by Beverly Rose Joyce
My grandpa drove a truck. George, not Russ. It was just like the one on Sanford and Son. But green. Not emerald or kelly or hunter; more army. He kept in the back the tools of his trade: trowel, spackle knife, levels, floats, mixer, sponges, chalk, thread, hammer, hawk. And, of course, buckets. And ladders. He was a plasterer. And so he was forever covered with little white specks. Like a snowball cookie. They filled the little ditches which made webs of his hands. Of his face.
My grandpa wore flannel. Never open, always buttoned. Underneath, a fresh undershirt peeked from where clavicles meet. Regardless of the weather, his legs were always covered. Never did I see him in shorts. Usually he wore jeans, lighter in the cheeks and the knees. Sometimes they were traded for navy docker-type slacks. His discipline held them up. His toes? Always in shoes. Size 13. Brown or black. No sneakers or sandals or loafers, or even slippers. Only shoes.
My grandpa was tall. Well over six feet. And rail thin. Which I suppose was fortunate for him. Since my Nonna was Sicilian and believed love was found in a pan. His eyes were the shade of robin eggs. His scalp was a pool cue by the time I came around, although even black-and-whites from his youth show him blonde. A little bit of it was left, a thin white scarf danced around the nape of his neck.
My grandpa grinned like Halloween. Some of his teeth were missing. He would plug them in to go out but left them to soak in a bathroom tray when home. Well water, he blamed. Truth is when he lit up his dimples played interference. Big chuckholes—lowercase synonym for “me”—dotted both cheeks.
My grandpa loved a good joke. His laugh potpourri filled the room. It was not quite a chuckle or giggle or cackle or howl. It was more the sound that slips off the tongue when the least likely outcome indeed happens. Right after that initial gasp is a tick; right there was where his laugh lived.
My grandpa smoked. I would say like a chimney, but that is not quite right. Sky sucks smolder up a fireplace, and out. Then wind shoos the fog away. After a good drag, though, clouds would leak out his two nostrils, his mouth. It hung in the air like a loaded question. Leaked into pores, stitches, cracks, crevices, as china-trapped infused leaves. The left breast pocket of his flannel was a bit bigger than its twin. The repeat burial of his red-and-white flip-top box had stretched it out. Wet cloth to line, its edge hung in the brief absence of its cardboard coffin.
My grandpa wore glasses. Big black rims, plastic. They rode the bump of his nose like a kid at a carnival. Either his lobes were not even or the temples needed adjusting, because they were forever crooked. They were strong, so no matter the weather or the time the glass made him seem to have a big secret.
My grandpa rode in a long Monte Carlo. On weekends. Or on days he had no job. It was the color of half-tone piano keys, inside and out. The seats were like pads of butter—stiff and unwelcoming on dewy mornings and on days school was called off, but made you melt if they had sat on asphalt a spell. It had a ship’s wheel, bumpy all 360 degrees. And a front seat that slid as one big loaf back and forth. You had to origami yourself to get to the sofa in the back. That boat had two enormous doors. More like elephant ears. No wonder he killed it in the back corner of every parking lot; otherwise, he would have never gotten out.
My grandpa was patient. My Nonna could not drive, never learned. She waited till her George came home to take her where she needed to go. She would tie her babushka under her chin, rain or shine because one just never knew . . . Purse stocked with hankies and a horn, she was out the door. Bernie Shulman’s or Ferrara’s or Alesci’s or Woolworth’s were her usual stops. He would drop her at the door, then ease that tank into a lonely spot along the yellow line-painted perimeter. He would twist the dash dial to his favorite station, Magic 105.7. He cranked oldies, then rolled his window down. Just short of all the way. The spot where the glass slips into the door makes a perfect substitute ashtray. An anthill of butts would litter the lot by the time my Nonna emerged.
My grandpa drank coffee. By the pot. My Nonna had a tin percolator she put on the burner from first chirp to sundown. The sound the hot brew made when it hit the lid still reminds me of him. She had a bread drawer. Any good Sicilian does. Heaven is the smell of that door slid in. He would dunk slices of Catalano’s Italian in his cup. Day-old so the crust was just hard enough to resist when bent. Threw crumbs. Black was how he took it. The joe, caffe. No sugar. Never cream.
My grandpa loved sweets. I would say he had a sweet tooth, but like I said before, he did not have many of them. He had a stash of Stella D’oro—almond, not original—in the phone stand behind his chair in the kitchen. Sometimes we would ride up to Richmond Mall. There was a candy store inside. I think it was next to the magazine stand. They sold caramels he liked to suck on. They were twisted in clear plastic wrap; the crinkle it gave when they escaped its synthetic womb pulled his mouth corners up every time.
My grandpa had a favorite. Pistachio. Ha! Thought it was going to be a person. Well, I guess that could be a name. No way did he let gums keep him from that green. The nuts, plucked from the shell and sunken in frozen sweet, had gone soft. Just enough for him to have. He would burrito them in his mouth, the warmth of his tongue making a salty mush of them.
My grandpa, on lucky days when he was not on a job, would load me in the truck. No way could I eat in his white-walled Eagle. He would bring me up to the soda shop on Mayfield. We would jerk into a space, I would fall onto the runner and slam the door. Push the button, pull the handle three times to make sure it was locked. We would go in, hand-in-hand, and eye the big tan cardboard tubes sunken in chilly glass. He always knew what he was going to get. Never was he impatient with my indecision. Cup? Cone? Pink, white, brown? These days were few, so I drew them out as best I could. The black tri-fold in the back of his pants told me I could order one scoop, which only made the choice harder. Once, though, I guess I had ogled the case a while, so he said get two.
My grandpa fisted both pointy waffles till we safely made our exit. There were red benches instead of dirt-filled boxes in the front windows of the shop. We sat and licked happiness. I had plowed to the bottom of the top scoop when he told me to slow down. I figured he would warn me about a tummy ache. Mom always did. You are at the best part. Where the flavors mix together. Where two colors make one that is new. Lick too quick, and you will miss it. Like life—blink, and it is gone, he said instead.
The Light of Inspiration
by Jane Zich
Beverly Rose Joyce is a poet, photographer, and plein air painter who lives in Brecksville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, with her husband, Carl, and their two daughters, Mallory and Samantha, along with their two dogs, Shadow and Reggie. She holds a BA in English from Baldwin-Wallace University and a MA in English from Cleveland State University, and she was a public high school English teacher for sixteen years. She has published written and visual art in various literary journals and anthologies.
Jane Zich is a San Francisco Bay Area artist. Her painting process relies heavily on imagery from the unconscious and focuses on humankind’s relationship with animals, the environment, and each other. Her award-winning work has been juried into numerous national shows and is featured in psychology, art, and literary publications.