Grandfather was a stately, proper man, very reminiscent of his stern Swiss heritage, but he had a twinkle in his eye that made him less frightening to me. As a child of nine or ten I would come into the store and ask him if I could ‘borrow’ a dollar to get some treats. I think he was so taken back by my audacity that he would smile, take out his wallet, and make a generous swoop of a dollar bill to my open hand. Rich with my dollar, I would half-skip to the five and dime and buy little trinkets, a drink, and still have a few pennies change. It was a little game between my grandfather and me that was profitable and fun and seemingly amusing to him.
When I was a teenager, he was happy to have me working in the leather goods department for the summer. Since I was a real wage earner, I had no need to ask for handouts anymore. I felt proud to be working at the store, and I had a good, friendly rapport with the customers and other clerks. I had pretty much mastered the pneumatic tubes for sending money and receiving change, although sometimes I would not correctly add the tax. Swoosh, clunk! The metal cylinder with the corrected sales slip and change fell into the mesh basket. Embarrassed, I told myself I needed to be more careful. I worked hard to not be the boss’s granddaughter.
My grandfather had a habit, however, that was grating on my budding teenage independence. Since there wasn’t rural delivery to our newly built home, our family’s personal mail was delivered to the department store. Many times my grandfather would personally deliver my mail to me at my station. I soon learned that his role as pseudo mailman was counter to my need for some privacy.
As chance would have it, I had gone to Europe earlier that summer on a group tour and had met a charming Italian boy, Angelo, who was now writing to me. My grandfather, however, would spot me at the sales counter and bring me Angelo’s letters with the return address circled. “What’s this?” he would ask with a slight reproach in his voice and with a finger pointing to the Italian postmark. Instantly defensive, I would turn hot and red, and then take the letter. I felt violated. At the age of sixteen, I was embarrassed about any talk about dating. Angelo was my very own mystery Italian boyfriend and here my grandfather knew about each letter that I received. He knew before I could even tell my friends, who were always anxious to hear the latest about Angelo. I complained to my father about his father’s behavior and he just smiled that slight smile. With a hauntingly familiar twinkle in his eye, he would say “How about that.”
This went on for the rest of the summer until I could no longer stand it. One day I was dusting billfolds in the glass and wooden case and could see Grandfather heading towards me with a letter. I was really very shy, but the indignity I was feeling over the marked up mail gave me courage. He didn’t say anything when he handed me Angelo’s letter, but I could see the telltale circle penciled around the return address. “Grandfather,” I said. My stomach was in my throat but I had rehearsed the scene enough to be able to go through with my strike for autonomy. He turned back to look at me. “That’s my mail, and I don’t think you should be marking on it,” I said. I braced myself for his reaction all the while anticipating a stern gaze of disapproval. “Oh, is that right?” he said with raised eyebrows. I forced myself to look directly at him, and there was that twinkle in his eye! I felt triumphant! I had asserted myself and still received the twinkle. Better yet, Grandfather never again penciled a circle around Angelo’s return address.
Copyright 2009 Patti R. Albaugh