Nana had a rule. On birthdays and holidays she would provide me with toys and Grandma Chapman would give me clothes. Grandma Chapman was my father’s mother. She had married into the Maginot family. When her Maginot husband died, she married Wayne Chapman, who my father despised.
When I knew Wayne, he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and was constantly in the care of Grandma Chapman. She would have to buy plates that didn’t have a pattern because he would keep trying to pick off the painted flower when he ate.
Wayne didn’t like my father’s bookish ways. During the war, my father was curious about what Hitler had up his sleeve and so he brought home a copy of Mein Kampf from the library. Wayne had a fit and threw the book in the street berating my father for showing an interest in what Der Fuehrer had to say.
My Aunt Margie must of gotten along better with Wayne as she was always supportive during the years leading up to his death, but my father had a strong dislike for the man that he never hid from me or my mother.
Nana was resistant to any form of obsolescence. Many of my toys were hand me downs from my mother and my uncles, but there was new stuff too. Nana was vigilant when anything broke down before it had served its time.
I had a Mr. Ed talking hand puppet. When you pulled the string, Ed would say things like “I’m a horse of course” and “Wilburrrr”. Ed stopped talking and when Nana couldn’t get the department store to replace him for me, she went directly to Mattel.
I came home from the Ice Follies one time with a blow up pink elephant on a stick that had bells on it. It was leaking at one of the seams and wouldn’t stay inflated. I wasn’t really as attached to this stupid elephant, it was really a baby toy, but Nana made phone calls and a replacement arrived by mail. I think the replacement might have been blue instead of pink, but it’s the thought that counts.
Grandma Chapman must have been a night owl. Whenever I went to her house, she was reading books by Jack Parr and Steve Allen, both hosts of the Tonight Show before the Carson years. There were also books from Toastmasters, joke books, and collections of familiar quotations. The magazines of choice were Reader’s Digest and TV Guide. TV Guide crossword puzzles were something I did with my father starting in the late nineteen sixties into the mid nineteen seventies when way too much of my life was spent in front of a TV screen.
Nana wasn’t always happy about the clothes Grandma Chapman bought for me. She would criticize, modify, and take them back to the store if they didn’t meet her aesthetic standards. When it came to clothes, Nana wanted them to last and not be too trendy. Sometimes, Nana would call Grandma Chapman to complain about one of her purchases and my father would have to patch things up between these two rivals for my affection.
Nana and my father were always at odds, but he needed to stay in her good graces because she was my caregiver and keeper for most of my childhood. My father and mother worked six days a week. On their one day off, the first order of the day was to take Nana to Safeway and Lucky’s. For my sake, they were always subservient to Nana’s shopping needs.
I always liked going to Lucky’s. They had magazines, comic books, and a small toy section. I might go home with a kite or a balsa wood airplane with a rubber band propeller. Sometimes, my father would have to use the tube tester and determine which tubes needed to be replaced in the TV, a radio, or some device from work. I was fascinated with all the dials and meters. After testing, my father would have to find the clerk with the key to the cabinet, so that he could get his tubes. It was a truly tubular time.