Papa Skinner was a stately and serious man. A New England banker, he observed the rules of propriety with great care. My feisty, little 4-foot-10 Nana made sure of that!
Attired in his three-piece suit, Papa would head off to the bank precisely at 7:30 a.m. and return at 4 p.m., on the dot.
During each visit to his home in Massachusetts, he would take us out to a five-star restaurant, the Town Lynne, having first bought us each a brand-new outfit and new shoes. Every rule of etiquette enforced, we learned early how to handle the finger bowl and six pieces of flatware flanking our place settings from toddlerhood on.
Caution, dressed up as dignity, reigned supreme – most days. So you can imagine our utter delight when, suddenly and without warning, Papa would get a sparkle in his eye, and we knew we were in for a treat.
I will never forget the first time it happened. It was on a day when both my cousin, Jo-Jo, and I were visiting Nana and Papa. We must have been about 10 years old at the time.
We were dressed to the nines for the required yearly visit to Papa’s bank. He loved to show us off. Rigidly walking down the street, hand in his, looking so dignified, Jo-Jo and I both went into shock as Papa dropped our hands and lifted his imaginary trombone to his lips. With a Bronx-raspberry-style noise, Papa marched us down the street, tooting away to the tune of “76 Trombones.” We, as you can imagine, lifted our knees high and marched right along.
I can still feel the excitement coursing through my veins replaying the scene in my mind. Papa had already earned our love and respect. Kindness was his middle name. But now, he had us falling head-over-heels in love with him, too! Handsome, kind and fun? Who gets to have such a grandfather? Who knew he had it in him?
Agony wells up inside me as I recall those days, because the rise to mature adulthood can squelch the fun and adventure out of a person. The seriousness of life has often attempted to set up residence in my heart.
It’s time to abandon the decorum and get goofy again.
Fast-forward about 50 years after the parade, riding shotgun on a return trip from Chautauqua, and that mischievous imp reappears.
“Watch this, Gail,” I call out as we pass a huge semi, on a deserted span of Thruway. I lift my arm and pump up and down twice as I smile at the truck driver. Sure enough, he honks his diesel horn twice. I am right back there – with Papa, marching down the main street of this proper Bostonian’s town.
Two more attempts down the road produce a grand total of three hysterically silly responses from three different truckers. Now, I’m happy.
For Pete’s sake, I have one life to live right now, and I want to laugh and dance my way through it. I want jokes and tricks, giggles and gifts. I want to be like a kid again.
This has been a banner week for me. I have tempered the paralyzing properties of propriety and returned to the “hop on your lap and kiss you” kind of kid I used to be. I feel alive!
The other day, I even took a walk in the rain, without my jacket or umbrella. And yes, I hit every puddle I could find.