Great-grandkids to the rescue

Dad hasn’t been giving me much new material lately. Most of our conversations re-hash already well-worn territory: how Mom is doing (content, but not making much sense–“about all we can hope for”), how he’s doing (anywhere from “if I were any better, I’d be sick” to not doing much due to a bad case of “the black ass”–depression in Dadspeak), what’s happening around the lake (new neighbors from Illinois were up, old neighbors had a big gang over the Fourth, mowed the lawn, made some cigarettes, didn’t go to see Mom yesterday, but going today, gotta buy some groceries and visit the poisoners, Paco rolled in dead fish, when are you coming up next?), etc.  I’m hopeful that our upcoming “cemetery tour” will lift his spirits, and provide plenty of opportunity for him to reminisce and for me to register more of his vernacular.

We did provide him recently with some “jollification,” to borrow a word from my sister Mary. My husband and I gathered at the lake with our two kids, their spouses and children for a few days of fun, northern Wisconsin style.

Some of the family

Some of the family

Dad absolutely loved seeing his three great-grandsons and found them highly entertaining, if a bit too loud at times. Of course, he has given them nicknames: Bouncing Benny (4) and his brother Jumping Jimmy (15 months) and Wild Willie (18 months).

3 Williams

The three Williams: Great-grandpa Bill, Grandson Bill “Buster”Pence, Great-grandson Willie Leazer

Four-year-old Ben especially amused him with all his activity–“busy as a one-armed paper hanger,”or more salty, “a two-peckered goat in a sheep pasture.” Ben was fascinated by Great-grandpa’s collection of meticulously built radio-controlled airplanes, which are all now moth-balled and suspended from the garage ceiling in special hanging brackets. Ben declared that he would like to fly them and was pretty sure he was up to the task, completely dismissing my admonition that it’s “very tricky.” “Why is it tricky, Grandma?” Great-grandpa Bill managed to satisfy Ben’s curiosity by taking him to the RC-flying club’s flying field to watch some of the members fly their planes. Ben loved watching the acrobatics, clapped with glee and cheered as Mr. Wally brought his plane in for a successful landing. On the other hand, when Mr. Rusty crashed his plane in the tall grass and brought it back to the staging area in three pieces, Ben couldn’t understand why he had done that, still not believing that it really is very tricky.

RC-flying field

The gang at the flying field

So, for a few days Dad had something to think about other than how bad he feels about Mom not being at home anymore, his best friend dying in June (that contributed greatly to the black ass) and life just generally not holding much allure anymore. The cemetery tour was Dad’s idea and is something he has been wanting to do for a while. He wants to pay his respects to his ancestors, visit their graves, take a nostalgia tour of the places he lived as a youngster. We had planned to do it a couple of times over the past year or so, but he reneged both times. Originally, he wanted Mom to go with us, and postponed once with the hope that she would be able to go at some point. He finally accepted that that was impossible. The second time he backed out, he said he just couldn’t go (anywhere) without Mom. I think this time we will go because he really wants to do this before he dies, and I think he is getting ready to die. Part of the cemetery tour includes another quick dose of Bouncing Benny and Jumping Jimmy, which I hope will provide Dad another respite from the black ass.

Surviving winter

Winter in Wisconsin seems to have been particularly long this year, and especially in the north woods where my parents live. I visited them last week and was shocked and depressed at how high the snow banks were still and how unrelenting the ice on the lake looked. I wonder if we’ll be able to open our cottage the third week of April as is our custom. While my parents are understandably sick of winter, they appeared to be in the same good spirits they have displayed all winter. “Farting through silk” is how my dad has characterized their lives whenever I have inquired as to how they were doing over the last several months. That, and the “turkeys are eating us out of house and home,” referring to a flock of wild turkeys that have grown accustomed to eating at or on top of their bird feeder.

Dad has whiled away the time this winter by finishing up an enormous (6-ft. wingspan?) radio-controlled model airplane (see photo), which he is now preparing to fly with some trepidation. I took him to the hobby store (“the candy store”) recently so he could buy an extra propeller, a spinner (the cone that goes over the prop) and some “moonshine,” (fuel).

Other activities include delivering the Meals on Wheels to four other households in the area, something he has come to enjoy, but which he began doing as a way of paying for the program that benefits him and my mom, but for which they aren’t allowed to pay other than a nominal $3.95 per meal. Now he is concerned that the program may fold, or be cut back from three times a week to only two due to lack of participants. In the meantime, Dad has learned to cook a few dishes:  chuck roast, pork chops, ribs, steaks and hamburgers. You notice a pattern here? Reluctantly he has learned his way around the grocery store, and makes his “Momma’s little helper” run to the same once or twice a week. I’ve noticed a lot of store-bought pie and cookies in inventory that my mom never would have allowed when she was in charge of the kitchen. Nonetheless, she doesn’t remember that she used to be an excellent pie and cookie baker and is happy to eat the (very inferior) baked goods.

Dad’s most recent activity, and probably one of the most rewarding of the last few years, is teaching his grandson and namesake Bill Pence, age 18, to machine aluminum parts for a model transmission. Young Bill is developing a fascination and talent for design and fabrication using machine tools, thanks to a high schoolGrandpa's Stinson shop teacher that recognized his unusual ability. Grandpa is in seventh heaven. They are spending countless hours together in Dad’s shop making lots of metal shavings and precision-machined pieces. No doubt there is a lot of wisdom being shared as well, and Bill is the kind of kid that appreciates Grandpa’s vernacular.