My dad dropped me off with Grandpa Stalnaker for the weekend. I liked Grandpa. Wizened lil ol’ man. His house was a Depression era monument to inability to throw things away. But that was ok. Lots of cool stuff to get into.
Grandpa was actually a very gentle person and had a lot of patience with me.
We spent the day just puttering around his property (about 20 acres outside of Austin). I spent a lot of time hunting for itty-bitty frogs too. And garter snakes. Fishing in his pond was kinda fun. So was watching him take care of his horses. I carried flakes of hay to each and managed to get myself covered in alfalfa. He laughed a lot over that.
“Come ‘ere, Lael.”
I dutifully trotted over to see what he was doing.
“Ever milk a horse?” My eyes got big. Milk a horse? That did not compute in my chaotic lil brain. Everyone knows milk grows from cows! I never saw horse milk at the store… though I couldn’t be sure since I still couldn’t read. Honestly… I didn’t even really learn to spell my own name until 2nd grade. So there was no way I could read milk, or even cow or horse. Maybe horse milk was at the store. Ew!
“Here grandson, stand over here. Now, you see those two nipples hangin’ down right there? Yes, that’s right, those. Here’s a bucket. Put it under there, that’s good. Now, gently hold onto those teats, one to a hand. Now gently squeeze and pull just a little.”
Ping! Milk hit the pale. Kind thickish though. Cool! Grandpa told me when to stop and patted the mare. She just flicked her tail and kept on munching the hay I had put in her bin. Grandpa took the bucket out from under her and took a gander. He lowered it so I could see.
“Not much today, but enough for you to have a taste.”
I shook my head violently. Uhuh, no way!
“Now, come on, grandson. There’s no reason you can’t try it. Hell, you might even like it. You never know unless you give new things a chance, now will ya? See, I’ll take a sip myself.”
He lifted the bucket and took a swig. I watched his throat go up and down. Maybe I could try it. Grandpa wasn’t keeling over dead or anything. Grandpa lowered the bucket and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He grinned at me, waiting to see what I would decide.
I finally nodded and held out my hands. He set the cool metal pail carefully in my grip, but kept a hand under it to help with its weight. I tilted my head forward to the bucket and put my mouth to the rim. The metallic taste of aluminum was what hit first. Kinda strange. Then Grandpa tilted the bucket toward me. A wash of thickish frothy white-yellow fluid flooded toward my face. Some got in my mouth, but some went up my cheeks and up my nose. I just about choked.
EWWWWWWWWWWWW! I managed to swallow it, but it was so gross! Then I started sneezing and coughing. A white spray blew out of my nose as Grandpa moved the bucket out of the way of the geyser. He chuckled and hauled out his bandana out of his back pocket and wiped down my face.
“Grandpa! You tricked me!” I howled and glowered.
“Did I?” He asked, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses.
“Yes you did! You said I would like it!” The taste lingered, to my dismay.
“Now Lael, you know I didn’t. I said you might like it. And that you wouldn’t know if you didn’t try. Now you know.”
“I’m not EVER going to try anything again!” I vowed hotly.
“So, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot just because things didn’t go your way once? I kinda thought better of you.” The disappointment in his voice was actually worse that the taste in my mouth, somehow.
I stared down at my toes, stubbornly refusing to look back into his eyes. My sense of justice had been violated and I wasn’t about to budge. Grandpa sighed and took me by the hand. He led me back to the house and gave me some cheddar cheese. I perked up and thanked him. His smile came back.
That night was quiet and I slept pretty hard. Then something bit me. Actually, a lot of somethings bit me. I howled. The light popped on (the wall had push buttons for the lights, not switches. Weird detail to remember, but that house was old.) Grandpa stood in his t-shirt and boxers in the doorway. He was fumbling his glasses on, trying to get a look at me so he could figure out what the hell I was fussin’ about. He woke up pretty quick though once he got closer.
I had welts the size of sunflower seeds all over me. Ugly red ones, raised a bit and hurting like blazes. Grandpa clucked his tongue and lifted me out of the bed. I was crying pretty hard. It hurt! He grabbed my clothes bag and took me to another room. He stripped me down and washed me gently with a washcloth and alcohol. The bites burned but weirdly the air felt good as it evaporated. It calmed me down a little too. He tossed my PJs and undies onto a chair and then helped me into new undies and shorts.
I refused to go back to sleep. And I kept scratching the bites. He patiently stayed up with me the rest of the night. He handled my tears very well. But he also knew when I got into that kind of a state, my dad was the only one that could bring me back out of it. So, once it got light, he called and had him come pick me up.
“Jim, you need to get on over here. We have a mite touch of a problem. No, no, nothing really bad. Yes, that’s Lael you hear. What happened? Well, I’m sorry to say, that damn mattress turned out to have a bad case of bed bugs. The poor kid is covered in bites and I can’t get him to calm down. So, get on over here and take care of your child. Alright, see ya in a bit.”
Sure enough, dad calmed me in seconds. And he took me home. I ended up looking like a pink polka dotted leopard from the calamine lotion he swabbed each and every bite with. I listed every single thing we had done while he worked on me. I spent that night in bed with him, snuggled in his arms.
The final irony came with school the following day. Dad dropped me off and headed for work. And then had to turn right back around to come get me. The school wouldn’t keep me because I looked like I had chicken pox! I didn’t, but they didn’t want to take the chance. Not a way I recommend to get out of school!
So, I learned two things that weekend with Grandpa Stalnaker.
1) You have to try new things to find out if you like them or not. Even if it turns out you don’t.
2) When parents tell their kids, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” they really MEAN it! Though, I never did figure out what us kids were supposed to do about it…