During the Winter of 2020 my parents and I lived in New York City, which is how I ended up living with my grandfather, who I was never to address as grandfather, grandpa, granddad or grand-anything. He was to be addressed by his Christian name of George, which, I was told, would be the first of many rules in his apartment. I wasn’t told why I would no longer be living with my parents, as if at eleven I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the world and specifically NYC. Both of my parents worked in the medical field, my dad was an EMT and mom a nurse. Which is how they met and which is why they couldn’t leave the city. It was strongly indicated by all the “adults” involved (aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles etc) that it would be best that I lived with “don’t-call-me- grand-anything” until this all blew over, whenever that may be. “Don’t-call-me grand-anything lived in the country (sort of) So, I moved into the his 2 bedroom (sort of), bath and 3/4 (sort of) apartment and discovered that there was a horse in the back yard (sort of).
“Don’t call me grand-anything’s” apartment was in a semi-rural part of Connecticut. Semi-rural because we were 2 miles from the center of “Northwick” the largest town in the area, as well as being 5 and 10 miles, respectively, from the two (nearest) Native American Casino’s. There was also a large wooded area behind the 80 year old apartment building and a small dairy farm about a mile away on the other side of the main road, which was fifty feet from the front door, that “don’t-call-me-grand-anything” rarely used, opting for the kitchen door, that led to a small landing and a set of stairs to the sidewalk below our second floor dwelling. I was sitting on the top step of those stairs in late March when a movement caught my eye. As I looked through the trees to my left, I thought I saw a horse, a light brown and tan horse behind the neighbors house. Why would there be a horse in the woods behind the neighbors house?
When I think of horses, large barns, open fields and of course, cowboys come to mind. Densely wooded areas behind an old residential house do not conjure up the image of a noble steed training for the Kentucky Derby, or a cowboy putting his new horse through it’s paces to round up strays or any other horse-like experience for that matter. These same neighbors also raised chickens and their coop (which looked as if it had been fashioned by someone who found some mismatched pieces of plywood, some nails, decided to build something with them, ended up with a dwelling that only suited chickens, so they bought some chickens to go with it) was only a few feet from the evergreen trees that separated the properties.
The day after spotting the horse, I asked “Don’t-call-me-grand-anything” about it. “One week there was no horse, the next week there was.” My all-to-quick reply was “Big Duh” !! I winced once the words left my mouth, waiting for some sort of chastising, which didn’t come, instead “Don’t-call-me-grand-anything” gave me a strange look and said “I guess that wasn’t much of an answer.” I was about to say “Big Duh” again but thought better of it.
I interrupt this compelling and completely fictional story for a related and true horse/kid story:
When I was eleven, it was brought to the attention of our family that a friend of my parents were selling one of their young horses. They lived on a small farm, had horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, you name it. My family of six had a nice four bedroom, 2 bath Cape Cod house with a pool on about a quarter acre, no room for a horse and even at eleven, I was pretty sure that the local zoning rules wouldn’t allow one anyway.
My sister and I were the horse fanciers in the family and of course we began arguing about the name immediately. She wanted to call him “Poetry in motion” while I favored “Efrem Zimbalist Horse” after the actor whose claim to fame was starring in a 60′ – 70’s TV show titled “The F.B.I.”. I was not a fan of either the show or the actor, at eleven I just thought the name sounded cool. Needles to say, we never acquired that or any other horse, although under the “assumption” that we would be getting one, I allowed my parents to put the house up for sale. One may wonder why an eleven year old’s parents need me to “allow” them to sell our house, well, a couple of years earlier, my dad was hell bent to sell our house. I, on the other hand liked where we were living, so my best friend Benny and I put a curse on the house. We made up a chant, had a candle, walked around the house three times, chanting our chant and it (or something) worked. The house didn’t sell and my parents took it off the market. Now, with the dangling horse/carrot waving in front of me, I acquiesced and took the curse off. The house sold and we moved into an apartment. That was nearly 50 years ago and I still haven’t forgiven my (thankfully) late father.
