The afternoon smelled like a story to me, slightly sweet with a bitter tinge. Grandpa Arduengo sat back in the chair and smoked his cigar. The smoke floated in flat, lazy layers around us. Bees buzzed around the grapefruit trees in the yard. Utensils clattered in the kitchen. Cumin and paprika mixed with the cigar smoke. The fans turned gently, trying to generate some kind of breeze from the thick Florida air.
Grandpa was always old to me. Ever since I could remember his skin hung loose from the bottom of his neck, his face and hands were wrinkled. But he always had a twinkle in his eye, and he never smelled old like some people. He smelled fresh in his light cotton, button-down shirts that Grandmother Arduengo meticulously laundered.
“Well,” he finished chewing on the cigar and settled back, “We had a time at five-double-oh-nine Suwannee Ave. Folks from Georgia, you know. They were here.”
He winked at me. “And what do you think happened? The derned ol’ toilet stopped up. And boy, I’m tellin’ you, we had a time. Anthony took the toilet up and put it in the kitchen. What a scene, Grandma was in the kitchen, trying to make some black beans and picadilly, and Anthony puts the stool right in the kitchen.
It was terrible. All these people. Anthony, Joy, Bo, Liz and the baby, Michele. We’ve been going over to the fillin’ station. It’s about 2 blocks from here.”
Grandpa chuckled to himself and chewed on the cigar some more. I sat on the ottoman at his feet. “Everybody has to run down to the filling station every so often. We carry our own paper now. About three rolls—we all have a roll a piece. ‘Cept Joy and Grandma; they go to the Goody Goody. It’s nice and clean there you know. But the rest of us, we just go down to the fillin station. It’s alright, nothin’ wrong. A full seat, a whole seat. And the man knows me, so he gives me the best seat in the whole bunch.”
With a chuckle that is part cough, Grandpa lays his cigar down on the ashtray beside him. Not much noise, the Florida summer keeps quiet except for the occasional buzz of an insect.
“It was stopped up at the alley. But it didn’t bother nobody in the whole neighborhood but us. And, man, I wish you could’ve seen the stuff that went through there. My goodness. The water was so thick that it didn’t look like water. It looked like something else.
We tried everything to unstop that toiled. We got on top of the house and ran the rod down through the pipe in the house. And that didn’t do any good. Thought maybe some squirrels got in the pipe and died. But it wasn’t the squirrels at all. Wound up the whole thing was in the alley. Un huh.”
Grandpa picked up his cigar again and shook his head slowly. “That Anthony, he just worked and worked. Wasn’t hardly much I could do to help. And little, Bo, if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know…Why, we’ve even painted up the seat and everything now. First class.
But I’m going to tell you right now, if I have to go through this again, I’m going somewhere else. I’m just going to move out of Seminole Heights. I don’t want nooo part of it. You can’t imagine the trouble.
That man at the fillin’ station. He sure was glad we got this thing fixed, because we were running down there every five minutes. He told me, right nice like, that if anything like this happened again, why we were welcome to the restroom there at the fillin’ station.
But I think we better buy some gasoline next time. We just about wore the place out.” Grandpa lifted his head and turned his nose toward the kitchen.
“It smells like something wholesome is coming from the kitchen, and it didn’t come from those pipes! I think Grandma’s putting something on the table right now.”
Grandpa slowly got up from the chair, made an attempt to smooth the wrinkles from his pants and followed the smell of picadilly* into the kitchen.
*Actually picadillo, but Grandpa Arduengo always called it “picadilly”.
(c) 2010 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.