Last Sunday was the G.P.’s (my Dad’s) 74th birthday. Dad is the kind of guy who pretends he doesn’t want vast birthday bacchanalia, but is quite obviously hurt if there isn’t any. He also is extremely tough to shop for because he has specific and expensive taste in the kinds of things that he likes/uses, but doesn’t bother to tell anyone exactly what he wants. I asked him what gift he’d like for his birthday this year and he replied with, “I want your brother’s move to Germany to go smoothly.” Unfortunately for me, I have zero control over international travel and shipping, so I had to come up with something else.
The Rev (my Mom), was absolutely no help. She couldn’t think of anything to get him either. On top of everything else, the Rev and I are still in the dog house for giving away Dad’s recently restored Weber grill when he was off at Folk Music Camp. The idea was that we’d replace it as his birthday present, but we were too chicken to try due to the aforementioned specific/expensive taste.
I gave Mom until the last possible second (with regard to Amazon ordering) to come up with something we could both pitch in on, but she failed utterly. I capitulated and bought my father an ornate guitar strap, a gift set of strange varieties of jams and jellies, and some temporary “tribal” tattoos – all gifts that screamed, “MEH!” I am rather excited to see him don his new “Thug Life” tattoo, though.
Mom was on her own, but she wanted my nephews Avery (7) and Jovanni (11) to make their Grand G.P. birthday cards. The ideal place to do this was at my house because of my somewhat ridiculous stash of art supplies.
And then I got the idea…
Instead of making -conserving-not-very-messy, birthday cards, I decided that we would make a book about the kids’ summer activities with their Grandpa. My eyes lit with creative impetus – I saw skies filled with pies as I thought, “Why not? I have chipboard! I have waxed thread and needles! I have an extra-long stapler. I HAVE AN AWL! What could go wrong?!?!”
The boys were delivered late Saturday morning. It was a lot tougher to get two little kids to sit down and draw twelve pages worth of book material than I thought it would be. Avery ran around my house, taking a complete inventory of my possessions singing. “Ab, you’ve got a lot of pens and tiny Star Wars tape, oh and you’ve got tons of kinds of paint, oh and you have some robots.”
I finally got Jovanni sat down at my long dining room table, explained the task at hand, and set him to work on his six drawings. Avery was missing, but I pinpointed his location when he called out, “Hey Ab, looks like you’ve got some socks in here.” I went into my bedroom, extracted him from my sock drawer, plopped him at the table and shoved a pencil into his hand.
“I guess you’ve got just about everything,” Avery informed me as he began to draw the turtle release he’d witnessed that morning.
I’m so broke that I had stolen a roll of paper towels from my mother the previous afternoon. Robots make up for a lot, I guess.
began to mold them into a book. After a couple more hours of designing, refining, printing, cussing and printing again, I finally had a proof. Proud as a cat bringing home a decapitated rat, I made a special trip to show the product to my Mommy. “Oh goodness,” she tearfully exclaimed. “Be sure to make extra copies for….” here spewing out a virtual lexicon of people who would absolutely “die deaths too horrible to discuss” if they were cruelly denied a copy of the magnum opus entitled “Our Summer With Grandpa.”
I still hadn’t even designed a cover.
The next morning, I got started super early. I’ll save you the gory details, but making hardcover children’s books isn’t easy – even if you have all the supplies. I was additionally hampered by the fact that I was only about 90% sure about how books were made. Turns out a 10% dose of what can only be called “wobbly guesswork” can really mess you up.
Seven hours later, I had three imperfect copies of the book, two fairly serious stab wounds, and a thoroughly kicked butt. The house was a disaster of Biblical proportions. I had gotten frustrated and flung my failures like an angry monkey (or a happy monkey, or a confused monkey –monkeys seem to default to flinging) all over everywhere. Just cleaning it up took another hour and some pretty injudicious uses of my vacuum cleaner.
I still had to cook my father’s birthday feast. So I did the sensible thing: I bought some beer and called in reinforcements.
The Rev showed up with the kids some minutes later. They wrapped Dad’s presents (he not only got the book, but we framed some of the artwork as well) and I worked on grilling the food.
The birthday cake was easy. Avery and Jovanni decided that since Grandpa loved doughnuts, they would make his cake out of them. It worked, but only because if you shove enough candles into any pastry item it automatically becomes a birthday cake.
Finally, Dad arrived. The kids were so excited to give him his presents that they could barely get through dinner. The Rev forced them to eat their steak before setting them loose on the pile of loot.
They gave him the book first, which Mom forced him to read aloud. The kids gleefully interrupted him with anecdotes about every picture.
The last page of the story says, “We love our Grandpa very much.” Dad was too tough to cry, but he did cough a wee bit on that one.
After the “cake,” Dad decided it was time to head home. As he walked out my front door, he looked back and said, “That book sure was somethin’.”
I sighed in relief. That book nearly killed me.
Still, it was definitely better than a jam assortment.