I’ll be getting back to the fiction but compelling eleven year old boy/horse story when I think up more fictional material. Until that time….
No new “horse in the back yard” material, I’ve been working on my daughters Xmas present request, which was for me to give her EVERYTHING I’ve ever written. She asked this of me back in the summer, I had to mull this over for a while, I’m great at mulling, I once mulled over a poem for five or six years, not every minute of every day but the poem rarely left me, or should I say the inspiration for the potential poem was rarely far away.
It was while I was mulling this request (which I obviously haven’t and probably won’t ever complete) it dawned on me that I could definitely gather most of the poems I’ve written over the years. I had begun this project more than once in the past fifteen years or so and I was pretty certain that I could find this treasure trove of potential Pulitzer Prize winning poetry, after I mulled it over for awhile.
The project is nearly complete, I’ve amassed nearly 70 works of art (?) and am further mulling whether to bring this collection to a printer or go the less expensive route and put it together in some sort of scrap book/three ring binder presentation. I have until the 20th of February (her birthday) to deliver. While I’m mulling, here is a sample, it’s called Dakota Dreams and is the aforementioned five years of mulling poem. Hope you like it, if not, it’s your loss 🙂
Whenever I’m in New York City
I take long walks
looking for the Dakota
The building in which John Lennon
spent the final years of his eventful
life in uneventful peace.
The building outside of which
he was murdered.
I have dreamt of finding the Dakota
in these dreams I would cry
or hears John’s voice saying
“all you need is love” or
“give peace a chance” or Yoko
would see me crying and say
“you loved him too”
and invite me in for tea.
When I finally did happen across
the Dakota, I stopped and waited
but nothing happened. Only the cool
breeze across my face and the
realization that the Dakota is just
a building, John Lennon was just a man
and I was just another poet in
New York City.
Sorry about the double spacing, couldn’t figure out how to change to single, every time I hit “enter” the program wants to begin another paragraph, not very user friendly, or it could just be me?
Back to “There’s a horse in my backyard”.
During our “stay home, stay safe” time together, don’t-call-me-grand-anything and I got along ok, he checked that I was keeping up with my on-line classes, went to the local rec area to walk the track every other day and prepared some basic but decent food for us to eat, usually something that we could eat for two or three days, with a salad or some fruit added to make it appear as if we weren’t eating leftovers, which didn’t bother me, as long as it tasted good. With once a week take-out or delivery, just to break up the monotony, of which we had plenty. Then there was the horse, which became more difficult to spot as the leaves on the trees began to blossom, consequently I had to get closer to the border of the two properties to make sure he/she was still there. I fantasized that we were both sent to Connecticut to get away from “the end of the world” if you believed the talking heads on TV, which don’t-call-me-grand-anything did not. “don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see.” was one of his mottoes. I’d never seen him watch any news, not once, so I wasn’t sure which “talking heads” he was referring to?
Don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t seem to be bothered by the “stay home, stay safe” mandate at all, explaining “I’ve always been somewhat of a loaner, and after 40 plus years in the food and beverage biz, I have very little craving for the company of my fellow humans.” While I was fairly certain that I was not grouped in with these “fellow humans” I sometimes wondered. Then something happened.
Don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s daily routine went like this: get up between 7 and 8 (“I spent the final 15 years in the food and beverage biz getting up before dawn, never again.”) put fresh water in the tea kettle, place it on the stove, turn on the gas, wait for the water to boil and make tea. Black tea only, brand names didn’t matter he once explained to me. “As long as it’s Black tea, no orange pekoe, no herbal, just Black tea, period.” He’d make his tea, toast wheat bread for two, add some fresh fruit and a bowl of cereal for me. After breakfast don’t-call-me-grand-anything would take his second cup of tea into the guest bedroom/office where I slept and did my computer school work. He would turn on the computer, check his email, reply to any that needed replying to, then turn the computer over to me for my classes. One day in early May this routine changed, don’t-call-me-grand-anything spent more time than usual typing that morning, then gave me an extra break from my school work to check his email. The next day it was two extra breaks and on the weekend he must have checked his messages and wrote replies five or six times a day. When I asked him about this new activity, he simply said, “I have a new pen-pal” and left it at that. I wondered.
