Growing up in the south has many advantages. Grumpy old men are not one of them. None of my Southern grandpas were around when I was young. I did have several great uncles that filled in for my absentee grandpas. I did find out later that one of my grandpas was in prison when I was younger, so he gets a pass.
My great uncle Hansel was a very grumpy young man, then continued into old age as a grumpy old man. Mom used to tell me stories about him from when she was a kid. I only remember meeting him on a few occasions with his wife, my great aunt, Claire.
I had heard family stories about how Hansel would play tricks on the kids. He was a tough, old bird! Mom said Hansel was like a kid himself. At least, he did not discriminate on the kids he terrorized, as it was told to me, he picked on his own kids as well.
Hansel would play a gag or a trick on the kids, then laugh as if he had never heard or seen anything so funny. By the way, none of the kids were laughing. Mom said all the kids would go out of their way to avoid him, if possible.
By the time I met him, he had aged and slowed down considerably. I remember him just looking down at me in a squint. I think he was trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing in his house. Or, he could have been plotting his next gag on a kid, but we left before he could implement his master plan.
In retrospect, I got off light. He was too slow to “get” me before I left the house. I also learned not to be in the same room alone with him.
Then, there was my great uncle AJ, Andrew Jackson West. Very strong family name. He had retired from the railroad by the time I came along. AJ worked for the railroad for a number of years and had so many fun stories to tell. When I got older, I realized AJ had a striking resemblance and smile like Jack Nicholson. And he used it! Of course, Jack Nicholson was not around then, but whatever.
AJ was always playful with me. He had softened in his old age. He could be a little rough when he was joking around. He loved to grab the skin on my neck and shake it around, talking something about chicken necks or something. Then he would roar his big ole’ bear laugh and slap his knee.
However, he could be cranky and downright stubborn with other adults. AJ and my great aunt, Mary Ellen, would keep me at their house, at times. You knew trouble was abrewin’ when you could hear Mary Ellen’s voice start to rise, then AJ’s would get louder, then kaboom!
One time, we all three went to the grocery store. My uncle and I got a cart and headed straight for the candy isle! Love him!
Uncle AJ proceeded down the aisle like a quintessential, candy guru! I even saw his captain candy man cape flaying in the wind, but that was only in my mind! I kept thinking, “I hit the jack pot with this uncle!”
So, uncle AJ cruises down the aisle and touches almost every kind of candy on the isle, asking if I liked each one along the way. He actually wanted my opinion! I was not used to this as adults rarely asked for my opinion, especially about candy! I had now elevated uncle AJ’s status to just short of a God in my book! Whoooooo!
That being said, I still recalled the conversations with my mom about not being too greedy. Besides the “dinner lesson”, mom also taught me a “greedy lesson.”
Short version. Mom conversation about not being greedy and moderation with shopping. Took me shopping with another warning about greed. Let me loose in toys. Subsequent verbal reinforcement about not asking for everything I see in the store. I proceed to lose my mind, as I was given free rein on what to buy. (Did I mention mom was taking psychology classes at the time? My fate was sealed before I entered the store, though I did not realize it at the time.) I pick out a horrendous number of toys, some I did not even know what they were, but hey! I was “drunk with power!”
So, we got ready to check out and mom said that I had not used good judgement. I thought this was true, but this had nothing to do with the current toy extravaganza I was on. Once again, I was wrong. Do you see a pattern here? I’m just sayn’.
She asked me what I would think if she did not buy anything I had picked out. What? What? And what? I knew this was too good to be true, but a gal can dream! So, after picking a few smaller toys, I had to put back the rest of the toys. This toy outing sucked! Do not call DFACS, it served me well. Learning restraint is tough for kids! If you fail, call in my mom! She will handle it!
Back to uncle AJ. We loaded the cart with every treat we liked! Lolli pops, gummies and other gooey stuff! Unbeknownst to us, my aunt Mary Ellen was stealthily creeping down the aisle behind us. She was re-shelving our loot while we were not paying attention! The nerve.
Unfortunately, uncle AJ and I were so giddy with our sugar conquest plot, we did not see the “sugar, dark Lord” removing our treasure chest of candy treats from the grocery cart.
We get to the checkout line and to our horror, most of the candy is GONE! What the hell? I am looking through the cart and on the rack on the bottom of the cart in hopes that we had merely dropped the candy bags. I would probably have paid more attention to the situation if I had not had, not one but two dum dum lolli pops in my mouth, at the same time. Uncle AJ had said we needed to go ahead and open the dum dums pops because we needed to make sure we liked them prior to purchase. I was mad at myself for not putting some “back up” dum dums pops in my pocket! What a schmuck I am!
At this point, there is no going back to the candy isle as the “sugar, dark Lord” is wheedling her powers! My aunt and uncle get into a staring match.
Then, words were exchanged between aunt and uncle with strained faces and quiet voices. Remember, in the South, no ill manners in public, unless you are speaking to someone who has been labeled a dipshit! (That is another story)
It was as silent as a coffin for the drive home! Uncle AJ pouts “loudly” all the way home. This included unnecessary shuffling of his feet on the floorboard and readjusting his seating position, followed by “humfts” and “uuhans”. There is also contorted facial expressions to support his gruff car movements.
Aunt Mary Ellen drives on with no a hint of her mood on her face what so ever!
Upon arrival to the house, I hastily make myself scarce. Ain’t my first rodeo with grumpy, old Southern men. I was making sure I was out of the line of fire.
As voices in the kitchen go from harsh whispers to all out hollerin’, I travel from room to room to avoid the “fight caravan” that is moving through the house as aunt Mary Ellen continues as the dark Lord and uncle AJ trying to “demand” the return of our treasure chest of sweet loot.
This arguing technique is common in the South. I call it “the bob and weave” technique. Physically keep moving while arguing, tires the old men out! Throws them off their feet. Some of the more colorful words I remembered to ask mom later. (When I did, she used the “you will understand when you get older” crap) Mom would use this line every time she could not explain things to me.
So, for the next 24 hours, all anyone else could get out of uncle AJ was grunts, huffs and harsh glances, except me. I managed to get sweet, sly winks and stolen smiles. I even got a kiss on the top of my head, out of the sight of others, of course. AJ could whip up some serious pouting when he got mad! Maybe he was getting psychology class information from my mother.
Sometimes, grumpy, old Southern men are God like men in capes! At least, that is my opinion and uncle AJ always asked for mine!
Uncle Hansel and Uncle AJ, may you rest in peace knowing you both taught me valuable lessons. One, always be playful. Two, a sense of humor has many sides. Three, grumpy, old Southern men will always have a fond place in my heart. Four, sometimes only the kids can see your capes!