Grammar and Anticipation

April 17, 2007, 3:45 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Chloe  | 2 Comments

My grandfather gave me my first grammar lesson when I was seven years old, after I had asked him if I could play on his old green Chevy truck. “I don’t know, can you?,” he asked, home from his bike shop for lunch, an empty plate and half a can of beer in front of him.

“Yes,” I said slowly, wary of my grandfather and his tricks: how he gave me something shiny and yellow and called it fool’s gold only after I had told him all the things I would buy with it, and how he convinced me that I could buy a miniature collar and lead for the tarantula I had just captured so I could show it around town as my pet.

My grandfather took a final swig of beer and swiped his sleeve across his mouth, which earned a sour look from my grandmother, who did his laundry.

“Yes, you can.”

“Thank you!,” I yelled, already at the back door.

“Chloe!” I reluctantly returned to his chair and waited as attentively as a seven-year-old in the summertime can wait. My grandfather pondered me for a moment, scratching the peppery stubble on his chin. I waited patiently because I knew instinctively that something important was going to happen, just like when he let me help him mix concrete and put up the dog pen, even though as a rule, he preferred to do work around the land alone, and a little girl would only get in the way. Though he firmly believed a woman’s place was in the kitchen, we eventually completed many projects together, the last a door installation cut short after he severed most of the top part of his thumb and bled all over my mother’s white carpet because he was too manly to feel pain.

“Chloe,” he repeated after several long tick-tocks of the grandfather clock, “I’m trying to teach you something here. You say ‘can’ when you are able. You say ‘may’ when you want permission. So:” He waved his hand at me and the smell of the oil he used on the chains and gears in his bike shop wafted towards me. It smelled like a car. Or a big green Chevy.

“Can I go play on your truck?” At this point I was fidgeting like I was about to wet my pants, but still he spoke slowly, in a gravelly voice that sounded like he had worked hard his whole life, and would continue to do so until the day he died. “You are able to play on my truck, but you have to ask me if you may get permission to go do it.”

“M…may I…?” I trailed off, and he nodded encouragingly while my grandmother audibly rolled her eyes. “May I go play on the truck?”

He folded his newspaper and stood. “No, I have to go back to work. But you can give my plate to your grandmother and throw my can away.”


2 Comments to “Grammar and Anticipation”

  1. Steve on April 17th, 2007 5:00 pm

    Nobody sets a scene better than you… I really do feel like I’m there.

  2. Tom on April 17th, 2007 7:06 pm

    You had me until the failure to recycle. I’ll admit grammar is more important, but only just.

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