My favorite babysitter had a mysterious, clicking knee. I can recall countless times, hiding in the hallway in an effort to study his gait as he swept past me.
“Milly, get up out of the walkway. You’ll trip someone,” he would say, stepping over me.
“How did you see me, Grandpa? I was holding SO still!”
Being an inquisitive child, I often stopped whatever I was doing to listen to the step click, step click as he walked by. My vivid imagination provided me with many theories as to the cause of the clicking. Perhaps he had a knee pocket sewn into the inside of his slacks, and the change he kept in that pocket clacked together as he went. Or maybe he had his knee replaced with a super, robot knee that was in desperate need of repair.
“Do you have a robot knee? What does it look like? Do you have change in your knee pocket? Why can’t I see your knee pocket? Is it inside your pants?” I blurted out one morning, when the curiosity became too much for me.
He looked at me with a confused expression on his face, and didn’t seem to know which question to address first.
“A knee pocket? What’s a knee pocket?”
“A pocket on your knee.”
“Oh… I don’t have any pockets in my knees, Girly Girl.”
That line of questioning appeased zero percent of my curiosity. Mystery still unsolved! Ugh! Soon after, I asked my mother why his knee clicked, and she told me that it was because “Grandpa is old. He’s just falling all apart. Happens to everyone.”
“Yes,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“Will it happen to you?”
“Yes, it’s already started.”
“Will it happen to me?”
“Oh yes. But not for many years. You’re still a baby.”
“Does his knee hurt when it clicks?”
“It doesn’t seem to bother him, but Grandpa doesn’t tell people when something hurts.”
“He’s a man.”
As Grandpa and I spent more time together, I learned that routine was his religion, and it eventually became my religion as well. Our daily routine went as follows.
Yard work was to always be done first thing.
“Best to do it in the cool morning,” he would say.
Looking back on it now, the yard probably didn’t need mowing, weed eating, fertilizing, and pruning every day. Grandpa did it every morning all the same because “your Grandmama likes a pretty lawn”.
When the front yard was taken care of, we would water the garden in the back yard. If there happened to be enough ripe blackberries on the bush, we would take them inside to make shakes. We usually had the most fun experimenting with new ways to make those shakes.
“Next time,” he would say, after licking the purple mustache off of his upper lip, “We will add more of that good ice cream.”
“Yeah.” I agreed.
“Don’t tell your Grandmama about the good ice cream.”
Next we cleaned the pool — and this is when he usually got quite grumpy with me. After testing the water, adding chlorine, and turning on the pump, he would take the pool skimmer down from its high up hook and wade into the pool. He slowly, methodically walked in a straight line, and skimmed the muck out of the water. Being the clumsy klutz I was, I inevitably ended up tripping over my own feet — falling into the pool repeatedly. This would not have been a problem had I known how to swim.
Grandpa would toss the skimmer to the side, rush to wherever I was, and fish me out. As soon as his heart had a chance to calm down, however, I would fall in again. Some days, Grandpa got no skimming done, and instead spent all his time saving me from the water. Red faced and narrow eyed, he would give up and carry me inside, grumbling.
One day, after fishing me out for the fifth time, he slapped down his skimmer next to the pool edge, and sighed.
“Well… Seems like we ought ta teach you how to swim before you drown yourself.”
With that, he plopped me into the pool, and showed me how to paddle.
I will never forget the smile on his face when he let me go, and I swam to the side of the pool without him.
“Look Grandpa! I’m swimming so fast!”
“You’re like a pretty little mermaid, girlie.”
“I can’t be a mermaid, Grandpa — mermaids have red hair and chest shells!”
“Chest shells, ey?”
“Yes! But I’m just wearing my clothes.”
When the pool was cleaned, we would go inside, and I would change into one of Grandpa’s shirts while my clothes were being washed. There was something comforting about being swallowed by all that excess fabric.
Before he came back from the laundry room, I rushed behind the curtains and hid.
“Oh no! Where did Millie go?” he would say.
I tried with all my might to keep the giggles in, but they always fought their way out.
“I hear her, but I don’t see her. Where could she be?”
I held my breath when I heard the step click, step click cgetting closer. There was a moment of electric charged silence before he pulled back the curtain, and said “Boo!”
I shrieked and tripped over the hem of my grandpa shirt I was wearing in my attempt to run away. I tried to leap back to my feet — with no luck — as I still had not freed my legs from the shirt. I rolled to my back, looking up at my Grandpa’s beaming face.
“You found me, Grandpa!” I said through giggles.
“Looks like I did.”
“How did you be such a good finder?” I asked, as he stood me up.
“Is it time for the bear show yet, Grandpa?”
“Uh,” he studied his watch. “Just about, it looks like.”
He made his way to the box shaped, 80’s television set and turned it on. The picture on the screen brightened just as the opening title sequence for Paddington Bear began. I sat in my favorite spot at the table watching my show while Grandpa tinkered in the kitchen behind me.
“What is marmalade?”
“It’s like jelly, I believe.”
“Oh, I thought it was honey. That’s what all the bears like to eat.”
“Nope. Not honey.”
“Hello, Hungry, I’m Grandpa.”
“No! Grandpa! My name is Camille, not Hungry!”
“Camille!” he said, feigning shock. “But you just said your name is Hungry.”
“No, Grandpa,” I said with a giggle, “my name is Camille, and I’m feeling hungry!”
After eating lunch and watching my shows, it was Great Grandma’s turn. With the utmost care, he would put her pills into a miniature, paper cup and place them, with a glass of water, next to a turkey sandwich. Then he would take a step back to study the table arrangement he just put together. Once he was certain that he had not forgotten anything, he would change the television channel to the daily news, and click step down the hall to my Great Grandma’s room.
My Great Grandma Ruby was a graceful woman. As old and slow as she may have been, she still walked to the table with an even — almost floating — stride.
“Here we go, Mother,” Grandpa said pulling out her chair.
She sat tall with squared shoulders and her head held high.
“Where is the napkin?” she said.
My Grandpa looked disappointed as he retrieved a paper towel from the kitchen. He folded it just so, and placed it next to her plate.
“Thank you, son,” she said.
Here we came to a difficult time in the day for poor old Grandpa. During his first days as my baby sitter, he made the mistake of saying it was time for my nap. He learned rather quickly that method was not the best. Gradually, instead of saying, “time for your nap,” he would say:
“Hows abouts we put on a movie for you, girlie.”
“Oh, let’s turn all these nasty lights off so you can see your show.”
“Here’s a cozy blanket so you can snuggle into the couch.”
“Don’t fall asleep like you did yesterday.”
My favorite movie was The Lady and the Tramp, and I only ever got to the tramp’s introduction before falling asleep.
My mom was always there to pick my up by the time my nap was over.
I learned a lot of valuable life lessons during those moments we spent together. He taught me that work should be done first, so you don’t have to worry about work when you play. I learned that if something needs to be done, to do it with your best effort, even if it takes a long time. Organization and a healthy routine is the key for one to become a successful human being. Most importantly, he taught me that life isn’t lived if you don’t have fun and play every now and again. Eventually, Grandpa found a full time job, and he couldn’t babysit me anymore. I didn’t understand at the time, and asked my mom constantly why she was taking me somewhere else every day. I missed the steady routine of our days, and while the next babysitter was perfectly fine, she did not have a knee that clicked when she walked.