For my first short story, I thought I would post a nonfiction piece I wrote in college. It’s about my grandfather, Roscoe Braxton, who died recently. I’m a little ashamed to post this story. The majority of it is about how I took him for granted, but I tried to be honest. I think it reflects how many grandchildren feel about their grandparents, and I hope by the end, it shows just how special he is to me.
Feedback (good or bad) would be great! I don’t think I’ll ever publish this one, but it’s nice to get critiques anyway.
It was Homecoming Weekend during my sophomore year of college at the University of Missouri (“Mizzou” to its fans). Because ESPN College Gameday had come to campus, I had stayed up all night to try to get a spot near the front where I could be on TV. I was unsuccessful and trudged home after standing for three hours in a torrential downpour. I changed out of my wet clothes and climbed into bed, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before the football game.
I was just drifting off when the my phone vibrated and jolted me awake. I cursed myself for being a light sleeper and rolled over to see the words “Granddaddy Roscoe” on my screen.
“Not now,” I groaned.
I thought about letting the call go to voicemail, but my dad had given me a lot of crap for not returning my granddad’s calls. I inhaled deeply, mustering up the dwindling reserves of my patience and answered the phone.
“Hi, Granddaddy,” I said, with cheer that I didn’t have.
“Hey, how ya doin?” My granddad’s rough, gravelly voice was even more abrasive than usual. Plus, he used the same greeting every time he called.
I imagined him sitting in his apartment, his once tall frame stooped with age. He was probably wearing his familiar flat cap hat and his khaki jacket that he wore rain or shine. I could picture the wide glasses he wore to assist his eyes that were slowly getting paler because of glaucoma. With these images floating around in my head, I felt guilty for not wanting to talk to him. My granddad was old, and I didn’t have that many grandparents left.
“I’m good,” I replied, as always.
“Y’all are playin’ a big game tonight, eh?” he asked.
By “y’all,” he meant Mizzou. It was a big game, I supposed. Mizzou hadn’t beaten Oklahoma in years, but we sure as heck weren’t going to win tonight. Oklahoma was ranked number 1 in the nation, and I couldn’t remember what Mizzou’s ranking was.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re playing Oklahoma.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, chewing on his next thought like a cow chews cud. “They’re a pretty decent team, aren’t they?”
“They’re number 1 in nation,” I said. I grimaced as I thought back to last year’s Homecoming game, where Texas scored more than 70 points on us. “We’re heading for a slaughter.”
“Well…” He took a long pause, a torturously long pause.
I ground my teeth and watched the clock in my room. I knew that every minute I talked to him was a wasted minute of sleep.
He finally spoke. “I don’t know, Andrea. Mizzou’s a pretty good team. I think you can pull out a win.”
I rolled my eyes. My granddad didn’t know a thing about Mizzou. That was my school. He was a University of Tennessee fan. What did he know about Midwestern sports?
“I hope so,” I said.
“You know, back in 1961–“
Oh no, I thought. Here it comes. The story about how my granddad had taken one class at Mizzou during the summer and considered himself an alumnus. The cycle of stories was about to begin.
My granddad’s favorite pastime is telling stories. He loves it when all the attention focuses on him. Unfortunately, he has a faulty memory, so he tells the same stories over and over again. It doesn’t matter if you tell him that you’ve already heard it. He’ll just laugh a little, as if he doesn’t believe you and tell the story anyway.
He has a specific selection of stories for each member of the family. For my mom, it’s the story about her weight gain each time she got pregnant. For my dad, it’s the story of how when he was a boy, he was afraid of mowing the lawn because he was terrified of snakes. For Alyssa, it’s how he poked her in the butt with a fork and said, “Medium or well done?” Angel, Amber and John’s stories are told a little less frequently. He cracks up about the stories every time as if he’s telling them for the first time. I’ve learned to just pretend that I’ve never heard the stories before. It’s easier that way, and I don’t have to pay attention.
“Your dad was only two back in 1961,” my granddad said. “But I was studying Spanish at Mizzou back then.” He chuckled, a rusty, raspy sound. “See? You’re not the only one to go to Mizzou.”
I open my mouth to answer, when I hear my Grandma Bettye in the background. I imagined her little, round frame charging toward him as fast as she could on a fake hip. I could picture her normally pleasant face twisting up with irritation the way it always did when her husband started to tell a store. “She doesn’t want to hear that story again, Roscoe,” she said shrilly. “You tell it all the time.”
My granddad laughs but doesn’t stop. “Yeah, back when I was at Mizzou, it wasn’t as big as it is now. I once saw a tornado from my dorm room because the land was so flat, and there weren’t as many buildings. They still get tornados up there?”
I roll my eyes at the familiar question. “There haven’t been any while I’m here.”
“Uh huh. Uh huh,” he said, mulling it over. “But I bet you get those hard, horizontal winds right?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, though I already knew what he would say.
And cue the story about the Firebird.
“They don’t make the Firebird car anymore, but I had one back in the day. It was a little bitty old thing, but it got me from A to B, you know?” He sighed nostalgically. “It was a fast car, but those horizontal winds almost blew me and the car off the road.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s must have been scary.”
“Not if you know the secret.” My granddad’s voice lowered as if we were conspiring with each other.
“What’s the secret?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“Don’t fight the wind. You gotta let it push you and swerve back right when it lets up. That’ll keep you from skidding and ruining your tires.”
“I’ll remember that,” I said, rolling my eyes again.
The funny thing is that on my way home from college a few months later, I encountered horizontal winds and used the method he taught me to keep from being blown off the road. As my heartbeat returned to normal, I felt a twinge of guilt for discounting my granddad’s wisdom. But I wasn’t thinking about that during that phone call.
