When I was little, we had the amazing fortune to live next door to my mom’s parents for many years. Missing an ingredient? Pop next door to Grandma’s grocery store. Annoying Marm? Go next door. Have a toothache? Go next door. Birthdays. Christmases. Seemingly endless stretches when mom needed a break from our sisterly caterwauling.
When we knocked, grandpa would answer, “We don’t want none” and pretend (?) to shut the door. When we asked for a dish to be passed at the table, he’d growl, “Shut up and eat something close to you.” A real charmer.
I’m sure that gruffness pushed people away but I found it endearing, most of the time anyway. I don’t remember when, but I started calling him a Big Lug.
I remember crawling into his lap as he lounged in his big recliner watching TV, marveling that he could get so many channels by moving the satellite dish out back (This was the late 80s, ya’ll. It was ginormous). I remember running to meet him in the late afternoons when he got home from work so I could rifle through his lunch box. Sometimes he saved the snack cake for me. I remember hours playing chess on the set he acquired during his years traveling around the world in the Air Force, and drinking icy Coke out of big dimpled beer steins.
After my grandma passed, I spent many a Sunday waking early and trotting next door to make grandpa breakfast. Two eggs, sunny side up. Bacon. Toast. Coffee. Every time 11-year old me would successfully deliver a plate with unbroken yolks, it was a personal miracle. After breakfast, we’d drive the mile and change to McClellan Air Force Base to bowl at Camellia Lanes. Greasy burgers for lunch and maybe a game of chess after. He eventually bought me my own ball, bag, and towel.
When I was in middle school, we traveled in his blue Aerostar van to Idaho to visit relatives, somehow surviving weeks of him and Aunt Kathy both chain smoking in the front seat. Weeks with his brother Paul’s widow in the town of Gooding. Weeks with his youngest brother, Rick, in Pocatello. We’d tool around Yellowstone with our cousins, then drive to see Uncle Arnold and Aunt Carolyn at their cabin in the Blue Mountains outside of Pendleton, Oregon. On the way home, we drove out of the way through Reno for the treat of a short stay at Circus Circus. Cheap slots and memories of grandma for Lug, endless Midway games for Brenda and me.
As I grew up, I saw Lug less and less for various difficult reasons, but he called regularly, always saying “This is your grandfather, Kenneth.” When I called and he couldn’t tell my voice from my sister’s, I’d say it was his favorite granddaughter. “Brenda?” he’d ask. Whatever sarcastic remarks I gave earned me the title Smart Ass.
My Big Lug passed away a couple weeks ago at age 90. My hope is that he made it to heaven so my grandma can kick his butt while they can catch up on the last 30 years.
Rest in peace, Kenneth Leroy Olson.