Thursday, November 22, 2012

Can You Cuss a Little?

English: New Year's Day postcard. Reads: "...

I must have been around seven, seven or eight, though it could have been nine -- certainly no later -- when I met my paternal grandfather the first time. If he held me as a baby and surely he must have, I'd be hard-pressed to dig the memory out of my distal recesses. The other first time, however, is as vivid as this morning's frost on the grass. 

He lived in Oklahoma, my parents and I in Colorado, and he'd come for a short visit. More like a stopover than a "visit," he was gone the next morning. I sat in a brown or green -- I never knew which -- overstuffed relic from the 1940s with short, fat wooden feet and a flowery pattern that rose off the fabric like continents on a globe. It was big enough to curl up in while he talked with my parents about people and places they knew and I did not. After a while, he turned to me and suddenly young blabbermouth Beggar was at a loss for words. Particularly, the ones he wanted to hear.

"Have you learned how to cuss yet?" 

For the record, I wasn't really at a loss for words -- by then I'd acquired a vocabulary of two bad and two really bad words and combinations thereof, thanks to my father's verbal creativity. I just wasn't supposed to say them. Ever. And now, here's my father's father, asking me to do what would ordinarily result in my catching the word that began with an "h" and ended with me wishing I'd said "heck," instead. I looked from my mother to my father, hoping for permission. They may as well have been playing poker for all the help I got from their expressions. Hell -- I mean, heck -- of a time to enforce the rules.

"Come on, Beg, you must know one or two. Let me hear you cuss," he said with a truly conspiratorial glint and grin. Let's play a good one on your folks, I read. Talk about caught between "the devil" and the deep blue sea. I wanted to, oh, how I wanted to, the blood rising to my neck and then flowing like a flood over my face. 

The clock was ticking, he was waiting, they're silent, and all I can think is, "Damn it, Grandad, you know I'll get in trouble if I do!" If there was ever a time I needed a Get Out of Jail Free card. 

"Well, I can see you'd rather not go against your folks and that's good. We can save the cuss words for later," he said, winking, after my shirt had nearly soaked through with nervous sweat. 

I felt relieved, but also felt I'd let him down. I wanted to do both, be good (and incidentally, avoid a lickin') and be grown up at the same time. It's funny how these things go. Eventually, you do find out how to be both at once and true to yourself in the bargain. Back then, all I knew was, that's the night I began to love my grandfather. 

I sure hope he knows.  

(English: New Year's Day postcard. Reads: "A New Year's Resolution / Jan. 1st / To Gossip, Slang and Cuss words / I'll bid a last "Adieu" / And place a bridle on my tongue / And thoughtless actions, too!" Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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