Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Okies, part 7

I got to know Grandpa Guier much better after Grandma died. There was more time to spend with him alone, and he seemed more patient with me as I grew older.

From my perspective, Grandpa Guier was great entertainment. Grandpa would take us on long drives through the Oklahoma ranch country in his El Camino.

We'd arrive at a small nondescript gravel road entering a fenced in bit of ranch land. Grandpa would have Mike or me get out and open the gate, then we'd drive through it, crunching along on a gravel road to a private catfish pond that Grandpa kept stocked.

We'd fish for catfish using rods and stinkbait that Grandpa had bought. Stinkbait is about the nastiest substance known to man, but catfish love it. It smells of equal parts shit and rancid beef.

You'd take a big glop of it in your hands, form it into a ball like Play-doh, and glob it onto the end of a hook. It was a relief when it went under the surface of the water and the smell quickly blew away.

Though Mike and I spent more time playing with the tackle box and arguing than fishing, inevitably we'd still catch a couple catfish as big as our arms. Grandpa, a much more serious sportsman, would always catch a dozen or so and would chide us for not paying attention or for not being quiet enough.

Occasionally, a small black point would protrude from the calm waters in the middle of the lake, and Grandpa would quickly throw down his rod, grab his rifle and take aim.

Suddenly, there'd be a sharp crack, a splash of water, and the required litany of, "I got you, you son-of-a-bitchin' turtle!"

If Grandpa caught a turtle on his line, he'd always haul it in and crush its shell with his boot.

My brother and I were always horrified by the killing of the turtles, which we both thought were cute little animals that make great pets. We always regarded as sinful the killing anything higher on the evolutionary scale than a fish. But Grandpa despised turtles for eating his catfish. I've never seen a turtle eat a catfish, though I supposed they must. We certainly enjoyed eating catfish, so why shouldn't the turtle as well?

When we'd return from a day of fishing, we'd have to help Grandpa skin the catfish. By this time, I had descaled many "regular" fish like bass, crappie, and perch, and had even helped with the disemboweling and decapitation procedure. No problem.

But a catfish is an entirely different animal. It has no scales. Instead has a smooth human-like skin.

Grandpa's methods seemed barbaric to me. But I suppose there’s no other way. He'd place the catfish on a board and hammer a large nail through its head. He'd then slit the skin with his knife, right behind the gills, and literally peel it back to the tail. Watching, I was filled with horror and felt my stomach climbing into my throat. I had to excuse myself from the yard into the house. I have never cleaned a catfish since.

Grandpa Guier has been renowned, somewhat dubiously, for his gift of telling long winded tales.

He's the particular kind of person that will tell you a story, and then tell you the same exact story again and again every time he sees you. Interestingly, the stories develop further in plot each time they are told.

Countless times that we've been in public with Grandpa, we've been embarrassed by his ability to walk up to a complete stranger and begin talking about how the federal highway system is completely inadequate for the transportation of wheat, or how his favorite bird dog, Duke, was the smartest dog in the world.

Grandpa knew no social boundaries where his stories were involved. In that way, he was an equal-opportunity teller. His stories were told for the enlightenment of his audience, whether they wanted it or not.

As an example, one of his stories illustrated (in his mind) how open minded he was. He would approach every black person he met and tell them this tale.

"You know, I worked with a black man in Conoco once," Grandpa'd say as some sort of introduction. Sometimes, he'd preface it with, "You're black…," as if they didn’t already know that.

Grandpa would continue without a breath.

"Yup, Ol’ Joe, a black man like yourself, and I were workin' in the lab back at Conoco, when I explained to Joe that a bunch of niggers in the other lab weren't worth a good goddamn.

"'Ken,' he'd say to me, 'I don't care much for that term, nigger.'

"What? ‘Nigger?’ Why, you got it all wrong Joe! There's plenty of good black folks and bad black folks in the world. Now, you're one of the good black folks, but the bad ones, those are niggers. Heck, there’s even bad white folks I call niggers."

Once, when we were stopped at a highway rest-stop, there was a forty-something black man walking his terrier in the grass. The dog was busy doing “his business”, and the man was trapped.

