• 63°

Al Batt: I just buttoned my lip with a buzz saw from my grandma

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I met the day with the wonder of a Labrador puppy.

I walked down the trail at Brookside Park. I was a happy camper after seeing a couple of yellow-crowned night herons, hearing barred owls calling and finding a debit card lost by someone named Laura. There were a couple of sheriff’s deputies pulling their boat out of the channel. I gave the lost card to them.

I’d finished watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s three-part, six-hour documentary series, “Hemingway,” which examined the work and turbulent life of that influential writer. I watched and enjoyed it on my iPad, but was happy to have completed my viewing.

My walking clothes weren’t new but they were clean. They had been freshly beaten on a rock. Whether it was a funeral, wedding, baptism, confirmation, anniversary, seeing yellow-crowned night herons, listening to barred owls or returning a debit card, my father wore a suit and freshly shined wingtips. One day, he was dressed that way as we’d sneaked across the border into Iowa. I learned my parents were going somewhere I wasn’t. I was left at Grandma’s house while my parents attended a whoop-de-doo. Aunt Eddie, one of 12 children, lived with Grandma, but she went off with my parents. What did it matter where?

I brought a book, a notebook and a pencil because I had no headphones or earbuds to carry a tune. Grandma’s electronics consisted of lightbulbs, a radio and a TV receiving fewer than one channel.

It was nowhere near Christmas, but Grandma gave me my Christmas card. It saved her a stamp. The card was a dandy. Grandma appreciated quality card stock. It contained neither money nor her signature. She left it unsigned so I could reuse it.

My family wasn’t big on fasting. We didn’t know anyone with a food allergy and we were members of the Clean Plate Club. We had to eat everything because there were starving children in Idaho and Illinois who would love to have what we had. Hangry hadn’t become a word yet and there were no food apps. Grandma’s method of childcare was to keep feeding us until we required a nap. I fed at a trough as a conveyor brought more food. Hot dishes and Canada recipes were common. A Canada recipe was one you added a can of da beans. I knew where my next meal was coming from. What I didn’t know was when it would end. Grandmas were aproned 12 hours a day in those days and gravy covered a multitude of sins. Back then, the health food section of the grocery store had two items: oatmeal and more oatmeal. “Eat the succotash,” Grandma suggested. I liked the corn, but not the lima beans. My father called them butter beans, but they tasted like lima beans. Grandma added, “That succotash isn’t going anywhere without you.”

Free food is easier to dislike when you aren’t paying for any of your food. One year, a pizza joint, hoping to drum up business, gave each team a pizza after a softball game. We received that bounty a few times. Everyone enjoyed the pizza no matter what its flavor. We ate whether or not we were hungry. Free food destroyed free will.

I snooped around hoping to find the BB gun. I was unsuccessful as it had been given to a neighbor boy who’d done a heroic deed on Grandma’s behalf. Grandma hadn’t worried about someone putting an eye out with the rifle, but Aunt Eddie hinted it was all fun and games until someone lost an eye. Then it was a scavenger hunt.

Grandma felt a slight need to entertain me and a great need to stifle my avalanche of questions. She didn’t know a debit card from an iPad, but she knew a buzz saw. I don’t think Hemingway wrote about a button on a string. Grandma cut a length of string 3 feet long and thread it through the two holes in a big button. She tied the ends of the string together, positioned the button in the center of the string, held one end of the loop in each hand, and swung the button around in a circular motion to wind the string. Grandma moved her hands in and out, and the button spun to unwind and rewind the string. She presented the buzz saw to me without fanfare.

Grandma listened to the radio while I digested succotash and engaged in the spinning of a button. I’d become a multitasker.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.