Put Your Pipes Away, Proud Scotsman

My mother’s father was the fourth generation off of the boat from Scotland. He lived and worked the same piece of land on which his grandfather had settled in North Central Missouri. The farm was over a hundred years old. It was impeccably maintained, and pride was mirrored in every building, field, and patch of grass on the property, when it was in its prime. In his years following his formal education, my grandfather worked on the pipeline that followed the path of the railroad from Missouri up to Chicago. When he was in his mid thirties, he returned to the farm, and never left.

My grandfather was a genuine, salt of the Earth, in-your-face, tough guy. He was too young for the first Great War, and too old to be drafted in WWII; the allies missed out on what would have been a head-butting, SS eradicating nightmare that would have brought the war to an end much sooner, had he been involved.

He’d lost all of his red hair by the time he was thirty. He had a uniquely engorged nose that monopolized his face. It was even more pronounced by the fact that it had been broken no less than three times – the bridge of it pointed one way, and the tip another.

His manual labor on the farm and strenuous years working along side the railroaders had tempered his wiry muscles into steel cable. The man once lifted the front end of a tractor with his bare hands, or so I’m told. I’m not sure why, and I don’t care. I believe he did it with all of my heart, and always will.

He and my grandmother had their only child, my mother, when he was fifty years young, and she forty. Even by today’s standards, that’s a lot older than most parents when they start having children (on purpose). Grandpa always wanted a boy, and when my mother arrived he tried to name her Raymond, anyway.

He had a side business of caning chairs; a craft that required the artisan to have a grip like a vice; grandpa could squeeze an axe handle into splinters. His knuckles were like knots on a maple tree, and his hands had deep crevasses carved by the leather straps of a horse drawn plow. His remarkable intelligence was often overshadowed by his spite, his stubborn refusal to back down, and volume at which he was willing to express himself.

He had large watery blue eyes, and perpetually pursed lips that curled around a neglected graveyard of brown tombstones embedded in his pale gums. His jowls hung like wet towels, and his gargantuan nose always seemed to be running. He had a patchy carpet of snow white whiskers that felt like needles when he’d kiss your cheek.

He was a strict Episcopalian. The color orange is to Scottish Protestants, as the color green is to the Irish Catholics, and my grandfather sweat and bled orange. He didn’t hate the poor, but he did think that their poverty was a result of their laziness. He didn’t regard women as subservient, but he believed they did have their place. He didn’t see technology as evil, but he had little need for it. He ate nothing but burnt meat, fried eggs, and washed it all down with hot tea, chasing those meals with a pipe full of Prince Albert; this sustained him for 97 years. My grandfather was, in a word, hard.

We lost my grandmother in 1984, and loneliness seemed to be the unbearable enemy Grandpa could never defeat, nor head-butt into submission. We did everything we could to visit him and make him feel loved over the years. Those gestures weren’t always reciprocated, but I have to believe that it must really hurt to be an old man, sometimes. You’ve out lived your friends, and much of your family. You’ve got grandchildren you adore who can’t visit you as much as you’d like. In my Grandpa’s case there were a lot of half buried hatchets sticking out of the ground, and he had a tendency to remain bitter about a lot of unfinished business between himself and the world. However, humor and love seems to conquer all.

My little brother always called him ‘Grandpa-With-No-Hair’. Below are some of the best stories about Grandpa-with-no-hair; the proud Scotsman who spit nails, and chewed on steel wool instead of bubblegum.

December, 1986.
I woke up on a freezing winter night in my tiny bed, in my tiny room, in our tiny house, by the railroad tracks; I woke, not to the usual 4:30 am freight train to Kansas City thundering by my window, but to obscenities being screamed by an unknown, and yet eerily familiar male voice, along with the sound of shattering glass, and tree branches snapping.

I padded into the living room in my yellow E.T. Pajamas with drool matted hair, and puffy eyes. I held my stuffed Ewok by one arm and stared.

My mother’s fuzzy red winter robe swished around her legs as she ran into the room and joined me, momentarily dazed by the scene unfolding in her living room.

Before us, an epic battle was taking place between my grandfather and the Christmas tree.

On his way to the bathroom, wearing a ribbed tank-top undershirt and sagging boxer shorts, Grandpa had lost his balance and fallen backwards into the Christmas tree. He thrashed against the menacing grip of the evergreen. His cane, tangled in tinsel, made dangerous arcs in the air, sending ornaments sailing across the room, shattering against the walls, along with small branches, and clumps of pine needles. Spittle glistened in the air against the blinking tree lights, as he sputtered and screamed curses loud enough for the neighbors to hear. The lights came on in the house across the street.

“Dad!” my mother yelled, “Dad, stop it!”

