He was Irish as Paddy’s pig. Most folks called him Mac. I called him Grampa Mac. When he turned sixty seven I turned seven. My birthday was two days before his. He couldn’t wait to call me each year to see what it felt like hitting that number ahead of him. He lived a month past my 12th birthday. Every St. Patrick’s Day, as the Master of Ceremonies at the parish party, he’d dress up in a Kelly Green Suit, green bowler hat and do a little Irish jig with his ‘real’ shillelagh in hand. He crooned Irish tunes, called the Cake Walk, directed the Musical Chairs and introduced the special guests. He was the best storyteller I’ve ever heard. He had four grandkids. Each one of us had our own special songs, poems and stories committed to memory. Cousin Kathy memorized the entire 18 verses of the Animal Fair. I could recite the 1000 word poem of Paddy’s Dream. The most wonderful times with Grampa Mac took place every summer. I visited by myself for two weeks. Every night was story time. I crawled up in his lap in the rocking chair next to the tall radio. We’d listen to the newscasters like Gabriel Heater and Walter Winchell. Grampa Mac explained the news of the day and the aftermath of World War II. After the news he slowly reached for his cigar box and searched out the evening stogie. Diabetes had taken his eyesight and his eye lids never opened. His fingers deftly found the old orange filter and he slipped the filter on the end of the cigar and slowly turned the cigar as he held the lighter at the tip. I knew he was taking his time deciding what adventure he would tell me that night. As the smoke circled his head I could see the words forming in his mind and the excitement felt like Christmas. The night’s story might be a long journey about a safari in deepest darkest Africa. Another story would be about a Hospital full of crazy doctors and nurses experiencing hilarious antics with their patients. The safari story might be a re-cap of a Saturday Evening Post story. The hospital comedy might be a bunch of his old vaudeville routines all repackaged for an eight year old child’s imagination. After the stories and a big dish of ice cream, Grandma tucked me in and I listened to the sounds of trucks down-shifting the huge grade outside. Grandpa’s stories replayed in my mind as sleep came. During the day, we took long walks, talked baseball…he carried the sadness of the Black Sox of 1919 with him but still rooted for the White Sox. We spent hours talking to Dewey the parrot. Named for the famous Admiral Dewey, the parrot was born during the battle of Manila Bay in 1896. The parrot Dewey recited the names of a dozen family members and sung Irish tunes and sea chanteys. His also recited the famous line of Admiral Dewey, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley”. Dewey the parrot died one month after my Grandfather in 1954. Grampa Mac was 72 and Dewey was 57. The summer visits with my Grandparents always ended with a family get-together. Mom & dad picked me up and brought my little brother. My two cousins and their parents also spent the day laughing, eating and visiting. Grampa Mac spent hours with the four grandchildren down in his basement. He helped us write, get in costume and rehearse a huge play, a puppet show or a musical to present to the adults in the evening. We charged a dime admission and sometimes invited a few neighbors too. We cousins always left that evening feeling we had created a dramatic accomplishment. Now sixty years later, my time with my grandkids is just as precious to me, but can never be the same. The routines and the sharing are with video games, Facebook, cell phone pictures and multi-tasking stuff. I’m a digital Grampa Mac and my Grampa Mac was analog. I don’t know which is better but I’d never change one analog minute with him.

About bakoheat

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