My parents were divorced by the time I was 8 or 9. We ended up around the corner at my grandparents house: my mom, my younger brother, and me. They lived in a house on the main street of my hometown that was old and kind of decrepit. Thick paint flakes lay fallen on the windowsills and carpet edges; 19th century poison potato chips. The rugs were so tattered they hardly resembled rugs at all...they were more like golden furry hardwood. There was a shelf of midget football trophies and a Little League game ball jammed into a bizarre cove high in a corner. I don't know why we had them: I don't remember any championships or no-hitters or anything.
My grandfather was a proud Navy man who had worked construction until one twisted night when he was in his fifties. It was their wedding anniversary and they were out at a place celebrating when he slipped and fell on the dance floor in front of my grandmother. They didn't sue or anything like that. He just got a cast on his busted leg for what seemed like years; he stopped working; and he began drinking even more than before. I watched him, we all watched him as he descended into a beery misery for the rest of his years. He always loved me and Dave (my brother) good though.
My grandmother was pretty different. Fun-loving. And nervous. A jangled jumpy sweetheart worried that she didn't do enough for you/that everything wasn't alright/"let me get up and get you some more iced tea even though I just sat down for 6 seconds for the first time in nine days." She used to fry eggplant hunks in her deep fryer and feed them to me. I was a stupid dreamer even back then. I asked her if they were scallops and she said yeah. No lie: for like the next three years I thought our poor family asses just happened to feast on fried scallops twice a week. Hey, when you wanna believe some shit bad enough you find ways. She was a really loving Mom-mom.
So. On Sundays the old house would simmer in the wafting of CrockPot roast beef. My grandfather would be half-lit and watching football, cursing players, peering over his eyeglasses at the shriveled football pools in his hand. At seven in the evening we would sit down to our Sunday dinner to the sounds of Sixty Minutes in the other room. And then it would start.
"Eat the fat," from my Mom. She was looking at me. Then at the edges of my beef.
"Eat your fat its the best part." Mom-mom. She'd poke my fat with her gravy-sopped fork.
Pop-pop, without looking up from his dish: "Man, eat that fat...it's good for you."
And again. A Greek Chorus of Fat Eaters. EatTheFat. EatTheFat! EatThatFatItsTheBestPart! EatIt! Fat! FatFatFatFatFat! EatItForChrsistSakesKidsAreStarvingForFatInAfrica!!!!!!!!
Of course, I ate it. Lots of it. By the time I was 13 or 14 I must've eaten a hundred pounds of chemically-engineered factory farm fat. Looking back now, I might as well had just sat down by the window and gorged on bowls of those paint chips. Couldn't have been any worse for me.
And all the vivid memories of me as a husky little boy being told to eat his fat has gotten me thinking lately. Where will I get it all wrong with Violet? What "fat" will I ultimately feed her that she will one day look back on and just gasp in disbelief at her dad's insanity? What will the child-rearing "experts" reveal to me in due time that I just didn't know way back then?
Or is a lot of it bullshit? I hear tales of kids raised without sugar. Without TV. Of little babies fed only organically grown foods. Soon, there will be smoke-free villages. People will do anything for their kids, I guess. I am beginning to feel that way a bit.
My grandfather lived a pretty long time. It wasn't all that pretty in the end though, but that's not uncommon. In a room by himself in a nursing home, my bother and I would smoke a bowl in the parking lot and then go up to visit him. He was bonkers. The maids were stealing from him. We would just smile, high. What would they steal? His false teeth? His Saltines? Once, he entertained the hell out of us claiming he'd been made small and was trapped up on top of the TV set hung high on the wall for like three days. WHAT? We bit our lips and played along. Was it dusty up there, Pop-pop? Was it warm?
In the end, one shining fall afternoon he held our teenage hands and told us he loved us and he was so proud of us. We tried to hide our tears behind our Black Sabbath hair. I remember being sadder than I had ever been before. He told us to be good men, to take care of our mom. He said stuff like "Keep Fishing, Man" and "Keep Playing The Guitars." He said it all without his false teeth in so it sounded more tender, too. I cried so hard.
No pot could have kept me from doing that.
We were saying goodbye.
We walked from the nursing home for the last time that afternoon unable to really talk. Dave and I had bonded stronger than ever before through our shared tears. Tonight, or early tomorrow the phone at our house would ring and my mom would sob by herself in the kitchen and I would know he was gone.
The old fat-sucking bastard lived three or four more years and never mentioned his teary goodbye to us again. It all just makes me wonder about the fat, and how bad it really is when it all comes down to it.