John Charles Hutton was his name. Most people called him Chuck. Not me though. I called him either Poppop or “Chicken Legs.”
Poppop always said that he was a maniac and I believed him too! Humor should have been his first name, since he was one of the funniest men I have ever met.
He lived and died as a maniac, because it was who he was. After all, he was born in Pittsfield, Maine in 1898. Now, Maniac accents are hard to understand, but I soon learned how to be a maniac too. After all, I was his apt and ever eager student. Bar Harbor was pronounced phonetically as, “Bah Haba.” “Ayuh, Ayuh,” meant yes, yes. Giggling with sheer delight, I’d imitate him and pretty soon, he’d be giggling right back with me.
My parents divorced when I was only six. When I was seven, we went to live with Poppop and Grammy in their old restored Springhouse, located in Wynnewood, PA. Prior to living there, Poppop had an addition built, consisting of 2 bedrooms and a full bath, to accommodate my Mom, Brother and I.
Grammy and I slept together in her big old bed in the old part of the Springhouse. Since I was so small, she had to lift me into bed, because it was so high up. I felt just like the “Princess and the Pea!”
Poppop slept in the small bedroom next door. Wearing a funny, old, red night cap, to cover his bald head, he looked like Santa Clause without a beard.
By the time we moved there, both Grammy and Poppop were retired school Teacher’s who occasionally substituted when needed. Daily naps were a part of Poppop’s routine. As soon as he fell asleep, I went straight for the toilet paper roll. Now, Poppop had a big old nose, full of long nose hairs. Me, I’d roll and twist up a piece of toilet paper until it looked just like a fine, pointed needle.
Tiptoeing ever so carefully into his room, I’d gently sit on his bed. Snoring away, he sounded like a big saw cutting down a gigantic tree. Much to my devilish joy, he never knew that I was there. I’d take that little tiny tip of toilet paper and gently twirl it around in his nose hairs. He always thought it was some kind of bug as he started to frantically slap his nose to get rid of the tickle. Trying my very hardest not to laugh out loud, I giggled as silently as I could. This went on for several minutes. Finally, I couldn’t hold the laughter in and he would always wake up. Laughing with me, he’d wake up and say, “You little devil you,” with a big old grin on his face. Paybacks soon came. He proceeded to tickle me silly, until my stomach hurt so bad that I couldn’t laugh any more. Talk about a good sport, huh?
Speaking about sports, that brings me back to his other name, “Chicken Legs.” Poppop was Co-Captain of the champion cross country and track teams at the University of Maine. It was said that he was one heck of a fast sprinter, but I just couldn’t understand that, because his legs were so thin, although they were finely muscled. He even agreed that he had chicken legs!! They must have been strong as all get out to make him scoot so fast in those days of old. He could always catch me when I ran, so I guess it was true.
Despite his chicken legs, he had nice strong arms. He was a Master, when it came to slap fighting, as far as I was concerned. That doesn’t mean that he slapped me, but he sure did teach me how to slap fight back without touching him. I’m not sure who ever really won, but it really didn’t matter. Our slap fights always ended with a big, warm affectionate hug.
Not only did Poppop speak like a maniac, but he also spoke rapid Chinese. Well, at least I thought so. He’d start belting out something like, “Ing gow moochy gong goo gowwwwwwwwwwwww,” and there I was again laughing until my gut hurt. Pretty soon, I too became a Master of both the maniac and Chinese languages too! Voice inflections and rapid speech was of utmost importance here.
Big, fat Philly Blunt Cigars were his choice cigars to smoke, due to his addiction to tobacco. Never understanding why he loved them so much, I decided to give one a try. Sneaking a cigar and matches out of his stash, I went behind the garage and lit one up. Talk about gross, I was coughing and totally disgusted after a few puffs. He caught me too, as he saw the smoke rising up behind the garage. Boy, did I hear it after that one!
In those days, my dream was to become a Nurse, because I always loved to heal people. I’m sure by now you can guess who my patient was. You see, Poppop had been in a bad car accident, according to me. Well, at least that was what I told him. After an intensely thorough evaluation, I had determined that he had broken every single bone in his body. Out came the toilet paper again. Ever so carefully and gently, I wrapped his arms, legs, feet, head and neck with toilet paper, all the while asking him if he felt any better. Of course he felt better or at least he told me so. By the time I was done with my Nursing duties, he looked like a funny old Mummy. I thought he looked pretty danged good, but then nobody really asked me.
Haircuts were another one of my specialties. I’d give him one heck of a haircut with REAL scissors! My guess is that afterward, he probably snuck out of the house and went to the Barber to trim him up, while I wasn’t looking.
Poppop loved sweets. He taught me the proper way to put jelly on toast. Using a spoon, it was pretty simple; spoon out about half of a jar and smother the toast until you couldn’t see it anymore. My Grammy was a major investor in Welch’s Grape Jelly.
Dean’s Diner in Ardmore, PA was Poppop’s place to hang out with the good old boys. Often times he would take me with him. If he introduced me to someone new, he would tell them that I was his favorite Granddaughter. Then he’d proceed to make me tell them why. Hanging my head down, I’d mumble, “Because I’m the only one he has!” They’d all laugh and heck, I did too. After all, my reward was a big, fat, greasy cheeseburger, with huge, greasy french fries and a chocolate milkshake, made with real ice cream. Heavenly delight embraced me with every single bite and sip.
Poppop was a History Teacher and could recite every single state capitol. He’d quiz me and soon, I was close to doing it too. During my 7th grade year, he was my substitute teacher for a whole week. Boy, did I have fun with that one. All of my class buddies respectfully called him Mr. Hutton. Not me; I called him Poppop in front of the entire class and had everybody laughing. He laughed too and never scolded me for calling him Poppop in the classroom.
Extremely handsome as a young man, he was blonde, well built and tanned. As he grew older and gained weight after retirement, he soon developed a belly and a second chin. I used to grab the flab under his real chin and say, “Gobble, Gobble, Gobble,” pretending that he was a turkey! We’d always tease him and say, “You used to be handsome, what happened?” He loved to tease and to be teased.
Up until his dying day, he loved ice cream. Grammy died when I was only 18, leaving him as a lone Bachelor in the old Springhouse. We’d go to visit Poppop and sure enough there was hardly any food in the refrigerator, but there was ALWAYS ice cream. He’d say that this was why he had lived for so long.
I sure do miss the old geezer. I’ll never forget one Christmas when he came over to my Mom’s from his retirement home. He must have been about eighty eight years old. “Ava Maria,” was playing and he belted it out like he was on his very own opera stage, performing for all of us. We all loved to hear him sing. He had a special love for opera and a great singing voice as well.
Poppop lived to be a whopping 91 year old. He laughed all the way through those 91 years, which is the reason that so many people loved him. When I think back and reflect, I realize that even though I thought I was nursing Poppop, he was the one truly nursing me. You see, I was a confused young girl, after my parents divorced and desperately needed love. Poppop gave me that so very freely. It’s my belief that laughter is the best medicine. He doled it out to every single person he came into contact with. Poppop gave me the medicine that I needed and his medicine still shines deep inside of me to this very day.
A tribute to my Grandfather, who was one of the funniest and tolerent men I have ever met in my life!!