Such a jolly old man, my grandfather! Although small and perhaps a little roly-poly, he didn’t let it affect him. He always told us grandkids he had shrunk and all that height had to go somewhere. His improbable statement brought laughter in the household, but it certainly had an element of truth to it. At my advancing age I find this curious malady occurring to my frame, too, and I am reminded of his comment.
Everyone loved Granther, his peers, his kids and it continued down through the generations. The man made you think happy. And when you think happy, well, you are happy.
My older brother Clement and I lived with Granther for about a year while Father recovered from a bad leg injury he got where he worked at the Torrington Brass company. Management didn’t think much about dangerous machines back then.
In those days they didn’t have Workers Compensation or disability insurance like now. A man who couldn't work lived with a relative or went on the dole. That’s why Father, Mom, my brother and I lived with Granther during my fifth year.
While Father stayed in and recovered so he could take his old job back, we lived on Granthers good graces in Plattsburg. Father said it made his family beholden to Mom’s parents, but Granther pooh-poohed the idea. He told Father he and Grammer had a big house with too many empty rooms after his eight children grew up and found their way in life. Granther said it gave them a chance to see some of their grandchildren grow and they were happy to do it.
They owned a house on top of a hill. It had gables; seven of them, and every so often somebody would pass through and stop, enjoy the hospitality of the master and mistress of the house, and take supper there. Almost every time the subject of gables came up someone would jokingly refer to the “House of Seven Gables.”
Granther would scoff. “Incorrect as to time and place,” he’d say, with a broad smile. They’d laugh about it, and the conversation would turn to other things. We were young and probably missed a lot that passed between the elders, but Granther never seemed bothered about comments. These thoughts take me back…more than seventy years. They reminded me of a happy, long ago time. As I nodded in my easy chair my mind bridged the gap and I became the child again.
Today I decide I’m going to go through the house and check out all the closets. I’ll count them as I go. I can count to one hundred already. I peek into each closet to see what Granther and Grammer store there. While I remember the number of closets from downstairs in my head, I climb to the second floor and count. Then I go way up to the third floor in the farthest end of the house.
Way upstairs smells like dust and I sneeze. Maybe Grammer doesn’t clean upstairs anymore. That’s where I find the locked closet. It’s closet seventeen, the last one.
All of a sudden I remember Granther said not to go up to the third floor. He said “Off limits!” It sounded funny, but I understood. I just forgot.
I said “Okay, Granther, I won't.” I didn’t mean to lie.
When I got to the locked closet, a chill went up my back. What could be in a locked closet? I start to imagine stuff. What if Granther killed somebody a long time ago and hid the body in the closet? I better get out of here.
I sneak down the long hall and back downstairs. What if I get caught? What will I say? Maybe Granther didn’t hear me. Maybe he doesn’t come up stairs much. Oh, what will I do?
Anyway, I get downstairs okay.
Later I spy Clement rolling a hoop with a big stick out in the back yard. I tell him about counting closets and how I found a locked one and would he go upstairs with me and find out if Granther had put a dead body in the closet. I get Clement’s, “You’re stupid” look. He does that a lot.
He says. “Do I have to get you out of trouble again, squirt?”
I say, “Clement, what if Granther killed somebody and left the body in the closet? We should tell Grammer.”
He says, “If I killed somebody, I wouldn’t tell anybody in the house.”
Clement’s eleven and knows more stuff than I do, so I say, “Maybe we should call the police and tell them.”
Clement puts his hand on his chin and after a little he says, “That’s a good idea. Let’s call the police, but first we should tell Mom, ‘cause she would want to know.”
“Mom’s out in the garden,” he says. “C’mon, squirt.”
Clement and I find Mom and tell her what I found. She stands up and starts to look mad. She says to me, “What were you doing up in that part of the house when Granther told you not to?”
“I didn’t mean anything. I was just counting closets when I found the locked one. I’m sorry.” I start to cry.
“Well,” says Mom, “it’s time we went to see Granther and cleared this up. Off we go!”
I just know Granther is going to kill me when he finds out I went up to his locked closet, but I have no choice. I think Mom will drag me. Maybe she knows and they will kill me together. I shiver but I’m not cold. I’m scared.
Granther is in his study, reading a book. He looks up as we enter the room. “Well, look at this, the whole family! What’s happened? Can I help?”
Mom says to Granther, “Davie just discovered the locked closet.”
Granther looks at me and says, “Well, this is serious. Now, how did you come to be way up there on the third floor near that closet?” The way he says it makes me a little more scared.
“I was counting closets, Granther. I didn’t see anything.” I try not to shake.
Granther looks at Mom and says, “Well, Gracie, looks like we’ll have to take this young fella upstairs and open that closet.” He looks me in the eye and says, “You’re a bit young. Do you think you can handle this?”
Now I’m more scared than ever. “Granther, I don’t have to know what’s in the closet. I won’t tell anybody. Honest.”
“No, young fella, you went upstairs when I told you not to, and now you’re going to have to see what it is your Grammer and I keep up there.”
Mom and Clement and Granther all start up the stairs and Mom is holding my arm. I want to run away, but she is too strong, and maybe I have to find out what's there anyway. But I’m scared silly.
Clement makes a sort of chuckle sound behind me. I don’t know what it means, but it makes me more scared. I am out of breath when we get up stairs and Granther is pretty old but he isn't even breathing hard. Mom says it means he's spry.
“Okay, young fella, now you’re going to get what you’ve got coming. Step up here.”
He takes out a key and puts it in the lock. I can hear the lock turn. I’m so scared now I think I’m going to wet my pants. Mom and Granther and even Clement are going to do away with me. I can feel it. I try to pull away again, but Mom won’t let go.
She says, “C’mon Davie, don’t you want to get what’s coming to you?” I think I see horns grow out of Mom’s head. Her face looks funny.
Granther opens the door, and then they all laugh. Clement laughs loudest, and tells me Mom told him this morning. In the closet I see a bicycle, training wheels and all.
“It’s your birthday present, Davie. Happy Birthday, Davie.” Mom’s face softens and she scoops me up and gives me a big hug. Granther comes over and takes me out of Moms’ arms and gives me another hug.
“For a special grandson, with love from your Grammar and me.”
Then Mom says, “Did we scare you, Davie?”
I nod ‘cause I can’t talk. Granther stoops, holds my shoulders and says, “We were just having fun, Davie. Don’t be scared.”
I feel so much better I smile. The rest of the day is like gold and I’m so happy. Once I have a minute to think about it, I know how wonderful my family is and how silly I am to think anything else.