About two months ago, Grandpa Teply was staring at a slot machine in central South Dakota. It’s difficult to say what his expectations were but I doubt they were winning the grand jackpot. With a seemingly nonchalant spin of the wheels and a few seconds of blinking lights, my grandfather won the 237,000 dollar jackpot.
When asked about his winnings, Grandpa Teply replies. “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me (excluding his wedding, children’s births, and grandchildren’s births I’m sure) and it has to happen when I’m over eighty! Doesn’t that stink! Do I take the whole payout or save money on taxes by spreading it out over twenty years?! Bah!”
With some of the money left over after the long arm of Uncle Sam, my grandparents paid for the entire Teply clan to travel to Omaha for the first (and most likely last) complete Teply family reunion. My extended family and I were put up in an Embassy Suites with free breakfast, pool, and (the highlight for some) a reception with free drinks. We ate until the seams holding our stomachs together threatened to break and talked until the evening’s weight forced out eyelids shut.
During one of the meals, we were asked to share memories for our time with Grandma and Grandpa. Here’s an excerpt with my extra information in parenthesis… yes, you care.
“With two young parents who both needed to work, I was dumped into the free daycare provided by Grandma and Grandpa. As far as I knew, Grandpa and Grandma Teply didn’t charge for babysitting their grandchildren. If they had, they wouldn’t have needed Grandpa to win any huge jackpot (and my parents wouldn’t have dared spawned my brother Nate four years later).
During the day, the main house stayed quiet with Grandma Helen cleaning or running her hands down the newspaper to guide her reading (Yes, I called my grandparents ‘Grandpa’ followed by their first name. It isn’t that formal and sure beats the southern tradition of coming up with your own names like Pa-Paw or Neenie-Mama). A scratchy sounding radio sat on the top of the refrigerator conveying the textured voice of Paul Harvey, the national news, or the weather. If the house became too quiet, I’d waltz over to the massive lumber yard looking for some action (Grandpa Teply owned a lumber yard across the street.). Instead of action, I found Grandpa Charley shoulders against the wall…head and hat tipped forward…sawing logs…wait, I mean, selling lumber! (I really don’t remember customers…Not a one…I’m serious.) He had an old iron chair propped against the wall with the back legs dug into grooves in the wooden floor.
If you were thirsty, Grandpa would offer you a bottle of Bubble-Up or Squirt from his soda machine. The inside of his vintage vending machine was a maze of slow sliding bottles and metal catches. The effort was certainly worth it once you were given a cold bottle that was a big as your forearm (This is something I miss about childhood. Everything seems to shrink as you grow…Including Oreo cookies.)
Using the bathroom was no issue either. All one needed to do was find your way to the back of the building. There was a dark room Grandpa used to relieve himself. The room was large and as far as I could tell being a place to whizz was its only purpose (The lumber yard didn’t have plumbing. The room had been used to store coal years ago.)
There was the junkyard where the small town my grandparents lived in (Wolsey, South Dakota) challenged the notion that trash should be buried (It is now but in the late 70s it was just piled up a mile or two outside of town.). Every time Grandpa and I drove out there I looked for the match to the boot on Grandpa’s dash. (Grandpa Charley found a like-new kid’s boot one day and kept it on his dash for years and years. That boot would have been a lot more interesting if it was filled with something other than two year old starlight mints. Yech.)
The Post Office was always one of our stops. For me, it was an entire wall of safes for me to try to crack. What I would want with someone else’s bills or junk mail wasn’t the point. While I played, Grandpa would stop to chat with whoever was behind the glass. His relationship with the Post Office had special perks. I could address a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Teply – Who Gives A Rat’s Butt Road – Wolsey, SD and it would get there (This is true. I’ve done it and it always got there.).
There was an old gas station that had a dirty looking lunch counter inside. We would stop in and Grandpa would purchase my choice of candy bars. Even as a young man I knew that the South Dakota Department of Health hadn’t visited that establishment in years. Just sitting on one of the stools a customer could reach over and flip his own burger. If I’m not mistaken, Grandpa told me he worked there once.
Uncle Tim was always up for a visit. The beard, overalls, and rotund shape made my great uncle distinctive. I always thought he would have made a great Santa Claus if he had ever been jolly. Uncle Tim seemed to constantly be bent out of shape about something (Yea, and he didn’t live at the North Pole either.).
Grandpa generally had three classic quotes that I have adopted into my own way of speaking. He had a classic six step yawn (Like six yawns rolled into one! He would yawn then yawn again and again, again, and, again, and again without closing his mouth.), the classic “What’s for supper dear?”, and the one I use the most often “I don’t care, Helen.” or in my case “Melissa.”
I remember telling my elementary school classmates that, “My grandfather is the mayor of a town near Sioux Falls.” Then I would cross my fingers and hope they didn’t hear the “a town near” part. It really didn’t matter since being the grandson of a powerful South Dakota politician didn’t make me any more popular (True. My grandfather was mayor of Wolsey for years. And we wore fedoras tilted to one side so that made him super cool even if I wasn’t.).
For some reason, breakfast was always the most hectic meal and the only one I remember Grandpa helping with (Grandma assured me that in 62 years of marriage…Grandpa never once washed so much as a fork. Now that’s a man!) The bacon (in the only nod I remember Grandpa making to healthy eating…Sizzlean) was pulled from the microwave with as much fanfare as a dish by Julia Child.”