Saturday, October 17, 2009

Granddad and Elvis.

Speaking of Granddads, mine died when I was six. My mom and I had gone to Luton to visit him, as he was in the final stages of lung cancer, and he died while we were there. We were all staying at my Auntie Barb's house. Granddad had the guest room, and my mom and I were on roll-aways in Auntie Barb's front room.

The night he died my cousin Becky and I were standing in the hall outside his room, watching him puke in to an empty margarine tub. Becky said, "'e's bein' sick in a mar-ja-REEN bowl!!"

Part of what made this experience so surreal and therefore so memorable was that I frequently had to stop and translate Lutonian British in to Pennsylvanian English. 'Bein' sick" = "throwing up"; "mar-ja-REEN" = "Parkay," etc.

During this visit, my older cousin Tracy asked my mom if I was retarded. Specifically, "Wot's up with 'er; is she thick?" This was because she had just spent five minutes asking me to hand her cigarettes to her. "Pass me ma fags," she had said, or something thereabouts. "Huh?" I said several times, blinking stupidly, until someone said, slowly: "She wants her cigarettes, luv!!"

The morning after the margarine bowl incident, my cousin and I were again standing on the landing, peering in to the guest room. The bed was stripped, and the aunts were scrubbing everything.

"Where's Granddad goin' ta sleep?" Becky wondered. I said maybe he was better and had gone back to his flat.

I was feeling pleased with myself for remembering to say "flat" and not "apartment", and also because if Granddad had gone home, then Mom and I could go stay with him. He lived in a high-rise with an elevator, and I'd get to push the buttons. Granddad would fix me Tony the Tiger for breakfast, and then he'd take me to the corner shop for an Orangina and a tube of Smarties.

Then one of the aunts shooed us away, and the next thing I recall is going downtown with Auntie Barb. We had to go see some man in an office. I think my mother was there, but I'm not really certain as Auntie Barb did all the talking. They seemed to be planning some sort of a party for Granddad, and the man was asking all kinds of questions about him. I was sitting nicely on a big chair, admiring the d├ęcor and wondering if it was Granddad's birthday. The man behind the desk asked another question about Granddad, and my Auntie Barb said "Yes, he died this morning."


My mother will tell you that I had, in fact, been told that Granddad was dead before I went with them to the undertaker's. She may be right, as I was an oblivious child too wrapped up in the goings-on in my head to take much notice of important stuff going on around me. I preferred my fantasies to the real world, but sometimes had difficulty separating the two. This is the same reason that I thought my sister's husband was Tony Orlando (as in, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree.") Give me a break...I was a spacey little kid, he had a mustache and bell bottoms, his name is 'Tony'...a perfectly understandable assumption on my part, I feel.

There was also that whole accent-language-barrier thing. I was used to my mom's accent as it was at home, which tended to lean a bit more to the posh. I think when she came to America, she was careful to pronounce things more clearly and succinctly so that people didn't stand there going "Huh?" and blinking at her stupidly, like me with the 'fags' incident. When she went home, though, she'd lapse in to the vernacular and be dropping her 'h's within a day. (**An interesting aside: she did the same thing when angry, which was a handy guage of just how pissed off she was. She dropped a lot of 'h's the day I got kicked out of Christian school, for example.)

So she probably DID tell me that Granddad had died, but she most likely sounded like she'd just fallen off a market stall on "Eastenders" at the time and my six-year-old self missed something in the translation. "Oh." I probably said. I said that a lot, as I discovered that my relatives didn't get so irritated with me if I pretended that I understood everything they meant.

After the shock in the undertaker's office came the viewing and the funeral. I remember not being allowed in the front room because that's where Granddad was. I didn't see him; I just have a vivid memory of closed french doors and not being allowed to open them.

On the day of the service I was sent to Auntie Maureen's for the afternoon to play with some rosy-cheeked cousin whose name escapes me. I remember the cousin had a fantastic doll house that she did not want me to touch, and we argued about ABBA. Specifically, I loved them and she didn't and we fought about it. The argument ended when I took a swing at her and missed, but knocked a glass of orange juice off the table in the process. Auntie Maureen shouted at us.

Then an announcement came over the radio that Elvis had died, and Auntie Maureen started to cry.

That's it; that's all I remember. The only other thing I remember about that trip was that I went down the road to the high street to get some sweets with my cousins Jane and Tracy. We were standing at the corner waiting to cross the road, and I kicked my leg really hard and my shoe flew off. It landed in the middle of the road, and Jane had to go get it. She was very nice about it and didn't get mad or anything, but then we were never there long enough for the novelty of a weird little American cousin to wear off.

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