My soon-to-be step-father entered the room in a traffic-light yellow pair of sweatpants that said “ARMY” on the right leg in big black letters, shoving his glasses onto his face as he approached.

“Oh Jeez, Ray.” He said to my grandfather as he cautiously approached, dodging the cane being swung like a broadsword, “Give me your arm.”

“Trevor, go into mommy’s room.” My mother instructed.

“What’s a pecker, mom?” I asked.

“A bird, sweetie; go lay in Mommy’s bed. Watch out for the glass on the floor. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

January, 1987.
We were at the farmhouse of my Step-father’s parents. My mother had brought Grandpa-With-No-Hair to dinner at her in-laws.

My step-grandparents, or MeeMaw and PawPaw, were born a generation later than grandpa-with-no-hair. PawPaw had stormed the beach at Normandy, and MeeMaw, due to the fact that most of the men were gone off to war, worked for the Wabash Railroad company hanging the bags of mail for the nonstop train to pick up as it went by, as well as delivering telegrams to families informing them that their sons and husbands had fallen in battle. I can’t imagine a nobler soldier to have next to me in a fire fight than PawPaw, nor a sweeter lady to break such devastating news to mothers and wives, than MeeMaw.

My Grandpa-With-No-Hair’s reputation preceded him, but MeeMaw is a person who takes care of people whether they deserve it or not, and she does so with all of her heart.

Everything that came out of MeeMaw’s kitchen was like Ambrosia. She lovingly and expertly baked the bread that the Presbyterian congregation used for communion on Sundays. My brother and I often tore off pieces of the small loaves meant for the church on Saturday nights when no one was looking and stuffed them in our mouths. If this turns out to be the reason I don’t get into Heaven, I’m going to look St. Peter right in the eye and tell him it was worth it.

Dinner at Mee-Maw and PawPaw’s wasn’t just a meal. It was fellowship. We’d cram in around their table with aunts, uncles, and cousins, elbows rubbing together, laughing through mouthfuls of food, and enjoying each other’s company. MeeMaw never sat for more than a few seconds, though, because she was always refilling plates, hiding the salt from PawPaw, and asking us if we needed anything else. PawPaw sat at the head of the table where he belonged as patriarch of the clan, but more importantly, in the only seat from which he could see the TV.

On this particular night she made spaghetti. I don’t remember her ever doing so before, or since. I think Grandpa-with-no-hair may have had something to do with it.
MeeMaw was refilling my plate, when we all heard a sound which a congested goat who smokes filter-less Pall-Malls might make after a lifetime of toiling away in a coal mine. Grandpa-with-no-hair had refunded his spaghetti all over the front of his flannel shirt. Army-Dad, and PawPaw recoiled, visibly disgusted. Grandpa-with-no-hair looked puzzled. MeeMaw, bless her heart, rushed to get towels and proceeded clean him up, assuring him that ‘it was all right’, and ‘it happens’. PawPaw grabbed one of his own shirts for Grandpa to wear – he told Grandpa-with-no-hair that he could keep it. Mom and MeeMaw helped Grandpa change his shirt right there at the table; the sight of old man nipples did very little to degrade mine or my brother’s appetite, but mom and the Army retreated.

As things settled down, Grandpa-with-no-hair, who’d done nothing but grunt and gesture during the entire meal exclaimed with the tone of voice that Dr. Jonas Salk must have used when he discovered his vaccine for Polio, “There must have been NOODLES in that spaghetti.”

“Garlic, Dad. You’re allergic to garlic.” My mother corrected returning to the table.


Grandpa-with-no-hair came to live with us during our brief stay in Fort Lee, Virginia. Army-Dad halved the living room of our quarters with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, partitioning off a little room on the first floor for Grandpa-with-no-hair.

Grandpa said he loved living with us.

Grandpa broke my toys, smashing them with the rubber tipped legs of his walker, if they were between him and the patio where he went to smoke his pipe.

Grandpa had horrible aim in the bathroom, and I speak not just of number one.

Grandpa complained about every meal. While we never had spaghetti, mom did prepare a gourmet salmon fillet for him on his birthday; he liked fish. He pushed it away and asked for fish-sticks and Marconi and Cheese. My baby brother concurred, and so did I, come to think of it, but that’s not the point.

Grandpa had a sub-woofer in his butt that rattled the books and knickknacks on the shelves; especially at night. My friends who slept over substantiated my claims to the rest of my peers gathered around me on the playground, that a thirty-second-long fart was not only possible, but available on request. I would have sold tickets to my sixth-grade class, but Mom would have put the kibosh on that entrepreneurial endeavor.

Grandpa had to go back to an elder care facility when we found out we were moving to Germany.


