I’ve been drinking this beer called Oddball. It is a Kölsh Style beer. It is light and refreshing and with a fairly low alcohol content so it is nice to enjoy with friends. I was having one with my wife and mother-in-law playing cards when a memory came rushing back to me. Sometimes moments and actions don’t feel like we think they will.
When I was little I hated to go to my Grandma’s house. I told my parents it was because it was boring but there was something far more sinister lurking behind my statement. When we would go to my Grandma’s I would spend all my time outside. They lived in a retirement trailer park so there were never other kids, just me. The reason I didn’t spend time in the trailer was because of my Grandfather. My Grandma and Grandpa had divorced long before I was around and my Grandma had remarried a man who was much older and whom I now refer to as my Grandfather. My Grandfather, not to be confused with my Grandpa, was an old mean drunk. He had retired many years before from being a coal miner. I didn’t know about the coal mining thing, or the fact that he was an alcoholic, until later. From an early age he would like to roughhouse with me, tickle me way too hard, and “get my toes.” “Getting my toes,” was the worst. He would grab them and twist and pull. Often, in his drunken clumsiness, he would dislocate them and hurt me. It was always terrible and I hated it. When I would mention it to my mom and dad they wouldn’t totally believe me and just tell me to stay away from him. When I was little I had a terrible temper and finally after one particularly brutal toes-twisting I grabbed a dog chain and went after him. I was only 6 or 7 at the time but I can still feel the frustration of swinging the chain but failing to gain any momentum so my blows only barely grazed his arm. I could feel the fury rising and suddenly the chain grew taught and I finally landed a solid blow immediately following it with another but on the third time around he was able to get ahold of the chain. He was furious and I knew his plans where to whip me with the chain. Unbeknownst to me, my parents were watching the whole thing go down and when my Grandfather lunged at me my Dad was suddenly there, like a brick wall, knocking my Grandfather back into his recliner. My Mom quickly ushered me back through the trailer into the bathroom where I began crying furiously. I was sure I was in so much trouble but instead my Mom calmed me down, cleaned me up and we all went home.
We didn’t go to their house for a while after that but eventually we did but by that time I was much too old to get my toes gotten. He did play other tricks on me though, including tricking me into mowing a large field he had been hired to mow. When it came time to pay me he listed all the expenses I had accrued including the rental of his mower. He told me I owed him money but he was, “Willing to forgive me the debt on account we were family and all…”
We moved further away so there was a long period that we didn’t visit. I was around the age of 15 the last time that I saw him. By that time he was a frail old man. He had developed Black Lung so he was confined to his old lumpy recliner with a large tank of oxygen and a tube that was permanently fixed to his nose. He just sat there all day, drinking Old Milwaukees and watching TV. My parents and Grandma decided to go out and left me there alone with him. Obviously he was harmless at this point but while I was sitting in another room reading I heard him call out to me. He didn’t call my name or call out something like, “Hello?” Instead he just blurted in irritated breathy yell, “Boy!” I wasn’t sure what to do. I waited a moment before going in to see what he wanted. He kinda dropped, kinda threw his empty Old Milwaukee in my direction and pointed to the refrigerator. He wanted a beer. I felt my face get red while I stared at the empty beer can laying on the floor in front of him. I slowly walked over to him and picked up the empty beer can. I hesitated and looked at the shiny silver can of oxygen. He yelled something at me, startling me. That was all he did though. I was only a foot or two away. I realized he was confined to his chair. He could no longer do anything to me. I stood up and threw his empty can away and went to the refrigerator. I pulled a tall-boy from the fridge and walked back to him but I stopped short. I stood in the same place the beer can had been on the ground and just stared at him. He stared at me. We just stared at each other for a solid 5 seconds. I then opened the beer and dramatically put it to my lips and started drinking. It was the first time I had tasted beer and it made me gag. I did my best to hide it. I put my tongue over the opening and pretended to drink for a long moment and then walked into the kitchen and poured the rest into the sink. I turned off his TV and walked back to my waiting book. I listened for a while, the my heartbeat thumping in my ears, but I didn’t hear anything. No yelling, no television, just silence. That was when the emptiness of the encounter hit me. It wasn’t triumphant. I didn’t get any kind of closure. I was just alone sitting in the silence.
Life isn’t like the movies. Victories sometimes feel hollow. Sometimes a victory is really nothing more than annoying a helpless old man. Sometimes the resolutions we seek aren’t the resolutions we really need. Sometimes we are just bullies hiding behind justice. Maybe that is the difference between retaliation and restitution.