Posts Tagged ‘Gramps’

Gramps’s Watch

December 24, 2013

Sunday December 22nd, 2013 – Harris, MI

For whatever reason, I have always been pretty good at remembering dates. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I am better than the average male in keeping up with birthdays, anniversaries and the like. It’s just something I have always thought about, and why that is I have no clue. I just do.

Today happens to be the date my grandfather died in 1981. I know that 32 years is not a ‘round number’, but it was still cause to bring up memories we had together. He’s been gone a whole lot longer than I had him in my life, and to have had the kind of impact he still has really says a lot.

When my uncle died in January of 2012, my cousin Leah and her husband Rob cleaned out his possessions and came across a watch Gramps received when he retired from his job as dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows for the City of Milwaukee in 1972. They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew I was close to him and would probably want it. I recognized it immediately.

There was a retirement party for Gramps, and he received the watch as a gift. He rarely wore it, but I remember it meant a lot to him when he got it. It was also the symbol of his freedom to do what he wanted, which was get into show business. He’d put in his time at work, now it was fun.

For the few years left in his life, Gramps was a wild man when it came to chasing his dream of being an entertainer. He would sign up to be in any kind of show he could – most being put on by the Washington Park Senior Center in Milwaukee. He became a whale in a tiny pond, but he was as happy as I’d ever seen him. Being on stage was what he lived for, and he savored each second.

When Gramps was in hospice care, he told me he wanted me to have that watch. I wanted it as a memory of him, but when he died it got lost in the shuffle. I never knew what had happened to it, and whenever I’d ask I’d never get a straight answer. After a few years I just stopped asking.

I was thrilled when my cousin Brett told me Leah and Rob wanted me to have it, and I brought it to a jeweler to see if it could be gotten into running order again. It’s a Bulova Accutron, and is apparently a collector’s item according to the jeweler. He said the parts were rather expensive to replace, and it could cost up to several hundred dollars to fix should I decide to go that direction.

I told him it had more sentimental value to me than anything, and it wasn’t important to me if it ran at all. I was just curious to find out what it was and how much it might cost to fix. I had put it in a drawer, but recently rediscovered it as I was moving. To my surprise it was actually running.

Having the jeweler look at it must have gotten the parts moving again, but sure enough there it was working again. I set it to the right time, and it’s been running since. It loses a few minutes on a regular basis, but that’s ok. Just having it is a great memory of someone who meant a lot to me.

Tonight I had a show in Harris, MI at the Island Casino. I decided I’d wear the watch on stage as a tribute to Gramps, and it made me feel bullet proof. I knew it was there, and knew that I had a little bit of Gramps on stage with me all these years later. He would have LOVED to be able to do standup comedy, and this is a small symbolic way I can honor his memory. I plan on wearing that watch from now on every time I perform for the rest of my life. Nobody else has to know.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

The Sweetest Sound

December 5, 2012

Tuesday December 4th, 2012 – Gurnee, IL

   One of the few sounds I never get sick of hearing is laughter. I find it sweeter than any music -and I like music. But no song I’ve ever heard comes close to the melody of a solid laugh from an enthusiastic audience full of strangers. It has a cleansing effect right down to the core of the soul.

Even sweeter than that is the unbridled laughter of children. I first became addicted to hearing audiences laugh in grade school, and it hasn’t stopped. I have always had the ability to crack off a funny one liner or a smart ass comeback with little effort, and more often than not I’ll let it fly.

I used to get in all kinds of trouble for it in school, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Life was one big sitcom, and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to get a laugh pass me by. It drove some of my teachers up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other wall but too bad. I was hooked.

It started with my grandfather. He was by far the funniest person I knew as a kid, and he loved to get laughs from anywhere and anyone he could. I happened to be an appreciative audience, so he’d put extra effort into making me laugh as often as he could. I will always love him for that.

Gramps wasn’t afraid to do it in public, and anyone walking the earth was a possible partner in his comedic endeavors from sales clerks to bus drivers to my friends. My grandmother could not stand it, and I guess that’s what made him want to do it more. I loved it, so he aimed it my way.

If nothing else, it taught me how to think out of the box. Gramps would be fearless when he’d jump into a character in a restaurant or a grocery store, and he’d often toss it to me to see if I had a comeback. Sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn’t, but I learned to be ready at any time.

It also taught me to not worry if something didn’t work. Sometimes Gramps would take it a bit too far, and people would just stare at him. I think he had a little Andy Kaufman in him, as that’s when he’d do it more. He just wanted to have the spotlight, and embarrassment wasn’t an issue.

What made me think of all this today was having lunch at the Golden Corral in Gurnee, IL, one of my regular hangouts. I can get a good salad at a good price, and it’s buffet style so I can get as much as I want. It’s a sweet deal, and it usually comes with a floor show of oddballs to observe.

There happened to be a group of a dozen or so kids there today between the ages of maybe 4 to 7 – a perfect scenario for getting big laughs. There were a few adults with them, but they were in deep conversation at their end of the table. One of the kids sneezed and sprayed in my direction.

I exaggerated my reaction and covered my plate and that’s all that it took to get them started. It was show time after that. It was the right day and the right time, and I had them all in the palm of my hand the rest of the meal. I could do no wrong, and their laughter was deep, loud and sincere.

Gramps would have been proud of the way I worked those kids today. I didn’t let up. I had the whole table giggling incessantly, and I’m sure they talked about it in the car. These moments are what life is about. It was a table of kids at The Golden Corral, but I felt like a comedy superstar.