Grandpa never forgave us for having to put him in ‘the most lonesome place in the world’. He blamed the Army. Mom felt horrible, but we visited as often as we could. The nearest post at which we were ever stationed was about four hundred miles away.

When we’d arrive, he’d hug my brother and me, and glare at Army-Dad, showing his distaste for him with what came to be his obligatory greeting:

“Are you still here?” he’d ask

“Yes Ray.” Army-dad would answer patiently, “I’m not a figment of your imagination.”

Occasionally Grandpa would ask Army-Dad, “What do you want?” when we’d show up at his room.

Where as I would have answered, “What do you think I want you mean old crab?” or “Shut up and give us a hug, sunshine!” – Army Dad exists on a higher plane of compassionate enlightenment.

“I want you to see your Grandchildren, Ray.” He’d say kindly

When my baby sister was born, we took her to see him and he proudly told everyone walking by that this was his grandbaby – wasn’t she beautiful. I found this redemptive. He loved my mother, probably more than anyone else in the world, but he spent a lot of time making her feel bad for being born female.

June 2002

I took my (then) fiancĀ© to meet him. We wheeled him over to a sitting area that had a few bird cages and a fish tank near by; birds squawked and the fish tank bubbled. The place stank of urine and antiseptic.

Sitting across from him on a couch, I introduced them to one another.

“This is the woman I’m going to marry.” I told him. “Isn’t she hot?”

“Mmmhmmm” he answered. This meant he liked her, approved, and agreed that, yeah, she was hot. We left out the part about her being Catholic.

I looked back at my wife, about to wink at her to let her know she was ‘in’. However, my gesture was lost, as I tried to comprehend the look of shock that had widened her blue eyes; her little hand was over her mouth. My mother asked her what was wrong; she stifled an uncomfortable giggle.

I followed her gaze towards Grandpa-With-No-Hair.

There, hanging out of the waste band of his pants, was Grandpa’s you-know-what.

“Grandpa!” I laughed, “I didn’t know you had a license to sell hot dogs!”.

“Trevor!” my mom scolded. “Dad!” she continued, jumping up from her seat.

Grandpa looked down, but he was either oblivious, or proud. Either way, he didn’t make a move to correct the situation.

Mom got up and helped him out – or in, as the case may be.

June 2003

Army Dad called me early one evening to tell me Grandpa-With-No-Hair had suffered a heart-attack, and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I quickly packed a bag, kissed my wife, and made the six hour trip from Chicago to Missouri, praying the Rosary the entire way; begging God to keep him alive long enough for me to get there to tell him I loved him.

I arrived in time; Mom and the boy who’d grown up across the road from Grandpa’s farm – a man who’d visited my grandfather every day for the last twenty five years – met me at the door. Grandpa’s three favorite people were now present; his only daughter, his best friend, and his first born grandson.

We held his hands, brushed his dry lips with a moist swab, and smiled down at him, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly and putting our hands on his cheeks. He stared up with his big blue eyes wide, and his bushy eyebrows arched in the same way a baby’s do right before it cries. In a brief flash, his eyes looked young again, and I caught a glimpse of the man he’d been when he was my age. I was proud to be descended from him. He tried to whisper a few times, but mostly he used that vice grip of his to pull us down close to his face so he could try to kiss us.

He let go a few hours later.

I was 24, and my brother was 16. We carried his coffin with pride.

I can’t say that a death is ever appropriate. In fact I won’t. On an intellectual level I understand the grim reality of its corporeal finality, as well as its inevitability. On a spiritual level I’m comforted by the fact that I can, without shame, trust our creator to determine the ‘whens’, the ’where’s’, even if I don’t understand the ‘whys’. On a selfish emotional level, though, it never seems fair. All of these things went through my mind as we mourned him.

My little brother, baby sister, and I loved Grandpa-With-No-Hair. We approached his somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere tentatively, but with loyalty to our flesh and blood. We were kids; we hugged and meant it, and I think that’s what sustained him for the years after my grandmother died. My mother showed the patience of a Saint and I’m sure she secured a really nice beachfront property in Heaven by doing so. Army-Dad laughed off the fact that Grandpa despised him and supported my mother in her difficult dealings with her father. Everyone did their duty to this proud Scotsman, not because it was ever easy, or pleasant, but because, following the example of MeeMaw, we knew to love people by taking care of them, even if they don’t always deserve it, and to do it with all of our hearts.

And Grandpa; stop rolling over in your grave; I know – I’m Catholic. We’ll talk about it someday over some bacon samiches.

In Memoriam to Grandpa – the toughest, meanest man to ever kiss me on the lips.

Put Your Pipes Away, Proud Scotsman

Trevor Penick

Joined January 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Humerous and Hearfelt look at a sometimes difficult man to whom to be related, as well as a poignant example of how to view the elderly, and take care of family.

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