This post was originally run a few years ago, and has been a perennial reader favorite, judging by the analytics. The reason for the repost is to show off a photo of something I got for Christmas. My friend Norm has a brother in Minnesota, Dave. This year, for Christmas, Dave sent me an antique Sparkle Spritzer. I filled it up with the secret formula, and what we now have is a tangible piece of good times gone by. Thanks, Dave!
It occurred to me as I started writing this, that, at the time this story takes place, 1959, my grandfather was the same age that I am now. He always seemed so old, even then...When he was at home, my grandfather, Lionel Kuhn, would wear a white t-shirt and blue-and-white pinstripe bib overalls. He'd be constantly puffing on a cheap cigar - White Owls were his favorite.
Grandpa worked for a commercial painting contractor. When he was not on an out-of-town contract, Grandpa's world was a finished basement in the house he had built himself on Center Street in Watertown in the 1930s. Every corner of the basement was finished - ceilings tiled, walls papered, and floors painted, kitchen, refrigerator stocked with frosty bottles of Hamm's beer.
One of Grandpa's favorite pastimes on weekends was cleaning paint brushes. Raue and Sons would supply their workers with the finest paintbrushes available, but at the end of the week, the brushes would be tossed away, for a new start the following week. Properly cleaning a brush is a time-consuming process, and the contractor found it more cost-effective to discard the brushes. Grandpa would save the old brushes in sealed paint cans, and would take them home and clean them. Sometimes there would even be remnants of paint, which Grandpa would meticulously strain, and bring to proper consistency. Grandpa knew and loved paint. From his arsenal of thinners, linseed oil, turpentine and white lead, he could practically build his own paint.
We'd use wire brushes, and a crank-operated brush spinner, and plenty of hard work to get the brushes back to like-new cleanliness. Grandpa had hundreds of paintbrushes that he had rescued, and kept them in a metal steamer trunk. While we worked, there was plenty of entertainment. An old phonograph worked away at a stack of 78s. The Missouri Waltz, polkas and waltzes by Bernie Roberts, Lawrence Duchow, and Frankie Yankovic, Oh Them Golden Slippers, organ music by Ken Griffin, and tunes by the Andrews Sisters. We'd sing along, beat on the table with paint sticks
And ... we'd cuss. Why, where the hell else is a kid going to learn to say "Goddammit!" when he hits his thumb with a hammer? Hey, what happens in Grandpa's goddam basement stays in Grandpa's basement!
Grandma seldom came down into the basement - only to do the washing. But she had Grandpa trained to come whenever he was called. So, no matter how inconvenient, when the call came floating down the stairs, he was there for her ....
"Lionel, I can't find the Windex! Were you using it to wash the car?"
under his breath, "Goddammit!", then, yelling back up the stairs
Even though he heard her the first time, he'd make her repeat the question a few times just to be cantankerous. Grandpa looked quickly through the shelves of the paint room, and found a bottle of Sparkle Window Cleaner, but no Windex. He went to the bottom of the step:
"I've got Sparkle!"
Grandma's smoldering reply to this helpful hint came booming back down the steps:
"I'LL SPARKLE YOUR ASS! Go downtown and get me some Windex!"
Have you ever been laughing so hard that you couldn't even breathe? Neither of us could speak for about 10 minutes, we were laughing so hard, and then, Grandpa would gasp out in a whisper "I'll Sparkle your ass!" and we'd start laughing all over again.
We resigned ourselves to having to go downtown. But, it wasn't all that inconvenient - there were plenty of other necessary side-trips on the way to National Tea - Albrecht's Badger Paint, Kusel's Hardware, coffee and donuts at Zweig's Grill, Charlie Howard's Tavern if Ed Raue's truck was there, Drost's Smoke Shop for some more cigars -- another story another time. But, we almost drove Grandpa's '39 Chevy into a light post when Grandpa once again whispered "I'll Sparkle your ass!"
To this day, with a little turpentine and a cigar, I can travel in time back to my Grandpa's basement.