The weekend of constant emails was followed by a week of later than usual phone calls, which was unusual for don’t-call-me-grand-anything, actually other than the calls from my parents and other relatives checking on me, the land-line rarely rang at all, with the exception of four or five unwanted calls from unrecognized numbers that went to voice mail, where messages were never left. While don’t-call-me-grand-anything had a cellphone, he rarely used it and only had one because his daughter, my aunt, gave him one on her plan after not being able to find him while he was travelling a couple years before. He did take it with us when we had to go anywhere and of course I had mine, which I seemed to be using less as time passed. I still texted my friends from school occasionally but it was the same-old, same-old and eventually dissolved into helping with homework assignments and not much else.
Don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t text “I’ve sent one text, it was to your aunt, it read “call me” and she did. I quit while I was ahead”. I never heard his cellphone ring, I don’t think the ringer was ever turned on, the only time I saw him “use” it was when he plugged it into the charger about once a week. “I’ve lived most of my life without one, why should I change? Just because everyone else uses one is not a good enough reason, at least not good enough for me.” Was his reply when I asked him about the cellphone. He was the first person I remember who didn’t use one constantly or at least regularly and one of the last.
One thing don’t-call-me-grand-anything did have was a large collection of books, mostly fiction with a few biographies thrown in. He encouraged me to read and while I wasn’t a big reader at the time, I did enjoy the Louis L’Amour westerns and war stories, as well as James Herriot’s country vet stories. When I finished a book, we’d discuss it over dinner casually, not as if it was an assignment and I had to give a report, just two people chatting about something they both read. After dinner, we’d clean up, watch some TV and off I’d go to bed. That’s when the land-line would ring…and I’d listen at the door.
I couldn’t hear much, just murmurs, mumbles and half whispers as if don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t want me to hear what was being said, of course this made me want to hear what was being said more than ever. I could tell there was a different tone to don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s voice, more upbeat, with a tinge of happiness mixed in. I’d heard the same tone when dad talked to mom on the phone, so I figured that there was a girl on the other end of the conversation. Or, in don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s case a woman, probably his age, which I wasn’t too sure of but figured he was at least in his 60’s. Do men in their 60’s still have girlfriends? I’d been told by my parents and others several times that I was too young for a girlfriend. Even though I’d seen enough on TV to know what the deal was, I figured 11 probably was too young to be interested in girls, 13 seemed to be a good jumping off point and I decided to wait till then. On the other hand I needed to figure out how to hear don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s conversations with whoever he was chatting with.
One night while watching TV with don’t-call-me-grand-anything, a character in the mystery show we were watching couldn’t hear a conversation through a wall, went to her kitchen, got a drinking glass from a cabinet, placed the open end against the wall, placed an ear against the closed end of the glass and smiled. I assumed this meant she could hear what was being said, which proved true when later on the lady relayed what she’d heard to the cops. I decided to try this out that evening when the mystery woman called.
After brushing my teeth and washing my face I went to the spare bedroom/office, unrolled by 6″ piece of foam bedding (which was very comfortable) put on the sheets, placed the blanket and pillows on the bed and pretended to go to sleep. The phone rang about 10 minutes later, I got out of bed, took the glass from it’s hiding place and pressed it against the door and listened. I probably had the same kind of smile that the old lady in the movie had as this little innovation worked like a charm. I could hear don’t-call-me-grand-anything as if he were right next to me and not behind a closed door. Of course I could only hear his side of the conversation but it was better than nothing and I could make up what was being said on the other side. Unfortunately since don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s part of the conversation was somewhat limited I had a lot to imagine.
don’t-call-me-grand-anything: “I’ve never been in a T.V studio but I did take a couple of broadcasting classes in college.”
