he was 18. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the toast.

Eat one forkful of omelette at a time. Make sure each forkful has the same amount of eggs, cheese and chives on it. Don’t say grace. Wonder if your son ever says grace. Wonder if he goes to Mass. Don’t ask. Eat your eggs.

His wife made the omelette. His wife made the new baby, and the girl sitting beside you. You have never met his wife before. Your son is thirty-two.

When the eggs are half-gone, mop your plate with one half of the toast. Eat it one bite at a time. Wonder if the little girl knows that “chleb” means “bread” in your language.

For the second half of the omelette, cut the eggs with your fork and place them on the toast. Eat the toast with the eggs. Do not help the little girl when the eggs fall off her toast; everyone has to learn sometime.

Turn your plate over. Turn her plate over and hold it above her head. Tell her “This is good. This is clean. This is how you know you are a good girl.”

illustration by the author

illustration by the author

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader and is a regular contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist.

 

J.R. Joslin's Thrifty Kitchen

My grandfather grew up during the Depression. Eventually, he became a successful shipbuilder, paid for his children to go to college, and retired comfortably, but he always believed a shower should last only three minutes, socks should be darned not replaced, and a meal could be made using whatever was on hand. 

On our fishing trips, he concocted sandwiches to demonstrate this last point. 

“Which would you like?” he’d ask. “Peanut butter and mustard, or refried beans and mayonnaise?”

The author and his granddad, 1981

The author and his granddad, 1981

I gobbled these sandwiches like ambrosia. In the last few years, I’ve treated my own children—who never knew my grandfather—to these inventive comestibles. As a kid, I wanted to love these sandwiches because I loved my grandfather, but the truth is, they’re barf-inducing.

While not all of his depression-inspired dishes were delicious—or even edible—my grandfather’s spirt of thrifty resourcefulness has followed me into adulthood, and more specifically, into my own kitchen. As my children can attest, sometimes the results are less than delectable, but at least one is five-star:

In a bowl, combine:

1 package boiled Ramen noodles;

3 tablespoons leftover Ramen water;

1 Ramen flavor pouch;

1 tablespoon peanut butter;

1 pan fried hot dog (sliced up);

 Hot sauce to taste (Sriracha works best)

I frequently recommend this recipe to friends, to rave reviews. Even my children like it. One day, maybe their children will, too.  

 

- Matthew Hobson's work has appeared in literary journals including Hayden's Ferry Review, The Chattahoochee Review, River City, South Dakota Review, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, The Baltimore Review, Hobart, and Driftless Review where, in 2014, he won the annual flash fiction contest. Currently, he is completing a literary mystery novel. He teaches at Loyola University and lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children. You can read more of Matthew’s flash nonfiction by clicking here.

Let Her Think it's Terrible

When a grandchild pesters you for a sip of your coffee, because you have a known sweet tooth and she figures whatever you're having must be good, make a strong pot and give her a steaming mug of her own.

Telling her coffee will stunt her growth won’t work. She is contrary and will say she prefers to be small. She still isn’t brushing her teeth because someone tried to turn Merritt Morrison’s dentures into a cautionary tale. That backfired and now she wants false teeth just like he has.

Give it to her straight, so full she can hardly lift it.

After her first burning taste she will leave you alone. Don’t say you haven't had your coffee black since the war. Add milk and sugar when she wanders off to pet the poodle. Stir idly, enjoy.

In the afternoon the child will grab her customary can of Coke from the fruit cellar. She’ll find you first, sweeping sweet-smelling sawdust in your little basement woodshop or enjoying the sun on a patio lawn chair, planning tomorrow’s puttering. Maybe you will trim the apple tree, or hose off the cement Virgin who presides by the shed.

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

Do you want a pop, too? She’ll drink hers in front of the TV with M&Ms from the cut glass candy jar by your seat on the couch.

This same method works for your evening 7&7s. Let her have a harsh taste of Seagram’s before you sweeten it. She won’t bother you for another sip and her mother will come take her home as you turn the dial to Wheel of Fortune.

 

- Meredith Counts is a Founding Editor of Dead Housekeeping. This piece appears on the three month anniversary of starting this site. 

Abuelo: How to Houseguest

To his credit, he didn’t do it often, but when he did houseguest Abuelo did it his way. As he did all things.

You knew he was there by the pile of newspapers tossed on the couch. Or by the TV blaring Univision or wrestling. How he ever found these stations with my dad’s inability to rig our cable without the use of less than three remotes was a minor miracle and a testament a general competence that sprung into action only when he was alone and unable to demand service.

Photo by  Sade Murphy

Photo by Sade Murphy

He would sometimes spend a good hour in the bathroom. And while the fan inside blared and the rustle of even more newspapers came from under the door, he would always know if you’d change the channel or turn off the TV. God forbid. The yelling.

Abuelo came from a place of IDGAF and it’s only a place I can now find charming. When you are 14 and there is an old man spread on your couch, wearing black knee socks and sandals, a crisp white tank top and shorts (even in winter) it only gives you further cause to hide in your bedroom you’ve designed to look like the studio apartment you wish you lived in.

The world was his. And so was everyone’s house.

- Diana Saez