My Grandfather was a mixture of the funny and the wise. You might say most of his remarks were wisecracks, of one sort or the other. He was nearly always looking for a laugh, and he usually found it and shared it with the rest of us. He loved to tease and clown around and when we were all together we had a way of making him the center of our attention. I think we were waiting to see what he would think up next. Sometimes he used this curious power to teach us all a lesson.
A few star-spangled vacations of my childhood summers were spent camping with Grandma and Grandpa. Their gargantuan motorhome would swing in behind our camper, and we’d roll westward where the hills are black and the highway is long and straight. We covered a lot of territory out there together, us and them. We saw mountains and rivers and horses and little historic towns feeding desperately on the summer tourist dollars. One famous day we visited Deadwood, famous hidey-hole of Wild Bill or Annie Oakley or some such legend. Somebody lived and died there, at any rate, and we went to see where.
It was a historic place, all right. It matched the John Wayne films on which we doted to perfection. General Store, schoolhouse, old saloons. My parents seemed a little less enamored. As I remember it, every doorway we darkened that day turned out to be a casino. That was it. The whole town was casinos. My mother was filled with Shock and Dismay, my dad was trying to find something to show us to redeem the excursion, and my little brother was wild to try the slot machines. In one of those dim doorways Grandpa decided it was time for a lesson. He fished a quarter out of his pocket.
“Now see this? This is a quarter. It’s my quarter. I earned it. I can spend it, I can save it. It’s mine.” We waited expectantly. Surely he was about to pull it out of someone’s ear or something.
“Now, Jonathan, I’m gonna poke this quarter in that machine right there, and I want you to help me pull that handle. Watch what happens to my quarter.”
Jon cranked down on that lever like it was a contest of strength. Things rolled and flashed a bit, but Grandpa’s quarter was gone forever. Then there was a clicking noise, and in its place came a cascade of unimaginable wealth. Glistening silver quarters, nickels, and dimes came pouring out of the machine with the most magical, musical noise we’d ever heard. The tray filled and still they came, until finally Grandpa had to snatch off his baseball cap to fill with treasure.
Somewhere in the wild excitement of the next few minutes I heard my father say quietly, “Thanks, Dad.”