jayellebee's Blog

March 26, 2010

King of the One-Liner

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 3:59 pm

     My grandfather was born in 1893 in Berkeley, California.  As a young boy, he would go down to the San Francisco Bay after school to help pull Mr. Spenger’s nets from the muddy waters.  The Spenger family ran a shop selling fresh fish, and for his efforts Grandpa would be given one of the day’s catch to take home to his family.  (Spenger’s Fish Grotto stands at the same site to this day, although the family is no longer involved.)

     I’m looking at a U.S. History textbook, copyright 1901,  in which the final chapter discusses The War with Spain and Territorial Expansion.  “John Edward Nixon” was scrawled with a blotchy fountain pen inside the front cover before Grandpa left school at the end of sixth grade to help support his five brothers and sisters.  He worked from that day until retirement, reading and taking the occasional night class to further his education.

     Grandpa’s sometimes off-color sense of humor didn’t always jibe with Grandma’s, and he had the bruised ribs parallel with the height of her elbow to prove it.  I don’t remember him ever telling jokes as such.  He was the king of the one-liners.  My brother and I grew up hearing phrases like, “Aw, you’d kick if you was playin’ football” when we groused about something.  “Mary Pickford pees in gallon cans” might be thrown out for no particular reason.  Of course, as a child I had no idea who Mary Pickford was, and I assumed he meant peas, not pees.  This confusion led to my asking why he’d say such a thing and Grandma sharpening her elbow.  “Sixteen will get you twenty” netted the same responses from both of us.

     John Nixon lived well into his 90s, giving me the opportunity to know him as an adult.  He was excluded from all the intimate details when my grandmother was in a delicate way in 1916, but showed unrestrained curiosity in the approach of my first child fifty-seven years later. We sat side-by-side so Grandpa could rest a gnarled, arthritic hand on my belly, experiencing the baby’s kicks as I explained the concept of using LaMaze breathing to take one’s mind off the pain of labor.  The man was intelligent and inquiring, asking me questions he never could have raised with his wife in a different age, a different world.

     My grandfather’s favorite sport was arguing.  He didn’t argue to change anyone’s point of view or to right a wrong.  He argued for the sake of argument.  Causing another person’s blood pressure to soar and voice to rise was his golden ring.  Politics and religion were his bread and butter.  The man could proclaim in earnest the merits of a Republican to one person, and praise the Democratic opponent to another, all for the pure joy of rattling cages, pushing buttons, and yanking chains.  Anything to draw his victim into a heated debate.

     Grandpa’s mind out-lasted his body.  He spent his final years confined to a wheelchair.  But something was different the last time I saw him.  The clarity of his thoughts moved in-and-out of focus.  One minute lucid and argumentative, the next fuzzy around the edges, confused why I’d brought him his favorite canned corned beef hash (yuck) for lunch.  We visited until my maternal duties required me to take my leave.  I stood in his doorway saying good-bye, then turned.  Grandpa called me back to him. 

     “I thought my nose was running,” he said.  “But it’s snot.”

     Ah, yes.  The king of the one liners, sending me away with words to live by.


1 Comment »

  1. What a charming glimpse of your grandfather. My father had a lot of one-liners as well. I’ll try to rememe sme of the and share with you.

    Comment by Bee Hylinski — March 26, 2010 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

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