My grandpa used to gather us kids around to play a mouse game with us. He somehow folded his handkerchief into a cylinder shape with a tail and would hold it in his hand and stroke it like a pet mouse. Then he would talk us into petting it, too. Suddenly it would jump up his arm while he acted surprised and we nearly jumped out of our skins, although we knew what was coming, each time. It was the only kid entertainment at their stuffy parsonage, and we loved it, couldn’t wait to go there and beg to play the mouse game. Oh, the giggles!
Imagine my awe and shock when my mother revealed to me the truth: my grandpa never did like children much. Imagine!—Oh, just imagine!—What dedication to doing right prevailed in this man who did not like little children yet took them into his arms and blessed them with a silly game!
Outside of that game, our activities with him were on adult level. He lived in St. Louis, and took us often to Shaw’s Garden and the Climatron. Anyone who has ever been there knows a child can be totally impressed with such a ho-hum-sounding activity. I was. I loved it there; the waterfalls that ended in fish-filled pools with floating lava rock amazed me. That the birds could live there for our enjoyment, that we could climb stairs to be near the treetops, that the birds were used to us, was unbelievable. I grew up to be an amateur botanist and birder.
After retiring from parish life, he took a simpler job as proofreader at a large publishing company. Twice he took me there to see the processes, every step conducted in house, in the good ol’ days. I remember a long set of cover-less books aligned side-by-side with an enormous screw clamp, waiting for their corporate edges to be gilded. I grew up to be a writer.
Grandpa also had a pump organ and played very well. He would not let us play on it unless we could pump it ourselves and knew an actual song to play for him. My brother was better at that, but when Grandpa took us to the big, old church that had a real pipe organ, when the organist was practicing, it was sublime. I soaked in it and grew up to prefer richly chorded classical organ music.
One activity bonded me to my grandpa more than any other thing: milk toast.
For the uninitiated, that is a bowl of torn-up toast, doused in milk, to eat with a spoon like cereal. A-a-ah!
I liked milk toast and none others of Grandpa’s fourteen grandchildren did, that I know of. He liked to eat a bowl of it every night before bed and if we were there, he would make me one, too. We sat together at their antique oak dining table that was covered in hand-made lace, old man and little girl, happy as coons in corn, eating a meal he prepared just for me.