…was the sort of fellow who wore a jacket to dinner every night in his own house. Not always a tie, but when he didn’t wear a tie his shirt was always buttoned right up to the top under a herringbone or houndstooth coat. He was a serious man, never lacking for a purpose, which is not to say he didn’t have a sense of humor. In the summers when my twin sister and I were in grade school my mother would drive us out for weekly visits to my grandparents’ house, which sat on several acres of wooded land in the far western suburbs of Chicago. We’d pass the mornings playing croquet on their expansive front lawn. Here I should point out that this croquet wasn’t the game most of us are used to, played with cheap mallets and hanger-wire wickets, but a proper gentleman’s pass time played with heavy, imported wooden gear, a game he referred to as croak-ee. Were he alive he’d want me to tell you that. Sometimes it was simply too hot to play outside, so my sister and I would busy ourselves with puzzles, the real wooden jigsaw type, or play with some of the Mexican jumping beans he always seemed to have around. Meals were served at precise intervals and perfectly prepared by my grandmother. We’d nibble at tiny toasted sandwiches in the dining room, served on china plates, and look out through floor-to-ceiling picture windows into the woods (grandad designed the layout of the house himself). It was all very sophisticated, he would have had it no other way.
Which is what made it particularly surprising when, one day after lunch as my sister and I sat sipping ice water, he reached out to the flower arrangement in the center of the table, plucked out a nasturtium stem, and without a word bit off the bloom. He glanced around, chewing, as we sat staring in shock, dumbfounded, as though chipmunks had just crawled out of his ears. He swallowed, slapped his hands lightly on the tabletop, rose, and exited the room with a smirk. That, in a nutshell, was grandad’s sense of humor.