*Featured Artwork From: “Mystery Suite” By J Ray Paradiso
by Seth Pilevsky
My grandparents were watching us while my parents were vacationing. I loved it when they slept over. It was like having a vacation without leaving the house.
Grandpa and I were getting ready to Get Lost. At ten years old, it was one of my favorite things to do with him. The game involved aimlessly walking the streets of our sleepy New York suburb on Long Island’s South Shore. We didn’t stop walking until we were in unfamiliar territory. Once we were both sufficiently lost, we would attempt to find our way back home. Cellphones didn’t exist in the early nineteen eighties and GPS was pure science fiction, so we had to just follow our guts and try to find a road that would take us home. If not, we’d seek help or camp out in the suburban jungle and live out the rest of our lives as hermits. With an overgrown bowl cut, I certainly looked the part.
“Please don’t be late. We’re having dinner at 7:00pm. No snacking either. I want big appetites!” My grandmother said with gusto. Grandma was petite with a shock of white hair and thick wet lips that meant business when they kissed you.
Grandpa and I were sitting at the kitchen table having a snack. He’d just finished a fresh salad with vegetables. I polished off a Drake’s coffee cake and a cold glass of milk.
Grandpa was tall and broad, with thick wild eyebrows, a tamer mustache and bushy hair on the perimeters of an otherwise bald head. He smiled at my Grandma. Then he swooped in and pecked her on the cheek. His smile touched his warm eyes and softened his sturdy appearance. “Oh, you,” she said with a shy laugh. They were mad for each other. Two peas in a pod, my grandmother used to say.
“Okay young man,” he said and wrapped me in a tight bear hug. He smelled of Aramis cologne and fresh vegetables. “Let’s get going.”
I put on my sneakers and made sure to bring my pocket knife just in case there was trouble.
We started out on our journey. Along the way, we played some games, to pass the time until we hit foreign soil. The first game was Trust. I would close my eyes and Grandpa would guide me. If I opened my eyes, I would lose. As I took my first steps shrouded in darkness, pebbles crunched under my feet, the wind whispered and washed over me and Grandpa’s strong grip kept me grounded. I knew that I could get hurt, or worse, if Grandpa’s attention wavered, but the risks were acceptable to me and I always won the game. I guess we both did. When we got bored of Trust, we’d transition into word games, practice arithmetic or sing silly songs.
Once we were far from home and almost lost, my grandfather discovered a long, green vine culminating in a beautiful ripe tomato hanging over the open road waiting to be pilfered by a passerby. Grandpa plucked the tomato and offered it to me. I demurred at first, terribly afraid of the thing. Tomatoes came from the supermarket. This strange unwashed object that came off of an actual vine must be some sort of forbidden fruit. Maybe there was a smart aleck snake nearby waiting for me to repeat an ancient mistake. Besides, I couldn’t stand tomatoes. Despite my misgivings, though, the game of Trust wasn’t just a game so I took the fruit and bit into it. Since then, every time I bite into a tomato, I wait for my taste buds to absorb the flavor and hope to find a relative of this magic tomato from my youth. I’m still waiting.
I was good and lost now, but that was easy. I was young and just learning how to get places. Grandpa wasn’t even close to lost yet. He had a strong sense of direction that had not yet been thwarted by our amblings. I thought of my grandmother’s home cooked meals and my stomach rumbled. When my parents were away, the hot, rich smell of my grandmother’s cooking pervaded the house. I told Grandpa that I was hungry. He picked up a pine cone.
“How hungry are you?” he asked.
“Did you know that, in a pinch, you could actually eat a pine cone?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“How does it taste, Grandpa?”
“If you’re starving, almost anything tastes good.”
My hunger subsided and I was willing to keep going, but it was getting late. It was time to head back. Grandpa asked a stranger how to get to a certain road and we were on our way home. The sun began to dim as did my excitement. I was always disappointed when the adventurous part of our walk was over. I guessed that explorers must have felt the same way when they embarked on the journey home and started to recognize familiar landmarks.
Grandpa looked up at the sky and announced that it was going to rain. Whenever Grandpa made such grand predictions, they always came true. He was a wizard.
We finally came back to my block and my disappointment mounted. A bird joined our party and sung to us. Maybe it wanted to cheer me up. Grandpa was an expert whistler. He whistled his signature tune to the bird. The bird imitated his song and a joyous conversation ensued.
At this point, we were rounding the corner to my stout red-brick house. My grandmother’s ears were uniquely tuned to my grandfather’s special whistle. She had already opened the door to the house for us. Many years later, when Grandpa followed her into the abyss, I’m convinced that he whistled for her and she reached out to him.
My siblings and I sat around the table and enjoyed a fresh hot meal. My grandmother loved feeding us. She wore her apron and watched us eat, proud, with her hands on her hips.
“How is it?” she asked.
“When you’re starving, almost anything tastes good,” I said.