My First Love, Part 1
Let’s get back to Lorna’s story. We’re nearly finished.
Of course it couldn’t last; we both knew it. The age difference was vast, so vast that I couldn’t count that high. Plus he was married…to Mémé, my grandmother. You’d think my love affair with Pépé would’ve made things awkward in our family, but it didn’t.
- Maybe I did a really good job of hiding my pre-adolescence adoration of the one and only man in my life from my grandmother, mother and sisters.
- Maybe Mémé was happy just to have Pépé out of her hair and house.
- Maybe Mom and my sisters just didn’t notice, because, when it came to Pépé, no one but me noticed.
- Or maybe everyone noticed and thought the two of us were just misfits who fit together.
I didn’t care. Pépé was “The Man.” Indeed, he was “The Only Man.” With no father or brothers around when I was growing up, Pépé defined masculinity to me. I didn’t know at the age of 9 that I would be in search of a father figure most of my life, and I sure didn’t know that Pépé was my first catch on Lorna’s-Father-Figure-Hunt, but he was. And I was there for him: the one lone girl in a pool of estrogen who actually loved everything about him.
Nothing impure tainted our relationship. Our relationship was more like a dog and her master; not like a sugar daddy and his golden-haired gold-digger. He didn’t have any sugar to give and I wasn’t interested in gold–just all the magical adventures he took me on and the attention he gave me.
Before I tell you about our amazing adventures and all the “important” things only he could’ve or would’ve taught me, let me tell you a little about my Pépé.
Pépé resembled the blundering cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. Both old men had noses and ears too big for their too-round heads. Mr. Magoo and Pépé were short in stature and both suffered from poor eyesight. All similarities between Pépé, a three-dimensional ordinary man, and the two-dimensional animated millionaire midget ended with outward appearances.
Mr. Magoo refused to wear eyeglasses, believing his vision was fine. Pépé was a realist who wore thick dark-rimmed spectacles that looked more like goggles than eyeglasses. The cartoon character was independently wealthy and had a staff of people to rescue him from his misadventures; Pépé, a retired plumber whose income was meager, had only me to idolized him and voluntarily keep him company. Mr. Magoo got into trouble by not paying attention to his surroundings; but because of moody, bossy Mémé, Pépé, paid close attention to his surroundings that were often inhospitable. Mr. Magoo acted like he was entitled to behave in any way he wished. Rather than entitled, Pépé was contented—he didn’t ask for much and didn’t get much. Unlike the unsettled but privileged Mr. Magoo, Pépé seemed fine with his simple life. But his life was far from simple.
Pépé was treated more like a hired hand than a member of the family. Like his granddaughters, he was most appreciated by Mémé when seen, not heard. What did the Mémé want to see him doing? Work. Pépé didn’t seem to mind doing any assigned task, from peeling potatoes for Sunday dinner to repairing broken anythings. His “to-do” list was long and penned by any female, each relentless editors. If he received gratitude for a job well done, the appreciation was implied; criticism, however, was broadcast over multiple frequencies. Still, Pépé actually whistled while he worked—the only character I knew who did this besides the Seven Dwarfs.
To the casual observer, Pépé’s life might have seemed bleak. Mémé’s mood and health set the pace for his day. He was either following her orders or keeping as invisible as possible, depending on what would land him in the smallest heap of trouble. Unlike his granddaughters, he didn’t complain. His strategy for finding contentment in the midst of what appeared to be a dreary life was staying out of trouble. Trouble was complicated, and he liked life to be simple. “Keep yer nose clean so it don’t get raw from havin’ to scrub too hard,” was something he often told me. He graduated from the 6th grade, and at that, probably missed a lot in the formal education department. He was, in every way, a simple man.
What he lacked in “proper education,” he made up for in practical application. Pépé was crafty—not in a devious way. Some might have called him a visionary, especially when he indulged in Topper beer. Pépé could turn regular junk into remarkable junk with a propane torch, a little imagination and plenty of beer. He seized the challenge of taking broken stuff and making it less broken with the enthusiasm of a biochemist unraveling the mysteries of the human genome. If allowed, he would spend hours in his damp, but meticulously organized basement and emerge with a Pépé Original. Sometimes it was easy to identify what he created; sometimes it was pure mystery. Whatever it was, though, he was proud of his contraption and found a way to use it (even if it was relegated to the outside shed).
I was the only one in our small all-female family that got a season’s pass into his world. And I made good use of it. We both needed somebody to notice us. We became each other’s “somebody.” And, boy, did we have fun. If that’s not true love to a nine-year-old, what is?
Stay tuned to find out what an innocent little girl can learn from her mischievous beer-drinking grandfather…