Happy Hour

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

It’s five o’clock somewhere, and I am not talking about the Jimmy Buffet song detailing happy hour celebrations. I am simply referring to a “happy hour” shared with my grandfather, Pop, back in the late fifties, the only father figure I knew till my mom remarried in later years.

You see, 5 pm, Monday through Friday, was a magical time when I was a kid waiting for Pop to get home from work. I waited patiently, sitting on a curb, outside of the four-plex apartment Mom and I shared with my grandparents, for Pop to pull up in his old brown station wagon to take me on a “date.”

He’d pull up at 5 pm, roll down the window and say, “Miss, are you waiting for a prince? Well, he has just arrived.” Then he would take me to the local candy store and buy me a Three Musketeer bar to eat before dinner and chuckled the same phrase each and every night, “You can eat it now, but whatever you do, don’t tell your grandmother!” That was always followed by a huge belly laugh from my teddy bear of a grandpa. Sometimes, we would hit the Dairy Queen for a coffee-flavored blizzard and head to the park where we would sit by the lake feeling incredibly sneaky knowing dinner was only an hour away.

Pop was like a big kid. He had a way of making every child feel special by giving them a nickname and turning their everyday ho-hum into Disneyland. He called me “Dine-y,” and I knew I could do no wrong in Pop’s eyes. He loved to watch me sing with my hairbrush microphone, accompanying the singers on the Lawrence Welk Show. He cheered as I recited TV commercials, mimicking on-air personalities. He’d clap and laugh so hard pretending he was falling off his chair when I would dance around the living room to American Bandstand. And as much as he loved reading the Star Ledger every morning and Look magazine at night, he’d always drop what he was reading when I came into the room, giving me his undivided attention.

But I did the same for him. My grandmother showed me how to cook Scrapple, Pop’s favorite liver pudding, when I was about six years old. Together with scrambled eggs and toast, I made a meal fit for a king every weekend, because he was exactly that, royalty in my eyes, through and through.

Morris Simonson was born in 1901 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and after marrying my grandmother relocated to Newark, New Jersey, to avoid working in the coal mines of the keystone state. Pop worked hard as a plumber for Crane Company for over forty years, putting a roof over our heads and plenty of food on the table. I vividly recall visiting him with my grandmother at his office one day and was shocked to see a girly calendar hanging over his desk. He claimed it belonged to one of the other male employees, as he could never think of looking at a woman other than Nana. I asked to see “Miss December” since Pop and I shared December birthdays, and against Nana’s wishes he handed me the calendar. I cracked up seeing a gorgeous redhead wearing nothing “butt” reindeer antlers. Pop exploded in laughter too, and even Nana could not contain herself.

Pop could tell a joke better than anyone I knew and was never without one. Nana was always nervous when the church priest came to visit as Pop would sometimes blurt out an off-color joke without thinking. And being the devilish prankster that he was, I’m sure it was all in his plan to keep Nana on edge at the cost of being the life of the party.

When the carnival came to town each year, Pop loved to take me on the all the wild rides. I hated to tell him I was scared, and that they made me feel sick, because Pop loved them so much. He would rock the Ferris wheel gently as we spun high above the ground, and he’d sing “Rock-a- by Baby” at the top of his lungs!

Every Friday night was Pop’s night on the town with the boys, shooting pool and shuffleboard. Most Fridays, about 11 pm, he came home “snockered.” Nana would yell at him and say, “Mo, you’re sleeping alone tonight.” But I fondly remember one Friday Christmas Eve when I was scheduled to sing my first solo at Midnight Mass. Nana lectured Pop not to drink too much after work so that he would be able to come hear me sing. Pop got on his knees and bowed down to Nana and said, “Ruth, I would never do anything to disappoint Diney.” And he never did.

Yes, I had the world’s greatest grandfather, and when he died in 1978, my heart was shattered. However, my grandmother gave me a treasured keepsake right after the funeral. Nana gave me Pop’s gold and silver pocket watch that she gave him as a present on their first anniversary. Of course, I set it at five o’clock, framed it in a shadow box and hung it on our living room wall beneath a beautiful clown portrait that a dear friend painted and gave to me. The artistic grouping signifies that Pop was the biggest most loveable clown of them all.

There is a song from yesteryear called “Oh My Papa” and the words perfectly describe my Pop. “So funny, so adorable, always a clown…He always understood. Gone are the days when he would take me on his knee, and with a smile, he could change my tears to laughter.”

It’s five o’clock somewhere, and there’s no doubt, it’s HEAVEN.

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One Response to “Happy Hour”

  1. Erika Hoffman says:

    I loved your story. It brought memories flooding back when I read the word Star-Ledger. My grandpa worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and was the engineer on the clocker. He worked longer than any other employee ever had and when he retired they let his four year old granddaughter ride in the engine with him and a photographer snapped the picture. I’m on the cover of that Star Ledger in 1955. My papa lived on Maple Street in Newark, NJ! Small world. And now I often write personal essays for Sasee!

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