I was in fifth grade when my Italian grandfather moved into our small three-bedroom bungalow on the outskirts of Gary. My father’s father came to live with us after he was kicked out of his home. He lived with my father’s sister, her family and my grandmother. My father’s mother had something to do with his eviction but I was never privy to that family squabble. I remember going with my dad and picking grandpa up, then being chased down the sidewalk by two crazy women yelling in Italian swinging wooden spoons at us.
My grandfather, a tall, thin, thick-white-haired, blue-eyed Sicilian, spoke very little English. He always smelled of Old Spice After-Shave lotion. At first, he frightened me because all he would do is sit and smoke and stare into space. Eventually, though, he became one more person in our home that irritated my mother.
Grandpa was a creature of habit. Daily he would wake up to a breakfast of his own making. He had a special yellow bowl where he would pour a cup of hot coffee, stir in some milk and crack a raw egg. He stirred it up with a fork and slurped it down right from the bowl. Sometimes some of it would hang from his chin. Since I was the oldest and could reach the kitchen sink, I had the job of clearing the table and washing the breakfast dishes. I always hated touching that sticky mustard-colored residue in the bottom of the bowl.
My mother designated grandpa as my companion every Saturday when I had to travel on the bus to catechism in downtown Gary. Grandpa dressed up in his blue pin stripped suit donned his black Fedora hat and splashed on more after shave lotion. He would hold my hand with his slender nicotine-stained fingers, and walk me across the street on Tenth Avenue to catch the bus. Grandpa attended his Sons of Italy lodge meetings while I was in class. After catechism, he would occasionally treat me to a chocolate malt in Grant’s department store. If I was lucky he would also let me choose some candy to eat on the bus ride home. I always picked Rollo’s.
Grandpa and mom had many battles. She didn’t understand him and he didn’t understand her. It was a language barrier and more. But most of their fights were about his bathing habits or lack thereof. He only bathed on Saturday’s. His rule, not hers.
Grandpa stayed in my brother’s bedroom. My sister, brother and I shared a room. It was crowded. Finally, a year later, my parents contracted to build a four bedroom home south of town. Grandpa swore he wasn’t going to move with us. My mother would tease him and say we were going to sell him with the old house. In the end, grandpa got his way. He died just before we moved.


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