A Unique Opportunity presents itself: A Tour
When I was a 12-year-old naïve boy in 1982, I lived with my unusual grandparents. In my possession was an insatiable curiosity that often brought wonder, but also misery and fright at times, and yet it was a part of me no matter which way it went.
Living with them, I relaxed fully as a boy. I taught myself juggling and watched my eccentric relatives do their own odd doings. I loved my slow-moving grandfather Arty far more than he ever seemingly loved me. I hung on his every word always. He had a very quiet methodical way about him.
Arty was a unique type of guy, sitting next to him was calming. He could sit there quietly for hours, puff on his wooden pipes, and relax anyone in his presence who had ever lived. He spoke rarely and always kept it short. I only ever remember him doing one joke to me as a boy. Sitting at the breakfast table, I once asked him innocently "Are you a tough guy gramps?"
He responded: “Johnny, I’m so damned tough I can eat nails for breakfast, I just choose not to, they taste bad”. The result? A hearty laugh from his adoring grandchild, me, with that infectious joy only young boys can express properly; Which started him laughing as well. This was for what passed for humor at the breakfast table for my childhood.
As it turned out, within the corner house next to ours the sole resident and owner suddenly died one week.
It was a large 3-story house, and quite old. The newly dead owner was a personal friend of Arty for at least 30 years. I’d often witness them taking slow morning walks and smoking pipes together. I watched them from the porch sometimes, and they didn’t actually talk, just shuffled and puffed flavored tobacco shuffling on down the street, seemingly satisfied in mutual silence.
I don’t recall his name but had seen him before on many occasions, he lived completely alone in that place and had no living family, and from what Arty told me, he had lived in that house for over 70 years since he was a kid apparently; It was a family house and existed there almost as long as my own family’s place since the 1800s certainly. They’d drift together down Prospect Street, like two slow-moving but living smokestacks, puffing away quietly.
They were a curious duo, and Arty never mentioned how they met long ago, but I wonder, maybe they were so comfortable with each other that they didn’t need to talk anymore, just nod mutually and walk together. Perhaps everything that could be said between them was spoken long ago. Either that or they were possibly telepathic, I have no idea to this day.
So he died that week, and as it turns out that Arty had a key to his house, and they must have had some verbal agreement since his friend had no living family. Arty was welcome to come in, explore, and take anything he wanted before either the lawyers or the state took his property. This guy was literally the last one of his line, as I am many years later writing this. It’s a lonely place, I understand now, but it’s life as usual for me, but at least he had Arty in his last days.
So that weekend, even though my grandfather didn’t seem overly broken up about his friend’s death, he invited me and Tucker (my Aunt Linda’s new husband) to join him and explore this large old house, and take whatever we’d like. What an irresistible offer for both a young 12-year-old boy, who was always fascinated with old mysteries, and my newly minted Uncle Tucker, a good guy in his 30s, whom I liked.
He looked exactly like the actor William Katt but with thick glasses. Same curly blonde hair, the same features, and a similar kindly disposition. He was always nice to me, but I have very few memories of him sadly. What follows is one such odd memory.
It was Friday night, and both Aunt Linda and her husband, plus Aunt Red and Uncle Sonny were visiting us. When Arty came in and invited all of us to join him, however only Tucker and I were truly curious and bold enough to join this small adventure.
The rest of my family bid us all good luck with nods and waves and went back to their coffee, conversations, and cigarettes. We three curious males left down the front inner stairway and headed outside, walking a mere few steps to the dark corner house that seemed to loom there patiently awaiting our mutual intrusion.