I have to admit, I’ve been a little bit grumpy lately. Who wouldn’t be with the state of the economy, crime in the streets, rising taxes, and that rotten little Peterson boy, who uses my flower bed as a short-cut to the school bus stop. I guess, I should mention the guy who walks, what is either a large dog, or a small Clydesdale with bowel movement problems by my house every day. Do you think it would kill him to bring a shovel, and a thirty-gallon trash bag along?
I just returned from the grocery store, where it seems the packages are getting smaller as the prices go up. Have you seen the price of a can of coffee, and a tiny jar of peanut butter? Right now, I’m sitting in front of a huge stack of bills, and a politician on television is telling me that the economy is turning the corner. I wonder what corner he’s talking about. If I peek around my corner, I see a gigantic sinkhole ready to swallow me up. What’s this? Can you believe it. My cable bill just went up again! My wife says I need to relax, and not get so upset with things. Just yesterday she said,
“If you keep this up, you’re going to one day become a grumpy old man.”
Her words got me thinking about grumpy old men, and the possibility of joining this exclusive fraternity. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe – just maybe – it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
When I was a kid, our neighborhood had its own grumpy old man. His name was Elmer Smith. We would ride our bikes by his house as fast as we could. If he wasn’t cutting his grass, or working on a car in his garage, he would be sitting on his porch in a rocking chair with an ancient looking dog sleeping soundly by his side. If we slowed down or stopped, he would stand up, take a few steps forward, and stare at us with a look that would make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. We all knew never to get within a hundred feet of his meticulously manicured lawn. Even neighborhood dogs would give his house a wide berth, and cross to the other side of the street as they passed.
We had often heard stories of a young boy named Billy Dugan, who had once made the mistake of entering Elmer Smith’s back yard to retrieve a stray baseball. Legend had it that his spirit was still wandering the hedges, rose bushes and garden of Elmer’s backyard, looking for his lost baseball.
I guess every neighborhood has at least one grumpy old man, and it seems they’re all pretty much the same. When we moved into our house, we met a grumpy old man named Floyd Wasserman, who lived four houses down from us on the corner. You may have noticed a few things about grumpy old men. They’re all lean and wiry, and they look like they’re made of nothing but bone and gristle. They never get sick, and all live to be at least a hundred and twenty years old. I think they’re just too stubborn to move on.
All they seem to wear, is either a pair of bib overalls over a denim shirt, or dark blue mechanic’s coveralls. They always have their sleeves rolled up, revealing forearms made of corded muscle, and emblazoned with colorful tattoos, most likely acquired, during a military deployment overseas. They also have hands as big as hams, that were probably used for serious barroom brawls during their younger days. Poking out of their front shirt pocket, is a pair of well-worn glasses, used only for reading the morning newspaper, or to get a better look at that unlucky neighborhood kid, who strayed just a little too close to his property line.
Did you know that grumpy old men can fix anything? It’s true. It could be cars, trucks, toasters, lawnmowers, furnaces, air conditioners, hedge trimmers, hot water heaters, or motorcycles. I wouldn’t be surprised if extraterrestrials passing by the earth with malfunctioning warp drives, or life support systems, might just scan the terrain below for grumpy old men to help them fix the problem.
Did you ever notice how grumpy old men, not only like to complain, but also have an opinion on just about everything? It could be the weather, politics, religion, taxes, the price of things, or sports. It really doesn’t matter what it is. You could ask a grumpy old man about the escalating price of alpaca sweaters, due to a harsh winter in the Andes Mountains, and he’d probably say,
“Those darn alpacas. We’re all going to freeze our butts off this winter just because a bunch of hill-climbing, spitting, nasty critters ain’t growing enough fur!”
Grumpy old men, also do a lot of puttering around. I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but I think it means they drive their wife crazy, and take lots of naps. I noticed something very unusual. Grumpy old men, all seem to have kind, gentle, soft-spoken wives with thick white hair, an infectious laugh, and a penchant for making you feel at ease. They also have a way of making things grow, amazing skills involving hand-made quilts, and are masters of the art of baking delicious home-made pies. When they pass away, they are immediately nominated for Sainthood. I’m not sure if it’s because they were such good people, or whether they had somehow managed to live over fifty years with a grumpy old man.
Mr. Wasserman, our grumpy old neighbor passed away a few years ago as a widower. I know that he was often opinionated, known to complain a little too much, set in his ways, stubborn, and may have even been called cantankerous by those who didn’t know him well. The funny thing is – I remember him differently.
I recall how gentle he was with his wife, after her health began to fail. How, even after she was gone, he continued to water, fertilize and prune the rose bushes she loved so much. I have memories of Widow Brown, who lived next to him, always having her grass cut, leaves raked, snow shoveled, and her mail brought to her door every day. I remember a snowy winter storm when I was dealing with a bad back, and as I struggled to shovel my driveway, he showed up with a huge snow blower, or the time my wife’s car wouldn’t start, and he reattached a starter wire in five minutes flat.
I went to his funeral, and learned some things I didn’t know. I found out that he had been a Navy veteran, who had served his country with honor. He was extremely active in his church, did all their maintenance work, and sang in the choir. A few people paying their respects, mentioned that his deep and melodious voice was legendary.
The church was overflowing for his funeral, with men and women with cars that ran like clockwork, lawnmowers with razor-sharp blades, doors that didn’t squeak, toasters that shot golden brown bread four-feet into the air, and air conditioners so efficient, water froze on counter tops.
I know that Mr. Wasserman is now in a better place. Even so, I’m sure he’s still fixing things, and doing his share of complaining. I guess I better get going. I just saw Mrs. Williams across the street with a carload full of mulch. She’s six months pregnant, and I hope she’s not planning on trying to haul all those bags by herself. Oh, I almost forgot. I need to fix Widow Thompson’s gate. Her little Corgi, Muffin, keeps escaping. I know he’s extremely adorable, but yesterday, I noticed my tulips weren’t doing too well, and there were tiny paw prints, scattered all around them.
Wait a minute. Is that the neighbor’s cat, Doodles, at my fish pond? He’s lucky I like cats, or it would be bath time! Oh no; here comes that enormous, dog-shaped poop machine again. What the heck? Jaaaimeee….. Peterson. Those are flower beds, not your own personal short-cut. Sorry about that folks. I guess I’m just a little bit grumpy today. Now, what did I do with those darn reading glasses?