“What do you want for your birthday grandpa?”
“A pack of cigarettes and a six-pack of Shiner!” he yelled in response to our question. He always yelled. We didn’t know if it was because he was deaf or always pissed off.
We called him grandpa because of his age not his relation to us. As far as we knew he had no family. He sat on his porch across the street most nights, and as we were also in the habit, we had come to know him.
We knew little about him. He was hilariously grumpy. He read small philosophical tomes. He smoked incessantly. He drank in the evenings. He stayed up late on the weekends, watching the bar crowds stumble down the street. It was most frequently those nights, arriving home ourselves, that we would take the guitars and go sit on the porch with him, laughing at his gentle obstinance.
We wouldn’t have given any thought to his birthday had it not been for the card laying on the table that night. We were infinitely curious as to who had sent the card – a daughter? An ex-lover? All we knew was it was a woman’s handwriting on a homemade card. On the front it said, “You’re not dead yet?!?” We didn’t assume to pick it up and look at whatever was written inside.
“And a HOOKER!” he added, laughing big guffaws, as he did, quickly turning into coughs that took a full minute to recover from.
Then, “Never let fear prevent you from doing what is right, or what will make you happy.” We were all somewhat dumbstruck. Such austereness was never heard from his mouth; even when we asked him about his philosophy books, he would only reply, “It’s crap!”
“There will come a day when you have to decide between what you’ve been taught to be true and what you know to be true. And on that day you will be scared as shit! And on that day, pick your gawwd damm,” he slipped into a Texas accent when he said “god damn” and then repeated sans accent, “Pick your god damn balls up off the ground, reattach them to your god damn body, and make the right choice!”
The next afternoon I walked across the street with a carton of Camel lights and a case of beer. He wasn’t on the porch, so – for the first time ever – I knocked on the door. He didn’t answer, so I put the gifts next to his chair and hoped the rainclouds that were threatening wouldn’t ruin our offerings before he discovered them.
As I started back across the street a nondescript car pulled up in front of the house and a nondescript woman got out. I was so in shock to see someone else coming to grandpa’s house I don’t even remember what I asked her.
“Mr. Citizen died in the night,” she said, “We are trying to locate a next of kin, but he has no records with the state.”
I was a little numb most of the day, and smoked the cigarettes and drank the beer. None of the other guys could believe it either, and that night we raised a glass to “grandpa.” The next week a family of four bought the house at auction. They were considerably less keen on our late night porch soirees.