A Million, Million
One, two, three…, I count to myself as I watch and wait for the back door of my grandfather’s house to open and the old man I call “Pops” to appear. Bessie, is running a little raggedy despite me and the Pops having spent most of yesterday adjusting the old truck’s carburetor. I did most of the work with him telling me what needed to be done.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” he remarked when we peeked under the hood of my car a while back. “Too many wires,” he said, “like everything else in this world.” He was right and I told him so and admitted I wouldn’t know where to start either.
“When I was coming up they made things to last,” he is always saying these days.
“Like you Pops,” I always say back, teasing a wink out that tired old eyes that watched me grow up; watched me mess up and watched me get it right.
Love and patience always poured out of his eyes even the time I caught him in the ear with a fishing hook down by the river. I swear I didn’t hear tell me to wait until he was out of the way, before I cast the big treble hook which he wore as an earring until we fished long enough for me to land a, ‘keeper.’ Grandma thought it was funny and teased Pops calling him her, ‘keeper,’ as she cut the hook with a pair of wire cutters. I held the flashlight.
Thirty-three, thirty-four…, I could use my watch for a more accurate time. For some reason though, counting feels natural. It’s something to do while I waited for the white haired old man to find his coat, check the faucets, turn off the kitchen lights, check the faucets one more time and finally after checking the faucets one more time, make his way onto the porch.
“Can’t trust them faucets,” he likes to say, “Or them politicians.”
“Can’t trust them old men either,” I tease him about flirting with women we encounter on our adventures.
“That’s how you’ll know you are old, the women all call you darling or baby,” he likes to warn me. Its true.
Sixty-seven, Sixty-eight…, He’ll be here before I get to a hundred and I’ll scoot over and he’ll take the driver’s seat, thinning hands gripping the big steering wheel which used to seem so small to him, back when it seemed so very big to me.
He’ll want to drive and I won’t argue, he’s still a better driver than me, and after all we are going to get his driver’s license renewed.
“Just in case,” he’ll answer when I ask him why and remind him I do most of his driving.
“In case that waitress down at Café asks you out,” I add already knowing that will make him smile. He doesn’t smile enough, not since grandma passed, but that’s something I haven’t figure out to tell him yet. I’m working on it.
“You can drive next time we get my license renewed, I’ll be over a hundred then,” he will say as he revs Bessie’s engine, something he’s been doing a lot lately, which scares me. I don’t let him know it though. White knuckling the door handle I will keep my fears to myself as he careens the back roads of his youth. We always take the back roads, something he insists on. I’m glad.
And when we get to the License Renewal Office he will double check his pocket for the stick of chewing gum he brought for the pretty license examiner who will pat his hand and tell him accepting bribes against the law. Then she will tell him it might get her fired and then she would have no way to pay her rent. All the while she’s talking she will be un-wrapping the gum and smiling.
“You can always come live with me,” he will grin and point to his address on his expiring license and ask her if really does look like Clark Gable. She will say, “Just like him, keeping it a secret that she has no clue how Clark Gable looked. He knows this but he will pretend not to.
“Juicy fruit,” she’ll finally get around to saying and ask him how he knew it was her favorite.
Then he’ll wink, and nod looking more like Clark Gable than he will ever know.
“Darling,” she’ll say when she asks him to smile for the picture which she will take two of because she is nice like that and because she lost her “Pops,” just before Christmas. She would give anything to hug him one more time.
Eighty-one, eighty-two…, He’s locking the door. Six months ago he was in the truck before I got I counted to sixty, and six months before that before I got to thirty, and two years ago he was the one waiting on me.
The things that are the most important are the things we can’t see, can’t say, like what rides along with my Pops and me in the old truck he still says will be mine one day. What’s most important tucked away in the quiet which we both can hear over the roar of the truck’s tires on winding country back road.
With his new license in wallet which he says will one day be mine he will fall asleep on the ride home. Mission accomplished. Besides he likes to be rested up for his afternoon game shows or when he second guesses Matt Dillon, or when he needs to argue with the TV if the umpire makes a call against the Braves.
I won’t have to ask if he wants me to drive but I will, that being part of what’s important. And there will come day, I know, when I will be willing to count to a million if it will mean being able to see him shuffle across the yard fussing with the wind one more time. A million, million.
This is dedicated to my Pops and all the Pops in the world. Edward Reed 2019