Grandpa told this man his story. The man stood motionless and feigned the polite interest people feign when they don’t know what else to do.

When the dog was done, he politely excused himself and nearly sprinted back to his car.

People were always leaving Grandpa in a hurry. Better split before the next story starts!

Most of Grandpa's other stories were just as colorful. Grandpa was famous for his stories of the days in the Navy.

One particular story was of how he single-handedly saved the ship he was on when one of the engines failed, while they were under fire from the "Japs."

Grandpa hated Japs as much as he hated French.

Mind you, this story grew with every telling. At the first telling, Grandpa worked in the engine room, when the big diesel engines failed. Being responsible for the engine, he was forced to fix the engine by climbing inside the engine. I'm not much of an expert on WWII naval warships, but I take it their engines are big enough to house humans, should the need arise.

By the second telling, the engine was on fire and ready to explode. By the third telling, he was forced to strip naked before entering the engine, so his clothes wouldn't catch on fire from the grease and heat. By the fourth and final telling that I've heard, he was above the engine deck when learned that the engine was in bad shape. He sprinted to the engine room at full speed, and rather than waste time on the stairs, vaulted himself onto the pipes on the ceiling, performing an Olympic-worthy vault, complete with a two-point landing in front of the engine, ready to disrobe and climb inside. (I swear I am not making this up!)

There were so many navy stories, yet one story in particular stands out as the Kenneth Riley Guier, Sr. Signature Story. If you've heard this story, you've had the distinct pleasure of meeting Grandpa Guier.

"We were on shore leave in San Francisco," he'd start.

"Me and about six of my fellow sailors were in this bar, when one of the boys, ol’ Jimmy'd start to braggin' about how much of a man he was.

"Now, Jimmy, y'understand had lied about his age to get inta the war. He was only seventeen years old when he joined the Navy.

"But that didn't stop him," Grandpa would continue, "from braggin' about what a man he was.

“Well, this ol’ gal, Sally, who was our waitress got tired of hearing all his shit and placed a ten dollar bill square on the table.

“'Son,' she said, 'I'll betcha that ten dollars I got more hair on my chest than you got on your whole body!'

"Well, ol’ Jimmy took her bet, opened his shirt, and musta had a spot of hair no bigger than a silver dollar."

"That ol' gal just laughed," Grandpa would yuk, "and opened her shirt clean up. She had hair clear from one tit t' the other!"

On occasions when we'd socialize in public, like weddings and funerals, and when Grandpa Guier was there, you'd see all of the Guier relatives, who were "in the know,” avoiding Grandpa like the plague, while the unsuspecting outsiders would become entangled into listening to his stories until someone else walked into the trap.

We Guiers would laugh and snicker to ourselves. “Ha! Look at that poor sap! He’s hearing about Grandpa’s Jackelope!”

And it actually didn't even matter to Grandpa, nor did he seem to notice, when different people would transition in and out of his conversation mid-sentence.

I don't want to misrepresent Grandpa Guier, though. Though he certainly has a gift for long-windedness and tall tales, he was always a loving and generous person. He expressed his love with his generosity during birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, etc. Remember, here is a man who spent very little money on himself, hoarding it all in bank accounts. Yet, he always very generously gave on special occasions. I think he believed that money was invented solely for spending on grandkids.

Grandpa Guier was also great fun to wrestle with as a kid. He'd sneak up on us, grab us, throw us up into the air, and catch us as we came giggling down. My mother would gasp audibly and usually left the room when we started our horse-play. She was always worried he'd drop us on our heads.

Grandpa's favorite tickle-game when we were young was to show us how a horse eats corn. He loved springing this one on the unaware.

The Horse Eats Corn maneuver involves grabbing the child's leg above the knee, being sure to dig your fingers behind the muscle on the inner thigh, and squeezing mercilessly. This evokes an uncontrollable rapture and full body convulsion. It works especially well on small children because of the size of their legs to his own hand.

It would eventually reach the point that even if he said, "Ya know how a horse eats corn?" or got that "horse eats corn" look in his eye, we'd giggle in fright and run from the room. Sometimes he'd give chase, sometimes he'd stay put.

Of course, my own sons today are very well aware of how a horse eats corn.

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