In the cement-floored shady cool of the garage I would find Grandpa Frank, his legs coverall-clad and protruding from beneath one of his vehicles. The shiny forest green ’35 Model T. The plump ’46 sedan. Or maybe the powder blue F150 brought indoors for a minor repair. The garage door was always open in the summer and I might wander in to see what he was working on and get out of the heat, or maybe Grandma sent me with a message. The garage smelled of machines and grease. Grandpa would wheel himself out from under the chassis, usually with his charming grin, sometimes with an annoyed scowl if his work wasn’t going well.
All of my early memories of Grandpa Frank have machines in them. He was an independent excavator and what might have been a large backyard was a gravel parking lot for his backhoe, tractor, dump truck, crane and pickup. When it rained, all of the mud puddles produced greasy rainbows.
He had learned to fly during the war but never got deployed. He talked often about the feeling of swooping through the clouds–something he would never forget. He put me in my first plane when I was about seven. Just a tiny aerial tour plane over Lake Coeur d’Alene. Somehow with him sitting next to me the flight was not scary. Later in life I would discover a dread of flying, but small planes still somehow feel safe.
At the county fair every year we rode the Ferris Wheel with the old rickety metal chairs that swing and creak alarmingly. The line to get on took forever to get through, but it was our tradition. Once we got to the top, Grandpa always rocked the seat, so that I clutched the metal bar across my lap and closed my eyes, only to open them again with the relief of finally moving through the neon carnival dusk.
There were some things that Grandma liked to do (the Oscars, antique shows) that held no interest for Grandpa or me and we made up ways to entertain ourselves. During the Oscars we played a game called “ghost,” wherein we turned off all the lights and I would hide behind doors or in closets and leap out to scare Grandpa Frank as he wandered through the house. In retrospect, I’m not sure how we kept that up for four hours.
When Grandma had to go to Spokane for radiation treatments, I would go along and Grandpa Frank and I used the time to ride the escalators at the downtown department stores; there were no escalators in Coeur d’Alene.
Today would have been Grandpa Frank’s 91st birthday. He died over a year ago after a long descent into Alzheimer’s. The man I grew up with had been gone for years, but even visiting him a few months before his death he had the same mischievous twinkle in his pale blue eyes and the same flirtatious wit that made him a ladies’ man well into his later years, after Grandma died. Happy birthday, Grandpa!