1950s Archive

Roughing it with Gramp

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I can't keep open,

I'm gonna close up my shack.

The chief of police

Done tore my playhouse down

No use grieving',

I'm gonna leave this town!

“Must you sing that vulgar stuff?” asked Mama from under Gramp's bear-skin coat, the tip Of her nose blue as ice.

“It's real American, Sari, the real, lowdown Dixieland jazz.”

“For shame, such an old man and such a banal mind.”

“Sari.” said Gramp too kindly, “you don't know folk art when you see it. hear it, and eat it.” And he began again:

I'd drink muddy water, Lord.

Sleep like a hog

I'd rather drink muddy water, Lord.

Sleep in a hollow log

Than be in New York,

Treated like a dirty dog!

Mama began to cry. “Why, why did I come? I love New York; it's warm, it's clean. I'm cold, and I'm going to die here in the wilderness.”

Gramp cleared his throat and was sorry. He patted Mama's cold hands. “Now. Sari, one for all, all for one, that's our motto. I'll have you in a warm hotel and clapping yourself around some fancy grub soon. See any lights ahead. Stevie?”

“A few.”

“Salt Lake City,” said Gramp.

Mama sniffed with her small, perfect, and very cold nose, “I don't smell anything.” “


“You're supposed to smell the lake miles before you reach it.”

“No wind,” I said.

Mama sniffed again. “Salt Lake is very strong. I don't smell a thing.”

“Nose's shaped wrong.” Gramp said, and he inhaled, filling his eagle beak and snorting. “Well, I can smell it! I've got a nose full of salt. You're not built for smelling, Sari. Your nose is only a mighty handsome decoration. Pure décor.”

I said. “I don't smell anything either, Gramp.”

“There is a town ahead,” said Mama.

“Stude” reared, and we went ahead, and sure enough there was a big town with lights and people, and Mama cheered up and rattled her teeth politely in chilly chatter as Gramp made for the tower of a hotel.

A bump of direction was built into me, like the one God built into bees,“ Gramp said. ”You can throw away the compasses and maps. I'll sniff out the lay of the land. Isn't that a pretty hotel?”

“Yes, Gramp.” Mama said, as we drove up to a really neat-looking place. A bit Gothic, but with cheerful orange windows, full of warmth and light. The doorman opened the car door, and Gramp lit his cigar and said, “George, I hope you keep a good chef here.”

“We do, sir. Worked at the Waldorf.”

Gramp beamed, and Mama, looked at him and then out over the town, and she licked her lips with her little pink tongue as she crawled out of Gramp's bearskin coat. I knew Mama was getting ready for the kill; I knew the signs.

The doorman helped her out with care, as if she were rare china.

“Is he the best chef in Denver?” Mama asked.

“He sure is, lady,” said the doorman.

Gramp slowly took the cigar out of his month and looked at its glowing end, I had a feeling that if it had been a sword he would have fallen on it with a noble gesture. But it was only smoldering tobacco. “Denver?” he murmured in his polite, low voice.

“Welcome.” said the doorman, “to the Denver House.”

Mama walked slowly to the revolving doors and then turned and said crisply, “Will you, please, show the gentlemen which way is west?”

Gramp broke the neck of his cigar with a snap and threw it into the gutter. His shoulders sagged, and I knew suddenly the tragedy of old age, of the passing of time, and the crowding of years.…

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