I can picture the seagulls clearly, dancing along their proscribed circles, all in orbit around the hook hanging from my ceiling. The ubiquitous 1970s mobile. Mine with graceful arcs of silver metal, the birds dangling on their little tethers.
Grampa Sid owned an office supply store in Upland, California, nestled at the base of Mounty Baldy. He sold a little of everything: notebooks, pens, planners, tchotchkes, Black Hills gold, seagull mobiles.
He lived with his German Shepherd, Marty, and younger-than-my-father wife, in a horizontal wrapping home tucked into the side of the mountain. In my mind, Marty lives forever, frolicking in the frigid stream, her mouth full of crisp watercress. She saved Grampa from a rattlesnake once, snatched it up in her powerful jaws and shook it to death.
To get to Grampa Sid’s house we drive left to right, clinging to a one-lane path. No guardrail. No gentle slope down the mountainside. With my child’s eye, I see the car tipping over the edge, slow-motion, then rolling, gathering speed as it pitches to the base.
Just before reaching the Castle (a smallish house with a hellish spiral staircase, one room per floor, that rises to petite peaks and turrets), we drive through the mountain stream. I feel mild distress as we motor right over the watercress. A bridge perhaps? A picturesque bridge of wood?
Further up the hill, the pinecones grow big as watermelons, falling from immense trees, the ancient guardians of Mount Baldy.
Grampa Sid is huge. He calls me Honey and hugs me into his protuberant belly, all cigarette smoke and gold chains.
I don’t recall how he wound up in Eau Claire. He and Grandma Lima were an incongruous pairing. Las Vegas & Detroit. Michael & Lisa Marie. Peanut butter & guacamole. My dad suspects she got pregnant and married, then miscarried. Grampa Sid skipped town, leaving his wife and two children aged four and two. Dad’s clearest or at least most frequently recounted memories revolve around food. Tins of sardines, liver, fish caught in the Chippewa River.
My cousins spent summers with Grampa Sid on Mount Baldy. Grampa kept beer stocked right in the fridge. And he had a naked Buddha lightswitch cover. Erect = light on. Flaccid = light off. He never invited me out for the summer.
Grampa Sid died on the OR table as surgeons attempted to fix his abdominal aortic aneurysm. I don’t know what happened. I can guess.
The wall of the aorta is too thin, stretched and weakened by years of high blood pressure, booze, and smokes. The vascular surgeon tries to fit a protective sheath around the vessel but the wall ruptures, fragile as tissue paper.
They tilt the table into Trendelenburg, head down, relieving some of the pressure in the abdomen. All hands on deck, reaching, grasping as blood fills the abdominal cavity. They try in vain to patch and contain. Grampa’s heart beats faithfully, pumping his blood right out into his belly till there’s nothing left to pump. His heart stutters and he dies.
Time of Death – unknown. Funeral – unattended. Maybe my dad went.
Office Max ran a sale a couple weeks back. All Sharpies 25 cents each. My heart leaps! I stroll in, barely able to contain my excitement. I scan the displays, flimsy racks made of cardboard, easily assembled, easily discarded.
The Sharpies sit near the register, multicolored jewels in neat rows. Top left thin tip. Bottom left regular tip. Retractables to the right of center. Oil paint Sharpies (original price $2.79) on the far right.
Oh Joy! I marvel at this socialist equalization of ink – for one week only, while supplies last, anyone can afford to leave her permanent mark. I pluck my selections from the bins, checking for tight caps, debating color and style. Oil paint Sharpies for Ace. And I could decorate a picture frame, yes, a black picture frame, with gold swirls and silver dots!
I exchange one of the fine tips for a different color. The retractables burn out too fast but the dual tips? Hm, maybe one.
I take my limit of ten to the counter. $2.50 plus tax. The cashier and I giddily discuss the ridiculously low price. I ask if they go on sale like this every year. She doesn’t know, she just started working here six months ago.
I return two days later and buy another limit of ten, telling myself they are for my mother. My mother who has her own independent limit of ten. And in fact a couple of the red fine tips are for her, when she red Xs half-price merchandise at the thrift store.
The autosomal dominant office supply gene passed to my father and then to me, expressed to its full glorious potential, coursing through my arteries and veins like thundering herds of red and blue Sharpies.
Thanks Grampa Sid.