While this could’ve been preceded by: “I’m now a famous actress and would like you to come to the studio and watch me perform”. Seemed unlikely but a kid can dream can’t he? There was a long silence followed by:
“Producer” ? This could’ve been preceded by “I’m now a Hollywood producer and want you to star in our latest feature film.” Again, this seemed unlikely, highly unlikely. Another somewhat long silence, then a longish “Uh-ha” in what I considered a skeptical tone. Cynical may have been a better choice and as a New Yorker, it was a word I’ve become familiar with.
don’t-call-me-grand-anything was quiet for a time with the occasional chuckle, another “Uh-ah” and some noises that could have been giggling, although I didn’t think adults giggled and it definitely sounded weird coming from the adjacent room. I listened for a few more minutes before putting the glass aside and going back to bed. Hopefully tomorrow don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s part of the conversation would be more revealing than an occasional “Uh-ah”. The lady on the other end of the line must’ve talked a lot, lonely? Maybe tomorrow night would be don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s turn to tell his story, whatever that may be?
Wednesday was clean the bathrooms day and as I’ve mentioned, don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s apartment had 1 and 3/4 quarters bathrooms. The 3/4 bath was no bigger than a NYC closet and this 3/4 bath had once been a closet in the spare bedroom/office and it was small, could’ve come from a boat or an RV but it did have a toilet, sink and shower and it was MINE, all MINE. I’d never had my own bathroom before, unless you’re rich, growing up in a NYC apartment usually meant one bathroom, one and a 1/2 if you were lucky. We weren’t.
Cleaning the bathroom wasn’t a big deal, I’d had chores when living at home and it’s not as if don’t-call-me-grand-anything dressed me in rags and started calling me “cinderfella”. Of course he made sure I wasn’t mixing chemicals and coming up with mustard gas, which turned out to be pretty simple since don’t-call-and-anything only cleaned with bleach diluted in hot water or all purpose cleaner with bleach. There was a bottle of Ammonia for “killing the ants when they show up in May”, which they didn’t this year, “maybe they skip a few years, like locusts” was all don’t-call-me-grand-anything had to say on the matter, other than to remind me that bleach and Ammonia were never to be stored together, not even the same room.
It didn’t take long to clean my small bathroom and I usually asked don’t-call-me-grand-anything if he needed help cleaning his bathroom, he usually declined the offer, but not today. Today he seemed to be moving a little slower, with the occasional “ouch” and grimace thrown in. When I asked him what was up he answered “as my grandmother was all too fond of saying “don’t get old, you won’t like it”. I thought about this for a moment then replied “does that mean it’s better to die young?” “That’s exactly what I used to say to her. Then again, I know what she meant all the same.” As he got off his knees after cleaning behind the toilet. “I should hire a cleaning company but I don’t want someone I don’t know going through my place. Uncle Neddy has probably deemed such activity as unessential until phase three.” Uncle Neddy” is what don’t-call-me-grand-anything called the governor. He came up with the title while we were watching “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” in which one of the characters wrote children’s stories under that name. Pretty good movie, when don’t-call-me-grand-anything wasn’t describing what was going to happen next, something I made him promise not to do, he agreed.
One Wednesday afternoon don’t-call-me-grand-anything decided we should clean up the storage room, separate the the items into what stays and what goes to the dump. While doing this I came across a small cardboard box with a faded label that read “Acme optic company”. I opened it and nearly screamed, there was an eyeball inside, a blue eyeball. When don’t-call-me-grand-anything saw the look on my face, he laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not a serial killer who keeps the eyes of his victims as souvenirs.” “Is it a spare? do you have a glass eye?” I asked. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything shook his head and said “I’ll tell you the story if you promise not to tell your parents.” I promised.
“A friend of mine and I got a job cleaning out the basement of a building that was once the offices of an eye doctor. While doing so I came across a large box filled with many small boxes inside. In the small boxes were glass eyes, we kept the glass eyes and brought the rest of the junk to the dump. Later that night, my buddy and I went to our local hangout for a few beers, at closing time we decided to drive around town and placed various boxes in random peoples mailboxes, laughing all the way.” He said with a big smile on his face. “Then what happened?” I asked with an even bigger smile on my face. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything let out a little giggle “While I can’t say for sure, there was an article in the paper a couple of days later about people calling the police complaining of finding eyeballs in there mail boxes.” “Did they ever catch you?” “No, but my buddy and I did say ‘Keep your eye on the ball’ , the eyes have it, ‘eye-eye’ among other ‘eye’ expressions quite often for the next few weeks.”
