After grandmother passed away, grandfather, a very stern and dignified gentleman, would routinely join us for our late afternoon supper. Mother would make sure he was not disappointed. The last meal I recall was a braised rabbit, fresh from the butcher shop, complete with a special wine sauce, fennel seed, and a sprig of rosemary, followed by a memorable dessert.
Rarely was there an occasion that demanded the use of the massive brass lion’s head door knocker ––a piece of classic Art Deco elegance. Most guests at our home simply knocked in a staccato, contemporary fashion, more suited for twenty-first-century knuckles. Grandfather, who would not have it any other way, cherished any event that he thought demanded a grand entrance. His hallmark knock became almost legendary.
Every Sunday around 1:00 P.M., we would fox our ears in anticipation of his two heavy-handed thwacks. His knocks upon the lacquered chestnut entrance door resonated in the woody bellow and melody of a stately gavel, complete with a formal Sound Block. We fancied our home in Lombard, a Chicago suburban castle.
We loved his company, his long visits. He was a fascinating man. He would hide envelopes in the family room, while mother and I did dishes in the cramped kitchen. Behind mother’s needlepoint pillows, under the large armed comfy sofa, behind the ornate Vienna Stuchy clock set atop the chunky redwood mantle, just about anywhere, and everywhere. Of course, mother and I never acknowledged that we were aware of his secret gifts until granddad left following super. As soon as the front door closed behind him, I would search for the envelopes as if they were painted spring surprises. The gifts of kindness frequently included fifty dollars, one hundred, it varied. Mother would religiously call him once he returned home to thank him for his graciousness, with her best surprised-daughter voice, and sincere appreciation. The following Sunday would always relent to another troupe encore. But this time, there would be no following, Sunday.
Three, maybe four years after grandmother passed, we noticed that the deep knocker tone faltered. We imagined the sound more abrupt, maybe a little harsh. Mother and I found humor in the transformation, saying grandfather was just impatient to enjoy his pre-dinner coffee and cognac.
Following super, grandfather would begin to shoot questions toward mother, an easy target. This evening would be no different.
The questions I found hurtful, even the ones that seemed to miss the mark. Have you heard from Jim? Maybe there is a reason he left? Why don’t you move closer to the city for improved work opportunities? Mother never answered quickly, sometimes not at all.
During the times of our frequent visits, grandfather invariably picked up dessert, which he would serve himself, usually after finishing his after-dinner coffee concoction. Dessert would be the evening’s crowning event. The last one would be no different. Grandfather’s choices varied. On any occasion, he might present a freshly made key-lime pie, with a hint of bitterness. Once he even brought blood orange grapefruit serving it with a ghost of sugar, never sweet enough for our taste. Following the last shared meal, grandfather brought a sour cream peach pie. He was the only one to savor an extra slice.
It’s been some time since grandfather passed. Mother misses him sometimes.
I will never forget one late winter evening. In the grip an infamous Chicago snowstorm, mother asked if I would do her a favour. Put on my warm parka, go outside and rap the lion’s head knocker, two times in succession, and if I would please do this intermittently for a short while. I never thought to question her.
I enjoyed the snow, under any circumstance, but after a while, my arm grew tired. It was then that I slowly opened the door, and peeked through the glowing crack. Mother’s face was shining brightly in a wash of yellow light thrown by the tall family room lamp. She was fast asleep in her favorite corduroy high back chair, wearing a shallow smile.
Words by Dan Cardoza