Being with him was always like the first time...

What did Lorna’s step-grandfather do that made her love him so much?

Pépé was a bit of a rascal when Mémé wasn’t around to squelch him. Maybe I encouraged him by enjoying his dare-devishness, or maybe he was just a natural senior delinquent.

It never came to this. I swear.

Weekends were when we spent the most time together. Saturday mornings began with our trip to the dump. He’d stuff garbage bags and sundry trash into the trunk of his Oldsmobile 98 and off we’d go. The drive to the dump was always slow and leisurely–the beginning of a mini-vacation that lasted one full morning away from the house. He stuffed chewing tobacco into his cheek and spit into his glass jar often. I envied finesse with which he jettisoned that black juice into his jar. Trying my best to emulate him by spitting my own saliva into my glass jar (he always carried a spare), I dribbled like a leaky faucet all over my chin and chest. He spat like champ, hitting his target every time with a pppffiiittt ah. We’d look at each other and laugh. My teeth were whiter but his shirt was drier.

He gave up smoking long before I knew him. He chewed tobacco and smoked a pipe. He let me try the pipe when I was 10 and got a kick out my choking. That's that first and last time I smoked anything.

The dump was a fenced-in marvel of garbage hills. Pépé backed the car up the pile Fat Dump Guy motioned him over to and both men emptied the trunk while they chatted and chuckled. He and Fat Dump Guy had a routine involving me which kept inside the car for fear that one or the other wasn’t just kidding.

Hey Kiddo, Wanna see what else I got fer ya?

“How much for that there kid?” Fat Dump Guy asked Pépé every week.

I watched through the side view mirror as Pépé scratched his head, dislodging his cap. Smirking, he said, “Hmm, don’t know. She’s real smart and cute and I could use the money, but I’d get in a heap of trouble back home with the Missus and her mother. If you know what I mean.”

“Aw. Come on. I’ll make it worth yer while.” Fat Dump Guy grinned and showed the teeth he didn’t have.

“Maybe next week. Whatcha got here that’s worth somethin’?” Off Pépé went, wandering around the dump hills looking for treasures. Fat Dump Guy kept an eye on me.

I kept the windows rolled up because: it stunk, the giant flies were out to get me, and I wanted something more than thick air between Fat Dump Guy and me. Summers were the worst. I roasted waiting for Pépé  to take me away.

Those dump flies had special chubby-blonde-girl-heat-seeking equipment. I swear.

When Pépé returned to the car with something broken that he would turn into something different and fixed, I rolled the window down, smiled and waved at Fat Dump Guy as we left. I asked him about what he found and he told me his plans. He picked up a plastic turquoise washing machine agitator that he transformed into a table lamp. Once he found a wooden chair without a bottom. He said he’d fix it and it would be mine. My heart melted. The chair had to stay outside because it was a “dump chair,” but it was my chair. Until it disintegrated then went back to the dump.

My chair never looked this good or this comfortable, but with a plywood seat, I felt like it was my throne.

Our next stop was the local meat market to pick up lunch meats, as per Mémé’s instructions. Topper beer was never on the list, but it was always in our cart. After that errand was done, the real fun began.

Pépé concocted some other errands he had to run (Watch Repair Man, Spare Parts Do-Dad Dude); it was always a cover for the real thing he had to do, which was drinking some beers while driving around. He could drink one or two beers at home; Mémé allowed that. But more than that was strictly a driving activity. Pépé was a tidy drunk driver. He didn’t like lots of empty beer bottles clanging around the vehicle, so he taught me how to chuck the empty bottles out of the window of a moving car without getting any back-splash on me or the car. Pépé showed me a couple of times how to do it. The first time I tried, beer splattered all over my face and arms. We both laughed so hard he nearly drove off the road–at least I thought it was the laughing that made him swerve. After many attempts, I finally mastered this skill (unlike pro-spitting). Pépé and I were so proud. This was before littering and all those laws about DWIs and “open containers” were invented, so don’t even think about turning me in.

Imagine the chic chandelier he could have made if only he didn't have me chuck all those bottles into the ditch...

Sometimes he really got the devil in him and drove fast, passing cars when other car were coming at us. He like to make that big engine roar, something he couldn’t do with Mémé in the car while going to church. He liked to take turns really fast, too. I think he wanted the car to go on two wheels. It never did. But he tried real hard.

We got always home in time for lunch and without a police escort. Then I helped Pépé with outside chores:  mowing the lawn in perfectly straight rows while he supervised me with his “one” beer by his side or keeping him company while he burned stuff (leaves, grass, or brush). The smoke loved me and always found me. He laughed when I ran helter skelter trying in vain to avoid it.

As a reward, he let me swig some of his beer.  I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand like he did when he slugged his beer. He looked at me and laughed.

Whoa! Before you get any ideas that he corrupted me, beer was never my drink of choice. Beer was something I enjoyed only as a pre-teen and only with Pépé.

On Sundays, I sat next to Pépé at church and at our Sunday meal that Mémé always prepared. I laughed at his jokes I’d heard a hundred times before. It was the twinkle in his eyes that made me laugh more than anything else. And that he was trying to make me laugh.

We were a team, like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis--but not nearly as refined.

And so it went from the time Lorna was about 9 until she was about 13. And then everything changed.