My grandpa lived at about the speed he drove down the highway, a steady 35 miles per hour. Folks would see a line of cars slowly creeping in from the west of Perry and they’d assume that it was either a funeral procession or Ralph coming to town with a string of vehicles behind him. He always drove a late model Buick so I’m pretty sure the car would go faster, but 35 was just about enough for Grandpa … and that’s the way he lived. Slow and steady.
When you entered my grandparents’ house, you were greeted by the combination smells of Grandma’s violets on the front porch and Grandpa’s Prince Albert pipe tobacco. His smoking stand was a metal pedestal with a dark amber dish and even in tapping out his pipe he’d move slowly. Tap … tap … tap. Then, he’d reach in his pocket for the tobacco can and carefully finger out a bowlful. This maneuver had to be performed slowly since he was missing a couple of fingers on his digging hand. Buzz saws, cold weather and an errant log proved a dangerous combination in his youth, so he was only two-fingered plus a thumb. He’d gently tamp the tobacco into the pipe bowl with one of his remaining fingers then slowly scratch his kitchen match across whatever was handy. Grandpa didn’t have to zip his match across the rough surface … a slow drag would do and it had it timed perfectly so that the noxious sulfur end would burn off before it reached his pipe … slowly.
Grandpa even smiled slowly. You’d tell him a joke or say something funny and it was like the words moved gradually through the air then finally hit his ears, producing a toothy grin. This was another maneuver that he had to do slowly, for a quick smile would cause his upper dentures to fall into his mouth.
Grandpa Orr. Think Henry Fonda with less hair. Long, lean and rugged-featured after a lifetime of driving horses and driving Ford tractors, he would have been the ideal model for any of Norman Rockwell’s paintings of rural life. In fact, he’d have made the perfect model to pose for Rockwell since there was no danger of Ralph making any sudden movements. And the most remarkable thing about Grandpa’s lack of speed is that for most of his life he was a hale and hearty farmer who could have moved quickly if he’d desired. He didn’t. Slow was the way to go.
Grandma would get us ready for church extra early on Sunday mornings since she knew that her husband would be in no hurry to get there. I think that cows sometimes passed us on the way to church, although I’m not sure what church the bovines were attending. When Grandpa would buy a new Buick Invicta every few years, the customers would stand in line to purchase his trade-in. They knew that they’d be the first person to ever get the car above 40.
Grandpa Ralph spoke as slowly as he moved, but since he never said more than a few words at once, this didn’t slow down the conversation much. His responses were short and pithy … “Yep,” “I s’pect so,” “Pretty much,” “Well, now,” and his favorite, “I have an idee.” For years as a young lad I mistook this last one for “I have a nighty,” and wondered why my grandfather would pick such strange sleeping attire. When he arose in the morning, he’d slowly put his pants on over his long underwear, slowly move to the adjoining bathroom, and then slowly gargle. This last trick surely took some practice. Try gargling slowly without choking, but Grandpa could do it.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about Grandpa’s lack of speed is the fact that he got as much accomplished as anyone. He was a successful farmer with a goodly amount of acres to tend and he was admired in our community for his work skills and his ability to make a profit, all the time seeming to move slower than those around him. I guess the man knew how to use his time efficiently and wasted little effort.
I seem to live surrounded by fast people. They multitask, hurrying from place to place, often late and often flustered after they get there. They do very little planning ahead since they are controlled by cellphones that have taken the place of their memories. Were Grandpa alive today, I doubt that he’d be much into cell phones for despite how much work he had to accomplish in a day he’d always have time to lean over the fence and chat with you. Ralph’s crowning accomplishment is that at what seemed like a slower speed than the rest of us, he accomplished just as much and enjoyed it more. Yep. I s’pect so.