1998 was the first summer of my teen years. My seventh grade year (fall 97-summer 98) was my first year at the junior high building and there I had my first taste of school dances, little Caesar's in the cafeteria and I was issued my first locker and assignment book; which I never used. There's Something about Mary
, The Truman Show
, and Saving Private Ryan
were big at the box office. Bill Clinton and Monica were all over the news. Major League baseball was expanding to Tampa Bay and Arizona while witnessing a home run race for the ages. Seinfeld
had signed off but, Frasier
was by far my favorite prime time show so I wasn't too upset.
It was against this backdrop that I made the most vivid memory of that year spending a week with my grandparents; Donald and Beatrice Gibson. You see my mom went to spend a week with her sister so while my little brother decided to spend that week with his friend's family I opted for grandma and grandpa. Grandpa was a retried preacher and a member of "the greatest generation" being a WWII vet; my grandma was a homemaker. In this article you will discover how I rode with King Arthur's knights, explored the animal kingdom and even ended up in jail!
My grandparent's house was located a Twelve Watch Hill Road with the backdrop of the forest belonging to Black Hawk State Park. At the breakfast table each morning it was never a surprise to gaze out the kitchen window to friendly deer, foxes, as well as a vast ornithological array of finches, woodpeckers and cardinals frolicking in the back yard. This natural pageant was played out before me every morning that week while I enjoyed one of my Grandmothers many culinary triumphs coffee cake and warm grape nut cereal. On the first day I was there we left the house and took advantage of the warm temperature by visiting nearby Coal Valley, Illinois's Niabi Zoo. Niabi Zoo has pretty much all the basic jungle and farm yard fauna you would expect from a zoo of its size. An Indian elephant named "Kathy Shaboom" was the zoo's main attraction when I was a child. In years past people were allowed to buy a bag of peanuts and throw them in her enclosure where she would eat them but, as I would find to my dismay, the practice had been suspended.
Walking around the zoo for an hour and a half worked up quite a thirst in all of us so when we retuned home we shared some lemonade with the neighbors. Jack and Kim, my grandparents' neighbors at that time, had a very fun house and backyard. In their house the kept their iguana named Floyd in a gigantic tank with a small tree for him to climb on and a little puddle to soak in. Their backyard contained a large pond with several Japanese goldfish flashing their dazzling orange, gold and silver colored scales. We all had a good laugh when I suggested replacing these goldfish with piranhas.
When suppertime rolled around that evening I could hardly contain myself anticipating grandma's macaroni and cheese with bread crust. As the sun descended my grandpa and I would go downstairs and play ping pong for an hour or so. Neither of us bothered to keep score while I told him about school, friends, girls and whatever else happened to be on my chaotic thirteen year old mind. As if there is any other state of mind for your average American thirteen year old boy! The next day we awoke to rain so we decided to go to the library and the video store. Shelf after shelf of VHSs passed before my bespectacled eyes until my grandpa guided me to a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
. My grandpa told me, "You'll really like this, Jeff, it's about King Arthur and his Knights but they do really nutty things with it." He couldn't have been more correct; I laughed my head off at the killer rabbit, the Black Knight and, of course, the knights who say "Ni." Thanks to Monty Python, and Are you Being Served?
On PBS my grandparents instilled in me a love of British comedy.
For those of you who are still wondering as to how exactly we all ended up in the clink( as if you're still reading this by now) I haven't forgot you. We most certainly did do some hard time...for lunch! You see, dear reader, in a town a few miles south of Rock Island there is a jail that had been converted into a restaurant. All the tables were in door less empty cells and the servers wore striped pajamas. At this restaurant there was a fake electrical chair; sitting in it would set off many bells and lights sending unsuspecting diners leaping with shock. After subjecting me to this contraption my grandpa suggested we make grandma the next victim. We bade here to take her seat for a photograph but when those sirens sent off and the lights flickered she burst out of that chair as fast as her seventy six year old legs could carry her.
We all concurred that we had to catch a flick but we couldn't decide which one. When we arrived at the theatre we choose to see Jim Carry and Laura Linney in The Truman Show
. On the way out of the theatre I noticed my grandpa staring at the poster of Saving Private Ryan
. When we arrived home my grandpa told me to follow him to the basement. He reached for a box from the shelves and placed it down on the ping pong table. "Jeffery" he told me as he unraveled his uniform and hat," I was in Japan during the war. I had a gun and when a 'Jap' came along I had to kill him. It was terrible." He mumbled to himself," those poor devils" while I leafed through a propaganda laden Japanese comic book. It was sharing this profoundly emotional moment with my grandfather that I fell in love with America.
Sadly, the next day was my last day there, so after church we made a trip to the mall. I bought a copy of Semisonic's CD which had their hit "Closing Time" on it as well as a sports magazine previewing the up coming NFL season. I spent the rest of the afternoon swaying on their hammock sipping lemonade listening to "Closing Time" over and over again. Who could ask for anything more?
You'll be happy to know, dear reader, that both of my grandparents are still alive and kicking in their late eighties. Unfortunately, while they still reside in Rock Island they no longer live in their house; they are now in a nursing home. I hope you have enjoyed meeting my grandparents and taking this time trip with me!