Thursday, February 27, 2014

Robert 'Psalm,' grandfather to us all, in a way...

My favorite memories of the benevolent tell-it-like-it-is bullfrog- baritone yawp of my surrogate granpa are thricefold.  There was the time when I was fourteen and had just won this trip to England and one Sunday during Lent shortly before I was to leave Grandpa Salm reeled me aside when everyone was egressing the pews and exiting the sanctuary and handed me an envelope with twenty dollars. I humbly accepted the envelope thinking he was handing me a financial gratuity to go and knock myself out with in London. Instead he told me to take the money and find this Podunk out of the way pharmacy somewhere south of SoHo that, according to him, had the ‘best damn razors’ on  the planet, and to pick him up twenty dollars worth of razors for him while I was in England to smuggle back home. (note: it remains the only time I have ever heard anyone curse inside Christ Lutheran church). I never got a chance to find the Pharmacy my entire four days in London and kept the envelope in my pocket the duration of the trip, guilt ridden that I was not able to placate his request. The next time I saw Granpa Salm was during Beth and Shawna’s Confirmation. I went up to him after the service handed him back the envelope and apologized profusely for not being able to locate the pharmacy and purchase the razors on my thoroughly chartered  sojourn. I handed him back the envelope with the  funds apologizing again  and he just looked at me disappointed and said, “Well, you tried.”

My next favorite memory of Grandpa Salm was about a year later… I was stranded in line to purchase Madrigal tickets at Limestone High school.  I was next to my best friend David Hale and somehow we  ended up  in line for six hours straight seated right next to Granpa. For those of you who were blessed to know Grandpa Salm know that it didn’t matter who you were, he would come up next to you, give you a left-handed side-chop in the waist and simply say, “Hey” in a deep soulful tenor. He would then (lovingly) talk the lobe of your ear off from here  until Kingdom come.  My best friend David Hale is also somewhat of a gregarious chatterer and for (six) hours they talked incessantly about the politics, blathering on about the proverbial, “what-is-wrong-with-the-world-these-days,” with mostly Grandpa Salm pontificating and David Hale lovingly concurring, “Yes, I have often thought that many times myself” for six hours straight like a choral round. Charlie Best, who was working class and went to our church, was seated on a lawn chair perusing the Sunday paper near the front of the line.  During Grandpa Slam and Hale’s marathon verbal discourse I shot Charlie a glance, a facial SOS and Charlie just looked up rolled his eyes, ruffled the paper and pretended we didn’t exist.

There are other memories. Shortly after his wife died Grandpa Salm began going to auctions and one day, from out of the Picasso blue, he called me and told me that  he found an antique 1940’s era radio and asked me if I would like it. I conceded, figuring I would see him at the next holiday and he would forget about it. The next day grandpa Salm arrived at my house he had radio the size of an Egyptian sarcophagus in the back of his truck. He handed me some ropes and together we lugged the beast into my living room and, while thanking him for the spontaneous gift he winked and told me, “Don’t be a stranger to an old granpa.”  I also remember (this would have been circa 87) Aunt Linn and Uncle Larry had a retirement party for him at their house off airport rd. When you are ten years old the front lawn is the size of a football field (plus it had a slip-n-slide!!!) and I remember trying to be an adult even though I was an ingénue-cheek ten year old with auburn bangs and going up to him and congratulating him from all the years he worked at Keystone Steel  and Granpa Salm swiveled his chin and turned to me and said, “You know what. You never stop learning. You learn something new every day.” 


The last time I saw Grandpa Salm was at Shawna’s wedding two years ago. If you see pictures from the wedding he looked dapper with his cane, a patriarch posing next to the ivory drape of the bride, demure-eyed, yet proud. He would be too ill to attend Jayma’s wedding last June, but his spirit was resilient and poetically pervasive and you could hear the thunderous echo of our family bloodline in the toast Uncle Larry gave his youngest daughter wishing her the wisdom and grace that is her Christian family bloodline, deeply rooted in faith as it is planted in the soil of the lolling rustic hills outside of Bartonville.

But my favorite memory of Grandpa Salm is collectively culled from about 20 years ago when Uncle Larry was building their house out in Limestone township. Uncle Larry hired apostles to help him erect the abode of his dreams: There was his brother-in-law Alan and Andy Moore and the endearing harlequin handymanship of my own father. Grandpa Slam was also assisting. He was almost 70 and had cheek of Redman and was cursing and spitting tobacco, and occasionally turning to Andy Moore and slapping him into his waist and saying something inappropriate but the whole time he assisted in constructing the house you could tell there was a joy on his lips. Like he was doing something he loved and when I looked at him I thought he was the coolest old man  my eyes had ever seen.

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