When most people think of their grandfathers they think of them with deep love and affection but not me. My maternal grandfather was not a man whom one could like or love easily.
Grampy Coldbath stood over six feet tall. He was a tall, raw-boned man with piercing brown eyes and skin the color of old mahogany. His ancestor's name in England would have been Galbraith. However, upon landing upon American soil, it was changed to Colbath for reasons unknown to us, his descendents.
It is thought that the original Colbaths migrated to America via the Mayflower and first settled in Massachusetts. Later on, they made their way to Rockingham County, New Hampshire and then on up to Dexter, Maine. Great Grandfather Colbath was one of those hardy souls who, after much trial and tribulation, made his way up through the southern part of the State of Maine to Aroostook County. He bought about 100 acres of land on what was to later become the Masardis Road and proceeded to build the Colbath family homestead there.
In nineteen fifty-four, when I was ten years old, Grampy could still drive around in his faded old green, Ford pick-up. Sometimes, he'd come and get our Mother, his eldest child, to take her shopping and then take her to his home so she could spend some time visiting with her Mother.
At that time, Aroostook County, being the largest county in the state of Maine, produced two commodities in vast quantities, potatoes and lumber. Because there wasn't a large workforce for the farmers to drawn from for labor, many of the county's schools closed for the duration of the potato harvest. This back breaking work enabled most families to earn a little extra income to help pay for the coming winter's fuel and clothes for the kids.
One beautiful fall day, we were all over on the old Rafford place, picking potatoes for Uncle Hal. My whole family, excluding Dad, had been picking potatoes since six o'clock that morning. It was about five in the afternoon and we were just cleaning up the last of the newly dug potatoes at the end of the day.
As we trudged wearily from the rows of freshly dug potatoes to the empty barrels with our fully loaded potato baskets, we saw a familiar, old green Ford pick-up come sailing across the bumpy potato field at a pretty fast clip and Grampy came to a screeching halt next to a full barrel of potatoes. He rolled down his window and yelled for Mother to hurry up and finish and he would give us all a ride home.
Mother and the smallest child got in the front with Grampy and all the rest of us kids clambered into the back. Grampy floored the small pickup and it spun around, spewing freshly dug earth and potato tops in every direction. We careened out of the potato field like a drunken sailor on a drinking spree.
Grampy stuck his head out the window and yelled that we had better be sitting down or else! If he had thought about it, with the way he drove, we couldn't have stood-up even if we'd wanted to!
We tore along the dirt road at about thirty-five miles an hour and were about half a mile from our house when suddenly Grampy yelled out of the window that he wasn't going to stop at our house! Dumbfounded, we all looked at each other. I decided right then and there that I wasn't going home with that old bastard!
As we got closer to our house and he hadn't slowed a dite, I got up and jumped right off the tail end of that truck. I can't tell you what a rude awakening it was to have bare skin meet gravel road at twenty miles an hour!
Amid much shouting and swearing, Grampy finally came to a screeching halt. I remember looking into Mother's incredulous face and hearing her say, "Surely, you must have known that he was only kidding!" Perhaps he was only kidding but I wasn't taking any chances!
Because Mother was his oldest child and the first to get married, we were his first grandchildren. It was a dubious honor to say the least. We lived about two miles across a swamp from Grampy's house and from time to time, Mother would take us for a walk across the swamp to visit them. As children, we soon learned that it wasn't much fun to go and visit Grampy unless there was a guarantee that he wasn't going to be there.
In nineteen fifty-six, Grampy was pretty much bedridden. His bedroom was located on the first floor, in what normally would have been the living room or the parlor, just off the kitchen. When anyone stopped by, they'd go in and visit with him for a spell. Grampy would be in his bed all propped up with pillows. He'd be wearing his red and black plaid wool jacket and every now and then, he'd scrabble around in his front pocket for a Canadian mint or another cigarette.
Grampy had a little "game" that he especially liked to play on us, his "favorite" grandchildren. Upon hearing us arrive, he'd reach into his jacket pocket and bring out a handful of pink peppermint candy. He'd hold his knarled old hand out and motion for us to come closer to get some candy. Usually the younger kids fell for it and when they'd ventured near enough, he'd snatch his candy filled hand away and with the other hand, rap the kids on their legs with his old wooden cane. With a cry of surprise and pain, they'd back away from him and he'd mutter "nice" things to us that Mother couldn't hear. Like, "Why don't you go back across the swamp where you belong!" or "They ought to tie tin cans on you so that people would know that you were coming!" We soon learned that if Mother insisted that we had to go with her to visit her father, it was best to stay outdoors while we were there. It didn't do any good to whine to Mother about his rude treatment. Her father was her hero! Her eyes would flash and snap and she'd say, "Well, next time, stay home!"
Grampy Colbath finally died when I was eleven. I remember Dad coming back form work around seven in the morning to tell Mother that her father had died during the night. Mother cried and cried and I cried too but we weren't crying for the same reason. She was crying out of love and sadness and I was crying out of gladness!
I'm sure Mother was very puzzled about why I carried on so, because she knew that I didn't even like him all that much. When she finally asked me why I was carrying on so, I told her that I was crying because I wanted to go and see Grampy. Finally, to appease me, she dressed me up and took me with her to the wake.
In nineteen fifty-six, when someone died, the body wasn't taken to the funeral home. It was the custom that the undertaker would come to the house and prepare the body. The deceased was then laid out at home so that friends and family could pay their last respects there.
Mother led me into the parlor where Grampy was lying in his coffin. She walked me over to the open casket and yes sir! There he was alright! Deader than a doornail! Death hadn't humbled him one iota either! He still had that mean, cranky look on his face and he was still wearing his old red and black plaid jacket. I've often thought that if Grampy didn't make it into heaven then the Devil was in for one hell of a surprise when he finally encountered Grampy. Especially if Grampy still had his pocket full of peppermints and his old knobby, wooden cane!
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