We also came across an equipment/bat bag containing three baseball gloves, two bats, one metal, one wooden, some softballs and an old score book. “Were you a baseball player?” I asked while sliding the over-sized glove on my left hand. “I played little league when I was a kid and softball in my 20’s and 30’s.” “Were you any good?” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything was silent for a minute, seemingly looking through me to a place that probably no longer existed. I waited. Finally don’t-call-me-grand-anything refocused and said “I was pretty good but was lucky to have played with quite a few guys who were really good, a couple of which were some of the best players in the area.” “Did you win like every game you played?” I blurted out. “I don’t think any ball player ever won every game he played in in any sport, not even Bill Russell. But we won more than we lost, although probably like nearly everyone who ever played any sport, I thought we should have won more.” I had noticed a small trophy on a book shelf in the entry hall area of the apartment and asked him about it. “That was from the first championship team I played on. All the wives and girlfriends chipped in to buy them for the players.” He stopped and stared off again, probably revisiting that time and place or perhaps he was having one of those “senior moments” I’ve heard people whispering about behind the backs of the people supposedly having one.
In an attempt to break the silence I asked “What position did you play?” This seemed to do the trick and Don’t-call-me-grand-anything snapped to attention and began his reminiscences. “Started out as an outfielder, ended as a pitcher and played every other position at one time or another in between.” “Were you a good pitcher? Did you strike out a lot of batters?” He chuckled. “Slow pitch softball pitchers don’t strike out many batters on a regular basis, unless he’s playing against some pretty awful players. Luckily, I had some of the best defensive players behind me, we didn’t give up many runs, not when all the parts were working properly, which they usually were.” “Do you still see any of the guys you played with?” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything looked at me “From time to time, although with the current ‘stay home, stay safe’ situation it’s become less and less, although I have to admit that it has been leaning that way for many years now.” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything said this in a matter of fact way, as if it didn’t matter any more whether he saw his old friends or anyone else for that matter, which reminded me of a conversation that I overheard my parents having about don-call-me-grand-anything and how most of the family consider him a recluse and an eccentric, how it would be good for him if I came to stay.
When I told don’t-call-me-grand-anything about this conversation, he chuckled joylessly then said “A recluse? Maybe, but one needs to be rich if one is to be considered “eccentric”. In my younger days I was considered weird, which I guess is eccentric without the money.” We finished organizing the storeroom with little more to say, other than “keeping or saving” on my part and a brief “yes or no” on his. In another attempt to break the silence, I asked about his late night phone calls, to which he replied “these walls are thinner than I thought.” “Not really, I had to put a glass against the door to be able to hear and even that wasn’t mush help.” I thought I was being funny but while the look on Don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s face was funny, it wasn’t that kind of funny, until it was and he let out a laugh and kept on laughing, so I joined in, both laughing until tears came. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything certainly was different than any adult I’d ever met, I guess you could say weird and I dreamily wondered if there was any way I could get him enough money to be eccentric.
The Summer was rapidly coming to an end and it was deemed “safe” to return to New York. My parents called to say they missed me as much as I missed them, if they only knew how much better it was to have a horse in your back yard, rather than a brick wall.
My parents decided to take a mini-vacation and come pick me up, they got a room at a nearby hotel that had an indoor pool and I was to stay with them there for two nights before returning to NYC. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything had dinner with us at the hotel on my final night in Connecticut and he insisted on paying over the protests of my parents. Before he left, he shook my hand and said “Keep in touch” I replied “you too…George” we both laughed the same kind of laugh we shared after I told him of my ease dropping. People stopped and stared, then George left, still laughing through his face mask.
Since returning to the Big Apple, I’ve sent George an email almost every night before I go to be and he replies, most of the time.