“Yep,” my granddad continued. “I’m sure a lot has changed since I’ve been there.”
“Uh huh,” I said.
Here come the columns.
“They still got those columns up there?”
Ah, yes, the columns. They are my granddad’s favorite thing to talk to me about. Sure, they’re an iconic part of Mizzou’s history, but being on campus every day takes some of the wonder away. Sometimes I don’t even look at them as I walk by, but my granddad is amazed by the columns and loves to talk about them.
“Yeah, they’re still there.” I cruelly imagined what his reaction would be if I told him the columns had been torn down. I’m pretty sure he would have cried. Then, I felt guilty and tried to pay better attention.
“Those things have been there for years,” he said. “I sat on those columns while I was there, and now you get to sit on them. “
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” I lied.
The guilt grew. I knew my granddad was just trying to connect with me. Being more than fifty years older than me limits the topics we can talk about. I knew he treasured the fact that we shared more than just a last name. We shared a school and a knowledge of Mizzou that no one else in the family did.
“You know what a colonoscopy is?”
That was a new one. I sucked in a surprised breath so fast that I almost choked on my own spit. “Um…yeah…”
“You’re lucky you’re a lady,” he said. “You’ll never have to have one. I just had one.”
What the hell was I supposed to say to that? My mouth was hanging open, and my drowsiness had vanished. “That’s…interesting…”
“Yep. A doctor stuck something up my behind,” my granddad said as if he was discussing the weather. “It wasn’t comfortable having something up there. I guess that’s why I don’t play for the other team. I don’t understand how gays can enjoy–“
“Roscoe!” My grandma shrieked. “She doesn’t want to hear about that!”
“Alright, alright,” he said, and then he abruptly changed the subject. “You still taking Spanish?”
If there was anything my granddad loved to talk about more than Mizzou, it was Spanish. He took pride in the fact that he could speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese, and that he dabbled in French and German. One of his favorite pastimes was going up to Hispanic people and speaking Spanish, even if he didn’t know who they were or if they even spoke Spanish.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m in Spanish 2 right now.”
“Oh…” Then he proceeded to unleash an entire paragraph of Spanish onto my unprepared ears. The only word I recognized was “casa.” “What did I say?” he asked with a mischievous laugh.
“I have no idea,” I said, growing weary once more after the initial surprise of the colonoscopy story. He was settling back into the old story routine again.
He laughed again. “You have to immerse yourself in the language if you want to get good.”
And here comes the Puerto Rico story.
“I speak Spanish so well because I spent a year in Puerto Rico,” he said. “You know what’s interesting about Puerto Rican Spanish?”
Yes, because you’ve told me hundreds of times before. “No.”
“They pronounce ‘para’ as ‘pa.” If you want to say ‘para me’ in Puerto Rico, you have to say ‘pa me’ instead.”
“Mmhmm,” I said. My mind started fumbling for an excuse to get off the phone.
“You know, more and more people are speaking Spanish. It’s good that you’re learning.”
“Yep.” I didn’t tell him that I hated taking Spanish, and I wasn’t planning on taking any more that the required classes. It’s not because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. It was because every time I talked about not really liking Spanish, I got a lecture about how Spanish was so useful. My patience was wearing thin that day. I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.
“Well, it was good talking to you.”
As usual, my granddad’s abrupt goodbye surprised me. Every time we talk, he would finish a story and say goodbye almost in one breath. One moment he would be talking slowly and drawing out every detail of his stories. The next moment he was quickly getting off the phone.
“Um…okay,” I said. “It was good to talk to you, too.” My lie stirred up more guilt.
“I might be checking in on you every once in a while,” my granddad said. “And you can give me a call anytime.”
“Okay, I will,” I said, knowing I would never dream of calling him.
“See ya. And good luck at the game tonight.”
“Bye, baby!” My grandma called in the background.
“Bye,” I said.
I hung up the phone and let out a sigh relief, but my conscience was giving me fits. I didn’t enjoy hearing the same stories over and over again, but I knew it was no reason to ignore my granddad. It didn’t help that my mom called thirty minutes later to tell me about how he had immediately called her and told her that he enjoyed talking to me because we had so much in common.
“Did he ask about the columns?” my mom asked with a laugh because I’m sure she already knew the answer.
“Yeah,” I said. “And all the other stories, too.”
“You know why he tells those stories, right?”
“Those stories make him happy,” she said. “Every single time he tells them.”
“I wish I didn’t have to hear them every single time,” I muttered.
“Well, next time, listen for him.”
I promised I would.
I finally got to sleep, and I eventually forgot about the entire conversation until every Mizzou student at the game was surging forward to rush the field because we had beaten Oklahoma. I was jumping around and screaming, but more than anything, I was telling my friends about how my granddad predicted that we would win. It sounds cliché, but at that moment, my grandfather’s stories became more important to me. I felt as if we truly shared a love of Mizzou for the first time, and I understood what my mom meant about how telling those stories made him happy. I did the same thing when I told people over and over about how he thought we would win.
When I woke up the next morning, with my throat raw from cheering, I grabbed my phone and went through my contacts, hunting for the number.
“Hi, Granddaddy,” I said cheerfully.
“Hey, how ya doin?” he said. “I bet you’re happy after last night.
“Yeah,” I said with a grin. “You were right about the win.”
“You know, I went to Mizzou back in 1961,” my granddad said.
“Really?” I asked.
He started to tell the same story I had listened to just hours before, but this time I listened for him.