Grandma and the Fine Young Gentlemen
During the depression, Grandma took in boarders to help make ends meet. Both of her kids were jammed into one bedroom so that the two upstairs bedrooms were available for rent. The rooms upstairs weren’t very large and were sparsely furnished, but quite adequate considering the pittance that Grandma charged her boarders.
Along with a clean bed with an upper and lower sheet and a 100% virgin wool blanket with a satin binding, the boarders also got their laundry done, their shirts ironed and 3 square meals a day.
She had nicknames for the men who rented from her, like the “odd duck” the “hoity-toity man” and the “fine young gentlemen.”
The “odd duck” wore a toupee that Grandma said looked like a dead cat permanently asleep on his head. He never smiled or said thank you and would try to sneak food upstairs which was against Grandma’s rules; Not where the food was going, but that it had been removed from her icebox without her permission.
The hoity-toity man would growl, “Heavy starch” as he handed her his dirty shirts and he always wore fancy tie pins and owned cufflinks that looked like the planet Saturn.
He would tell you at every opportunity that although he was a little down in his luck now, he would soon be a millionaire when he got a patent for his invention. He was always sketching his invention on scraps of paper attempting to improve his design. “Counting his money before he’d made a cent,” Grandma said, adding, “How much money is a man going to make when his invention is nothing more than a stick with a shoe horn on one end and a back scratcher on the other?”
The “fine young gentlemen” were Grandma’s favorite boarders. Kenny was tall and slim with an almost imperceptible lisp that added to his quiet, gentile charm. Dan was burly and hairy but gentle to all living things, from the neighborhood pets to the occasional spiders he’d find on a windowsill and gently bring outside rather than hand-slap them dead like Grandpa would do.
Kenny and Dan had asked Grandma if they could share a room. Cut down on expenses as both men had meager jobs which paid little and both were trying to better themselves by going to night school.
Kenny was barely out of his teens and Dan was just 22 years old when they came to board at Grandma’s. Grandma was a young woman herself, just turning twenty-six when the fine young gentlemen came to stay.
Before long, Grandma was playing Rummy with the guys on the long evenings when Grandpa was working at his second job.
Soon Kenny and Dan were more than boarders, they had become friends. Kenny would offer to iron all the shirts, his own shirts, Dan’s, Grandpa’s and the Hoity-toity man's who happened to be living upstairs when Kenny and Dan moved in.
Dan would take on all home repairs that needed to be done and also made terrific home made bread and chocolate graham cracker pies.
Kenny and Dan would offer to baby-sit the kids so once in a while, Grandma and Grandpa could go out to see a movie or just go down the street to the local gin mill for a draft beer and a hamburger.
“I hated taking money from them,” Grandma said. “They always helped out so much and were such a pleasure to spend time with. Both such nice young men. Both so good hearted and kind. Always telling me how good of a cook I was, even when all I was serving that night was creamed peas on toast.”
Although Grandma hardly ever went into the boarders’ rooms, one day an unexpected rain storm threatened and Grandma knew the windows upstairs were open. She went into the Hoity-toity man's room and closed his window, but not before the angry wind had blown his invention sketches all over the floor. She tided up and went on to Kenny and Dan’s room.
When she opened the door she was shocked.
Kenny and Dan had bought a beautiful bedspread for the old double bed, -- shiny like satin, quilted and a beautiful yellowish-gold color. On the bed were three throw pillows of a similar fabric, the one in the middle was shaped like a heart and had long fringes. They had also bought a reading lamp, curved, etched, glass with a fringed shade.
A square cutglass candy jar with lid sat on one night table, filled with hard candy and next to it was a book of poetry, simply titled Favorite Love Poems
Grandma hurried to close the windows before the rain did any damage, but felt her cheeks grow hot as if she’d seen something she wasn’t meant to see.
That room upstairs had been gussied up in a way that Grandma knew wasn’t natural for two young men. Heck, her own bedroom wasn’t as pretty with its old patchwork quilt and five-and-dime lamps.
That night, when she and Grandpa were in bed, she turned to him and said: Honey, I’m a bit worried about the boys. (How she referred to Kenny and Dan.) I think they have a little bit of woman in them and went on to explain the additions to the upstairs bedroom.
Grandpa harrumped and said, “Just because they’re gentle souls and like pretty things don’t mean they got any woman in them.”
But Grandma said she knew she got Grandpa thinking.
After a year and a half of living with Grandma and Grandpa, the boys moved out to their own place. Grandma cried when they left and packed them a big shoe box filled with chocolate chip cookies to take with them.
Grandpa shook hands and offered them a whiskey for a good luck toast.
While the men were drinking their whiskey, Grandma thought about the boys’ satin bedspread and the pillows, especially the one in the shape of a heart. She thought about them moving into a house together. She watched how casually Kenny touched Dan’s arm while laughing with Grandpa.
That’s when she knew for sure that Kenny and Dan loved each other. And, it was a kind, clean, good, caring love.
Years later, Kenny and Dan were visiting in town and stopped by to say hello. Kenny had gone to war but Dan had asthma too badly to go. Kenny had a limp from a war wound, and Dan had his own small dry goods store. They were still together and still in love.
Kenny worked up the nerve to ask Grandma, “Did you know, back then, that Dan and I were gay when you rented us your room?”
Grandma sighed, “No, I didn’t know gay from schmay back then. Obviously, it didn’t matter, now did it?” Grandma said. “You boys were good boarders. You helped out a lot and always paid on time.”
“Not even one little suspicion? Dan asked.
“Well,” said Grandma raising her eyebrows in thought, “there was that bedspread you boys had and those satin, fringed throw pillows…”