The Crazy Grandpa With the Alligator Shorts

(For Father’s Day… This essay appeared in The Beach Reporter on 6/13/91. )

Shortly before my parents’ last visit here from Washington, I told my children that Grandma and Grandpa would be coming down for a week or so. They asked, “Is that the crazy grandpa or the regular one?”

I had to pause for a moment. After all, this was my own father they were talking about. “Why do you call him crazy?” I was curious as to what they would say, although I knew there could be many answers.

“Because he wears alligator shorts and he watches the Weather Channel and he plays funny games with us,” was the matter-of-fact reply of my children.

True, true. He does wear alligator shorts, only not the Izod kind. His alligator shorts are bright green and they have little dancing alligators with sunglasses on them. It’s just one of his ways of making a fashion statement.

He also loves to watch the Weather Channel, which to me is about as fascinating as watching your fingernails grow. But if you have a daughter who is a flight attendant, like my father does, you need to know the weather all over the world because you can fly for free. You never know when you might get the itch to fly to Cabo or Vegas and you would need to know if you should bring your alligator shorts.
Back to the funny games. He does neat things like chasing and catching and tickling you until you can’t stand it. He also holds you upside down by your feet, makes really funny faces, and is one of the few people I know who can wiggle his ears without wiggling the rest of his face.

When I saw the movie Indiana Jones, I was only mildly impressed. My father had him beat by a mile. You want thrills? My dad used to have a rock collecting business. He and his buddies from the School of Mines in Golden, Colorado would drive a decrepit old Chevy with big fins and two gears down to the Mexican desert and blast rocks and minerals out of caves. Then they’d bring the rocks home, clean up the specimens, and sell them to collectors and museums.

Every time he came back from one of those trips we would all breathe a sigh of relief, and then want to hear the stories. “The Chevy barely made it over the pass. The snow was so thick I had to hang out the car window and use my arm as a windshield wiper. We slid into Chihuahua on gas fumes with $5 in our pockets and stretched it out for three days.” We didn’t know it back then, but he was an awesome dude.

You want chills? Dad rarely had less than three jobs at a time. He had his regular 8 – 5 job, worked at Montgomery Ward’s part-time at night selling carpet, and worked on weekends at the race track selling tickets.

Sometimes for extra money he drove the big blue library bookmobile around the mountain roads above Golden. I’d like to see Indiana Jones maneuver that lumbering blue trailer of books on the hairpin curves of the Lariat Trail on Lookout Mountain.

Or how about the challenge of trying to use the bathroom when you have six daughters?

My dad is the most generous man I know. When we were poorer than poor, he would find someone worse off and give them his last $5. He gave rides to strangers, and would always help a guy down on his luck. This would drive Mom nuts.

My dad is also the funniest man I know. He loves to laugh and he has a gift of making other people see the funny side of things. He is one of the few men I know who actually has a lot of male friends all over the country. He talks and jokes with everyone, the girl at the grocery checkout, the guy at the gas station, waitresses and sales clerks.

No matter that he had three jobs, he always had time to help me with my geometry homework.

When I was thirteen and weighed about eighty pounds and wore pointy glasses with sparkles on them, I used to go to school dances with my other dateless girlfriends. Dad would pick me up from these dances, and I would be so depressed, so desperately in love with some boy who had never even glanced my way. He’d say, “What do they know? Someday you’ll be beautiful, and they’ll wish they had asked you to dance.” Somehow that made things right again.

My dad isn’t perfect. He is a gambler, a drinker, and he’s quit and started smoking a dozen or so times. He has a hot temper, and has been known to punch holes in a few walls. He is the world’s consummate dreamer. No, he’s not perfect, but he comes pretty close.


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