Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Local Drugstore

While sitting in the nail shop shortly before this prolonged trip, I picked up a "women's" magazine. Amidst all the tips, tricks, and techniques, there was a suggestion that women find forgotten treasures-beauty products, novelties, gifts, etc-at drugstores. Yesterday, my dad sent me to fill one of his prescriptions, so I decided to explore my old-school hometown drugstore. I found funky furniture, pier-1 inspired rattan items, playing cards, keychains that held sand from my tiny town, beautiful picture frames and a box that contained Colgate shaving soap.

I stared at that little red and white box marked $1.20 for a long time. I stared and I remembered my stooped shouldered grandfather, Payne.

Now Payne was not a man concerned with physical appearances. He routinely wore mismatched socks and shoes. He misbuttoned his shirts and jackets and safety-pinned any wardrobe malfunction. He pushed around a decades old lawnmower, because, well into his 70s, he still "cut yards." I used to sink down in my seat on the school bus when I was a little kid and groan my embarrassment.

But on shaving, Payne was a stickler. He had one of those old brushes that you use to put the lather on and he shaved himself with a straight razor while we watched and talked him through it. He talked back, but I never saw him cut himself. I still remember the rhytmic scrape-scrape-scrape of his shaving.

What I also remember is how much he loved us. See, there was always tension between my mom and her mom. My grandmother made no bones about the fact that my uncle and his kids were her favorites. I didn't care much when I wasn't around her, but the way she discounted my mother's efforts routinely pissed my sister and me off. But, we bit our tongues, largely because of Payne. He adored my mom and loved all seven of the grandkids. When we needed money, he'd pull out this old weather beaten wallet and issue it silently. When we were late for curfew, he'd wait up and quietly unlock the screen door. When I was in the throes of teenaged angst, he'd tell me these stories about his sister--who bore an amazing resemblance to me as he told it--to help ease me through.

He was a good man, a strong man, and he loved my grandmother despite the fact that she cussed and hollered and fussed and often told him, "Payne, these are my children!" A spiteful statement, because Payne was not our biological grandfather. But, instead of taking her to task, he'd sigh, shake his head, and say, "You wrong, girl. You know you wrong." And he kept loving us all the same.

The last time I saw Payne, in a Rehabilitation hospital, he was tired and suffering from cancer. He missed my grandmother terribly. Still, he managed to smile at me and pat my cheek, one of the few times he'd ever been physically affectionate. He told me, "Take care of yourself, Sugar." I told him I loved him and he nodded once. I realize now that in the 20-something years I had him, he never once said the words. But never have I ever been so sure someone felt them.

So, of course, Elle, being sentimental, weeping Elle, bought the soap. My dad found it in his bag and said, "I told you I had razors and shaving cream." I had to tell him that I didn't buy it to use it.

At least, not in any practical way.

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Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...