My Grandaddy was, basically, a wily, lovable scoundrel. This witty, shifty, cagy, rotten old cuss who lived all over, fathered children on anybody who let their guard down, would steal a hot stove and already have it sold off, would respond to insults by knocking the offender through a row of billy-goat houses, and was just generally in love with the world.
The weird thing, I guess, is that he got all this respect from his generations of offspring. It just used to kill me that people would respectfully listen him out and spoke of him in the way people speak of parsons and doctors and Senators and such–but my goodly, Godly daddy got no respect at all. It was really embarrassing when I figured out why: he could provide. He kept all his young fed, clothed and housed even with all his drinking and screwing around and betting. It didn’t seem fair. But later, it kind of made sense. A big fact about Grandaddy, he was fun.
It seemed odd, when I look back on it that he would sire five actual legal, named sons and four of them would be rapscallion, roughneck, rakehell, rogues. And all of them up to their gross little sideburns into rum-running, horse-doping, mailbox-jimmying, car-lifting, cow-tipping, law-scoffing, and raise-helling. And then there’d be my humble, do-gooding, self-denying father. He also had four daughters, who I never did figure out. I finally wrote off my auntie tribe as acts of God or works of nature or some such thing.
Grandad loved to play with kids, especially little girls. And any child that fell into his hands was in for a wild ride. You had no idea where you’d be swooped, tossed, chuckled, tickled, or finagled to. But you’d be laughing like a fool the whole way. In between having the pee scared out of you or bursting into tears.
He loved beautiful things. Horses, cars, guns, women, children, trees, lakes, wild game, hound dogs, explosions. Anything that stroked the senses, he’d take its measure and savor every drop of it. The expression I associate with him most would be, “Now ain’t that one beautiful little trick?” and he’d apply it to anything listed above and much, much more.
Leading up to what he said the only time he went to one of my pageants when I was about thirteen. I came off the stage all radiant with triumph and ran to the family circle and everybody gushed and jabbered except him. When this got noticed, somebody asked him what he thought about little cousin Camelia winning the whole shebang and he kind of grumped around, stepped over to finger my satin sash and said, “It’s a bunch of damfool goosegrease.”
We were all used to him (and I was beginning to feel the same way about pageants, myself) but that still took my retinue aback and everybody wanted to know why he’s say such a common thing about me and my contest. What he said was, “Why are they paying for all these fancy dresses and half-wit shoes and tomfoolery? You want a beauty spectacule, just get the prettiest little girls and let them run around nekkid. Let you see the most beautiful little things in the world the way the Good Lord made them to be.”
That shocked a few onlookers, you can well believe, especially a few of Daddy’s parish that had come over to congratulate me. Thing was, though, I agreed with him. I said, “Should we do that right now, Grandaddy?” That got a lot more shock and squawking and by the time it died down he was gone, over looking at some fellow’s hopped-up Ford V-8.
I look back on him in a different way than I did at the time. Of course. But I mean really different. I started seeing a lot of the games he played with us as sort of veiled or sublimated sexual aggression. He’ bounce us on his knee (to the point I’m surprised we all don’t have a collapsed coccyx or two today) and sing little songs that always ended up with us being spilled off and floundering for a grip. Two of the songs I recall started out, “Come buddy buck and try your luck, see how many fingers I hold up.” Another was “Ride a cock horse to Bunberry cross.”
He had another stunt that always got us screeching with laughs. He’d start spinning his finger around in a helix, pointing at us, and recite, “Yonder come a man with an auger in his hand, gonna bore a hole, bore a hole, bore a hole right HERE!” When he’d bore his finger into our little belly buttons.
He loved to grab us up when we came out of the bath or had shucked our clothes to bomb around naked. He’d bite our butts and put his mouth on our tummies and blow air out to make a farting sound, which also tickled us silly. He used to pick me up by the ankles and dangle me around, then grab me by the nape of my neck and old me up, cross-wise in front of him and say, “Think I’ll eat me some watermillon.” Then he’d bury his face, with his scraggly old wire whiskers, into my belly and chomp back and forth up and down my tummy like he was eating the biggest slice of melon ever.
He used to scoop Bethany up by cupping a hand under crotch and hold his arm straight up over his head, with her sitting on his hand like a saddle trying not to tumble off, and walk around yelling, “Bethany Ann, you come down off your high horse.” He’d dash up to doorways and duck her down through them at the last minute. He was like being in a live action Daffy and Bugs episode. And it was funnier and more terrifying because it was real life. We ate that trauma up.
So how many are already shaking their heads and saying, “My God, he was a pervert.”? There was a time when that was all innocent. Nobody would think a thought about it. But now times are different and if somebody had seen it we’d of had child protection squads raiding the house like revenewers.
But here’s my take on it, from these modern times. It was all innocent. Yes he liked getting his hands on little girls’ bodies. He liked kissing the mess out of little girls’ bodies. And there wasn’t anything wrong with it.
He was a pure soul. Maybe not a good, white, squeaky soul, but he had a purity down deep. Didn’t put on any airs for anybody. If his balls itched, he bygod scratched them. If you don’t like it, that’s your look out.
And among the things he admired most were little girls. For obvious reasons. Little girls are pretty and sweet and have cute little voices and giggles and shrieks. And have perfect, smooth, firm, glowing little bodies. The natural impulse is to want to nip their butts and kiss them all over. My baby niece’s favorite thing was when I’d nibble her toes and stuff her whole foot in my mouth. Or do the watermelon trick.
He loved beautiful creatures and didn’t mind showing it or indulging it. He didn’t kiss the ground we walked on, he kissed the bouncy little booties we sat on. I guess he was a vulgarian because he wanted to touch anything he liked the looks of. (Actually there would be no doubt to anybody who knew him that he was a vulgarian of the most vulgar rank.) He wanted to taste and exalt what he liked. He wanted to touch it, to kiss it, to apple it into his eye.
What he didn’t want to do was possess it or trade on it or degrade or defile it. He wanted beauty to keep on being beautiful forever. It never does, though. So you might as well kiss it goodbye while it’s still around. So is that OK with you?
That’s a lot of what I’m saying here. Beauty doesn’t have to be dirty, and you should be able to tell the difference between the fans and the predators. Might come in handy some day. Might be your own look-out.
I remember Grandaddy sitting on the porch swing (which hadn’t swung since I could remember) talking and drinking corn liquor with some of his fellow varmints, and holding up a shotgun at arm’s length, sighting down the barrel. He brought it down to his lap and broke it open, then slapped it shut and said, “Now ain’t that a beautiful lil trick?”
I heard him say the same thing about a slick draw play in a Steelers game the day before when Pow and Selah and I were watching it with him, drinking mint ice tea and betting against the Falcons. And if a pretty little pre-teener like me had run across the porch stark naked he’d have watched her out of site, leaned back on the swing and said, “Now weren’t that a beautiful lil trick?”
So, in some way I haven’t quite figured out yet, what I’m saying is something like, If us pretty girls run around on a stage naked to give rascally old men a smile, what lookout is it of yours?