When my grandfather died, I said to myself, I will never know anyone funnier than Grampy. And I was right. It’s been forty years since his death and I have yet to meet a soul with the speed and cleverness of his wit. It definitely wasn’t a kind and gentle humor, but it wasn’t nasty either. It was just so damn quick and sure, like the thrust of an epee’s blade, especially after his nightly scotch and sodas — plural.
Another of his traits, and one I did inherit, was his love of crossword puzzles. He and my grandmother split their life between Cape Cod and Southern Florida, and we would visit both places, fleeing a cold and dreary Vermont to follow them to the sun and warmth. Every day we were there, weather willing, we would haul our chairs and towels to the beach where Grampy would hold court — his tan legs crossed at the knees like a debutant’s and a perpetual cigarette between his fingers – while we would sit at his feet listening to his stories, watching him greet admirers who’d stop at his chair to say hello, and, best of all, helping him with the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.
He attached the puzzle to an old wooden clipboard, propped it on his lap, and worked through the clues, his pencil scratching in answers as he went. And we’d wait. When he came to a clue that was either easy enough for us or one that truly stumped him, he’d call out – “Emulates a chipmunk, eight letters, first letter s.” “Simple life? with a question mark, five letters, second letter m.” “Advantage, five letters, fourth letter u.”
We’d call out our guesses, but we’d usually not have counted correctly.
“No, no. I said five letters. That’s seven.” Oh, right.
And whenever I’d get an answer, if felt like Christmas morning as he bestowed the gift of admiration.
“Wow! That’s it!” Grampy would exclaim, filling in the letters. “Good job, Jenny. Here’s another one you should get.”
It would take Grampy nearly the full week to complete the puzzle and if he hadn’t finished it by the time the Times arrived on Sunday morning, he never allowed himself to start the new one until he did. It was perhaps his only discipline, but it was sacred.
Now, forty years later, I too have the puzzle addiction but because I am not a retired eighty-year-old and can’t spend my days in a beach chair, I have to get it done on Sunday. And I do. It’s not that I am smarter than my grandfather was, but I am more tenacious. And, I am less distracted by admirers stopping at my beach chair and grandchildren asking for a quarter to buy a hot dog at the food shack in the dunes.
Besides, finishing the puzzle on Sunday is my discipline and it too is sacred.