The cement sidewalk is cracked. Weeds and dandelions protrude from between the oddly shaped mosaic of uneven, busted concrete, as if a recalcitrant giant-boy broke a massive Ten Commandments tablet to bits and placed the pieces in a trail along the overgrown crab grass of Multnomah Street. The houses are dingy, Craftsman-style bungalows, with rusted screen doors and metal lawn chairs painted in chipped red and green, sitting empty on slightly slanted, cement porches. The air smells of earthworms and twilight. Pop and I are soft shoeing down the block, hand in hand, singing “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider.”
My paternal grandfather, Albert Carl “Biddy” Bishop (to the family, “Pop”), was somewhat of a celebrity in the Portland, Oregon area. A minor league pitcher in his younger days — Pop threw the spitter before it was outlawed — he went on to manage the Double A Salem Senators and, upon his retirement from baseball, founded the Old Timers League of the Pacific Northwest. A natural-born huckster, my grandpop could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. He once bottled the muddy silt from the delta of a coastal creek and marketed it as a miracle cure-all he christened “Health Ore.” He even convinced the municipality of Dayton, Ohio to enhance their water supply with the icky stuff. Dayton cancelled its contract when its citizens began to complain because gobs of dark-brown slime kept coming out of their faucets. There’s a snapshot somewhere of a cigar-chomping Babe Ruth holding my Uncle Bill as a baby. Reputedly, the bigger Bambino had just taken a soothing soak in my grandpop’s Health Ore. When I was three years old, my grandfather’s unparalleled salesmanship skills were being put to excellent use in his role as sales manager of a downtown-Portland Jeep dealership.
A slight, dark-haired man, who more than slightly resembled Fred Astaire, Pop was gregarious, energetic, and eternally optimistic. Nothing got the man down. And, in the final years of his life, the person he loved more than any other in the whole wide universe was his first local grandson — yes, that would have been me. To Pop, little Randy was perfect in every way. And, he always looked for any excuse to spend a glorious day with this stocky, towheaded, pink-cheeked boy. Parades and ball games were his preferences. On this particular day, our shared activity had been the event I loved best: the annual Shriners’ Circus. Now, let’s get one thing straight. Pop was not satisfied with buying a couple of tickets, pushing through the turnstiles, scarfing some Crackerjack, cotton candy, and soda, watching the animal acts, acrobats, and clowns from the cheap seats and heading straight back to his Multnomah Street abode. That kind of a circus experience was for average folk, not for my grandpop and his number-one grandkid. No-sir-ee-bob. Pop slick-talked his way backstage alongside the animal cages and the trailers and we spent hours after the show, wandering through the sawdust, stepping over massive piles of elephant dung, visiting with the lions, tigers, clowns, and trapeze artists.
Back on Multnomah, however, there was mounting concern and consternation. Dinnertime had long passed, and there hadn’t been a peep from Pop and his little butch-cut grandpal. It was nigh on 8 pm when Mom, Dad, and my grandmother heard us traipsing up the walk, shouting our Eddie Cantor duet at the top of our lungs. There was great relief mixed with some squinted glares in our direction. I didn’t care. It was the best day ever. And, Pop and I refused to let anyone throw a wet blanket on such an exquisitely perfect memory. My very first. And one of my best ever.