Herb

Old people were supposed to be shrunken, diminutive. But he was an enormous lump of a man. At least 350 pounds. And even with his stooped shoulders, his beaten posture, he stood at least 6 foot 4. (My husband insists he must have been a professional wrestler in a secret, alternate life). His rainbow colored suspenders (“braces”, he called them) were an incongruous splash of color against his worn out blue work shirt and grimy jeans. He hefted himself, with considerable effort, into the rusted out motor home that hadn’t moved in years. I kept driving past, glad he was OK, glad he hadn’t seen me. Not that he would have recognized me. Grandpa and I haven’t talked in ten years.

 

I think he’s about 75. He lied about so many things, twisting facts to suit himself, I’ll never be sure of his real age. Or how many children he had. There were the 3 “legitimate” ones he had with my grandmother. But new kids pop up all the time. In a twist out of a bad sitcom, my mom found out her high school nemesis was her half sister. At last count, there were maybe half a dozen. We don’t even raise our eyebrows anymore, when a new one pops up. He grew up as the youngest of 6 kids. He was the only boy, a position that earned him an outsize proportion of his mother’s attention and affection. Maybe the women “on the side” were a way to make himself feel as special as his mom had made him feel.

 

He liked to make inappropriate jokes in an inappropriately loud voice. He had opinions on any world event ever discussed in his presence, even though his world never extended outside of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta (except for a brief vacation to Banff that my grandmother had to beg him to go on). He was a welder, before that a foreman in a glass factory. He liked to fish. He loved to smoke. He ate mammoth amounts of food; his “snacks” would have been a large meal for anyone else. And he seemed to take pleasure in ordering the nearest female to prepare them for him.

 

For all his bluster, he was cripplingly introverted. He would make the hour and a half drive to our farm every Christmas, and then stay in his room while we ate with my dad’s family. He stopped talking to anyone after his divorce from my grandma (including bankers, his lawyer). After he lost the house and his welding truck, he parked the motor home behind an industrial building, and insisted he was where he wanted to be. I don’t believe him. But he’s gone to so much effort to alienate us all, that I pretend he means it.

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