The World through Grandpa's Eyes
We knew it was almost time. Uncle Bill and Dad carried a few chairs into my grandparents’ living room. Uncle George brought the projector and rested it on the metal folding table. We had to end our hide-and-seek game since the living room was off limits, or we could “take our game elsewhere” for the next twenty minutes while they got the room ready.
“Elsewhere” was easy in the old Brookline “mansion” Mom grew up in with its many bedrooms and bathrooms, a nursery, and Grandpa’s doctor’s office. Sometimes the seeker would give up, defeated. Sometimes the hiders didn’t know the seeker gave up and would remain hidden until hungry or bored. When Grandpa called everyone to begin the show, about ten of the nineteen grandkids would wander out of hiding spots often smelling like mothballs.
We were expected to get excited to see the slides from Grandma and Grandpa’s latest trip to Europe. “Okay, are we ready? Everyone has a seat? Lips zipped?” His eyes twinkled when he said something funny.
My cousins and I pretended to zip our mouths shut. “Wrrr rrrdy.” The adults sat on the soft, striped couch. My sister, cousins and I sat cross-legged on the floor. The toddlers on the laps of the older cousins.
While waiting for Grandpa to get the slides changing properly, I traced the Oriental rug pattern with my finger until the lights were turned off again. Sometimes Grandpa would mess up a slide and grandma would be smiling, upside down. Giggles traveled around the room, from cousin to cousin. I was sure he’d be mad at us for laughing, so I tried to hold it back. Grandpa was a perfectionist—as a surgeon, he had to be—but had a sense of humor. “Look at Grandma doing a headstand!” We all burst out laughing, even Grandma.
“So here we are in Ireland…” Grandma stood, wearing an Irish knit sweater, in front of a thatched cottage, surrounded by daisies and wildflowers. I didn’t pay much attention as he droned on about the history of Ireland and the cottage where they stayed. It was old, and Ireland was green and pretty. Men wore skirts. Picture after picture of Grandma and Grandpa near cottages and green hills or stone walls, a taste of Ireland. One of my uncles hummed, imitating bagpipes.
Grandma added the negatives. “The cottage was much too drafty. I had to sleep wearing my cardigan sweater over my nightgown.”
“You did love the food, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we woke to the smell of homemade biscuits—almost as good as mine. But the air always felt damp. It wasn’t as nice as Switzerland. Nothing could compare to the beauty of the Swiss Alps.”
“You should’ve seen Grandma skiing on the Matterhorn in neon yellow snow pants.” He had that smirk on his face again. We could only picture Grandma in the kitchen, stirring gravy, not zooming down a mountain.
“Silly Grandpa. They don’t make snow pants in my size.”
“I think Grandma liked Switzerland for their chocolate.”
Grandpa threw in some older slides of their trip to Switzerland and Italy as if we hadn’t seen enough pictures of them in front of this building or that garden.
Grandma told her Italy story again. “You wouldn’t believe the boldness of the people. As we walked through one cute village, a man pinched my bottom.” She covered her mouth, as if it were shocking, but she giggled too.”
“I guess he liked a large target.”
Grandma glared at him, still smiling though. “Ooh, you’re in trouble, Grandpa.”
After the hundredth picture of green hills and sheep, and a few echoing snores, as the projector clicked and clicked rocking the little ones to sleep, Grandpa surprised us with pictures of the grandkids. My sister jumped up and pointed to the screen. “Look that’s you in the high chair with egg all over your face!” Soon all the kids were standing, trying to get a closer look.
“These are my favorite pictures,” Grandpa said. Grandma agreed. We all agreed.
Looking back I wonder if one of Grandpa’s favorite reasons for traveling was to put on a slide show for the family. He couldn’t take his three sons, six daughters, and nineteen grandkids with him, but he could share the places he loved with the people he loved. And since we loved him, we put up with the thousands of pictures of scenery. And maybe we did absorb a taste of other cultures.