Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Gap Incident

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that it’s been exactly one year since The September Sisters sold and since my grandfather died. (You can read my post about that week here.) And it’s fitting that I’ve also been trying to think of my most embarrassing moments at the same time, because I’d have to say the majority of my childhood embarrassments occurred in the presence of my grandfather.

My grandfather was the kind of person who did and said what he wanted, and didn’t ever worry about what other people thought of him. As he got older, people seemed to think it amusing, that he was just an eccentric old man, but according to my mom, he was always that way.

Growing up, I didn’t see my grandparents too much. They lived six hours away, so we only saw them a few times a year. Though these were some of my favorite times, I was also always a little leary of going out with my grandfather in public. Especially shopping. He enjoyed chatting animatedly with the salespeople and trying to talk his way into a discount or a free something or other (which he usually did) – something which I found to be utterly embarrassing as a child and teenager. My most embarrassing store memory with him is something that my sister and I now jokingly refer to only as “The Gap Incident.”

When I was 13 and she was 10, my grandfather insisted on taking my sister and me to The Gap so he could buy us something. We picked out a few things to try on, but the store was really crowded that day, and there was a line for the dressing room. So as my sister and I got in line, what did my grandfather do? He located the store manager, and asked the guy if my sister and I could try on our clothes in the stockroom instead. Then, after some persuasion, he actually got the manager to say yes! Neither my sister nor I can remember exactly what happened next, whether we actually tried on the clothes or ran from the store red-faced, probably because we blocked it out. But we do remember that it was years before we felt comfortable walking back into that store.

Flash forward 10 years, when my grandparents came to Arizona to visit me and my husband. The hotel my grandparents were supposed to stay at didn’t have their room ready on time, so they offered to give my grandparents a free meal at their restaurant. My grandfather decided that a free meal for them, really meant for all four of us, and really meant anything and everything that the restaurant had to offer, so he insisted that we all order multiple things off the menu and appetizers and desserts and drinks, until the bill was close to $300 and we had enough food for about 20 people in front of us. The bill was so enormous, that the restaurant couldn’t even figure out how to comp. it, so they had to call in the hotel manager. But in the end, my grandfather got them to give him all the food for free. Have my husband and I ever gone back to that restaurant? Nope.

There were other things too – my grandfather was always singing, even at oddly inappropriate times and in public. And forget going out to eat any time near your birthday -- he’d always want to get the waiters to sing (and bring free cake) even if your birthday wasn’t for six more weeks. There’s a spot in my wedding video when he doesn’t realize there’s a camera in front of him, and as my grandmother is giving her good wishes, he starts clapping, dancing, and singing right into the camera (which he clearly doesn’t notice). I love that that moment is there, because it captures everything about him, so perfectly.

Though I would absolutely never make my kids (or grandkids someday) change in a stockroom at The Gap – there was something to be said for my grandfather’s philosophy – this uncanny ability he had not to care what anybody else thought about him, to try to get away with things because they were fun, because he enjoyed it. I can’t tell you, as a kid, how many times I begged my grandfather not to embarrass me as he was about to do something utterly embarrassing. His response always was. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed.” And looking back now, I wish I could’ve taken just a little bit of that embarrassment back and spent more time enjoying what a completely unique person he was.


Tracy Madison said...

I so love these stories. Embarrassment or not, they are lovely. Thank you for sharing them!

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks, Tracy. It felt a little cathartic to get them down.

lisapatton said...

I think your grandfather is screaming to be a character in a future book of yours! He is so colorful! I can see it already. I loved the stories, Jill!

Maureen Lipinski said...

I LOVE these stories. I think everyone could benefit from caring a little less what others think.

And, like Lisa, said, put him in one of your books!!

Jillian Cantor said...

You're right -- he would be a great character in a book -- and he also would've been sooo excited about being a character in one of my books!

Anonymous said...

I am late on this.Like really really late,and you will probably never see this comment,but oh man I love your grandfather.Sorry he passed.