My father’s father was a mostly-silent figure in the chaotic childhood life I lived. The very essence of stern came with Grandpa’s partially-cocked head when he needed you to understand wrong-and-right or an accident into which you were about to step. And…mischievous. I love his ornery laugh and hope he has many years more of them in supply.
My grandmother, the creator, sat on the living room floor in the tiny house in which they raised their own three children. She poured the marbles from the bag and helped my brother and I learn to make communities where little else was based in reality except those cool, round beads of colored glass, each different from the last. (She still does this with her great grandchildren, too.)
My grandfather worked as a head mechanic (I’m still not sure of the title, but he was the top) at an aerospace industries plant. He brought us home what he and we called ‘steelies’. Think ball bearings. For a space shuttle. These were bigger than my child fist and carrying around two of them meant I was in the crawling position with both hands holding one steely a piece, me pushing them out before me.
Glass on glass sounds have some little density; I wouldn’t call it a tinkle sound. Oh, but Steelies make dense gongs. They were a trick of the eye, a test of one’s strength, and cool to the skin unless you were patient enough to hold one in your hand for a long, long time.
I think my love of tinkering, taking things apart and putting them together again (perhaps in working order), was a steeping of the adult figures of my childhood. When I was a child, a person didn’t say it’s broken and throw it away without an ask or granted taken on my part for experimentation. I still do this today—err, last week. A swivel office chair on the floor, me, Allen wrenches and screwdrivers and pliers. Among the wreckage of metal and plastic I found two very small ball bearings.
So, later on in life I learned my grandfather collected American bicentennial quarters. I was still young enough to be shocked at their heaviness when put all in one place. Of course, they don’t tinkle in sound either, even in small quantities. He had more than I could count and he’d been collecting them since the bicentennial, the year I turned five. The entire floor of their small closet was stacked with collected quarters.
These were important to him. Their weight was just material but also emotional. It was the near-invisibility of an American flag on a breezy day. It was solidarity in silence. From that collection—not just any quarters, mind you—I carried away weight of a solitary man’s respect, a deep connection to the patriotism that is overlooked or just a part of life on show.
As I grew up and away, whenever I found them I mailed to my grandfather bicentennial quarters for his collection.
My grandparents opened their house to two women, strangers except a brief tie to a great grandson. These two stole my grandfather’s bicentennial quarter collection—all of it—and spent it on liquor and various interests of theirs. The two ransacked more, as I understand it. And they spent at face value the very sense of honor and self-respect the coin collection represented. I can imagine the set to my grandparents’ jaws as they stood to watch the two women ride away on the same bus line they came in on. I can sense all that was missing, not items, when they returned home from escorting the guilty out of the county.
My paternal grandparents were in and out of my lives for reasons that don’t matter because the times they were present gave an impression that has lasted my lifetime. As of this morning’s conversation with my grandmother, both are well and alive as I’m typing this.