Ticklish SpotsA Story by roarke
short story about memories from youth.
When I was a small child, I spent two weeks during each summer vacation staying with my grandparents in Iowa. On saturdays, I would get to ride along with my grandfather in his ‘63 Chevy Impala as he went on errands. The car’s sapphire blue upholstery always seemed fantastic to me, a sharp contrast from its pure white exterior. Traveling in the car with my grandfather was always an electric and wondrous excursion.
My grandfather was a simple man with only a sixth-grade education. He physically worked very hard all his life, his own childhood having been a brief-lived experience after his father died and his mother abandoned a family of nine children to fend for themselves. He and his three older brothers supported and raised the little ones. He didn't exactly know how to react to kids, especially young ones, and probably felt as anxious as the child sitting next to him on the front seat of the Impala.
Talking to my grandfather during these front-seat moments was difficult, I was only eight and every question I'd pose to him he'd just reply, "Yea-uh" not offering a full answer, just a recognition he heard my chattering. My grandfather was accessible in a strong, stoic man sort of manner. He was tough and dependable in ways an eight-year-old can’t yet grasp. But the sense of it was there, the intuition that young children seem to pick-up on and that's why I liked going places with my grandfather; it wasn't the getting out of the house going to the butcher shop or mechanic garage, or going someplace like a new fishing hole or the river levee after supper; it was just the getting to spend time with him that I remember as being special.
Along the drive, if I pestered him too much, asked too many questions, he'd give a warning, "You’re noisier than a magpie." he'd say, still looking out the windshield, one strong forearm resting on the rolled down car door window, the other handling the large blue steering wheel with just a thumb and forefinger on an ivory steering knob. The ‘magpie’ statement would only get a giggle from me and he'd breathe noticeably through his nose, signaling he didn't know how to take the idle curiosity of a child. But to me, there was a kind of attraction to a man like this. A child is compelled to draw attention from a strong male figure, to chance the innocent danger and unknown responses that charge the child’s inner excitement.
I'd sit close to him on the sedan’s bench seat, noticing the deep, outdoor hard-labor tan on his cable muscled arms from working a crane at the Rock Island Arsenal. I'd look up and see the crisp, cream colored straw fedora he wore on days he didn't have to work at the Arsenal. He was half Blackfoot Indian and half French Canadian. His square-set jaw and high cheekbones gave a resoluteness to his gaze. His straight forward profile, a cigarette between his lips, only prompted more curiosity in me and a desire to know more about him.
Soon, my idle fidgeting with his car’s radio knobs, the cigarette lighter and the glove compartment would bring on another warning, "Better stop that now, else Injun Joe'll get ya." Injun Joe was a mythical entity that according to my Grandpa, lived in my grandparents old attic. He was an indian chief that punished mischievous youngsters by hanging them on a coat hook behind the attic’s heavy wood door. For years, none of the grandchildren dared push the matter further than this warning.
But I was impetuous, loved my grandfather and the excitement of spending a saturday morning with him was too great a moment to waste on caution. My grandfather could see the tension building and only knew one way to handle it. I laughed and wiggled my legs on the seat, mocking his stern warning about Indian Joe. My grandfather suspecting his threat had no effect on me, showed a little give in his stern demeanor, “Alright now.” he’d caution me.
I looked back at him with a challenging sparkle in my eyes. I was going past the bounds of common sense, believing I was winning some form of mental arm wrestling. This is when my grandfather gave up and without warning slammed his large, rough hand down upon my bare knee with a smack and squeezed it with a vice like grip. He always knew just the right spot where pressure on nerves and tendons could wrench a squeal and involuntary jag of laughter from his little grandchildren. You couldn't escape. you went past the line of mercy. His thick thumb and fingers squeezed the spot just behind the knee cap over and over until you thought you were going to wet your pants from uncontrollable laughter. At the same time, my grandfather's eyes would widen in a crazed look and his square mouth would drop in a forced "gotcha" laugh almost like a wolf howl. A frenzied moment of insanity would take hold, neither he nor I able to release it.
The first time any one of the grandchildren experienced this knee-squeeze tickle, it seemed more frightening than exciting because it was so sudden, surprising, inescapable. This gave my grandfather some measure of personal pleasure. It put him back in control of the situation and yet because we loved the attention, even painful-funny attention, we'd push the ‘tickle’ envelope over and over. By the time my grandfather and I reached our destination, I'd still be rubbing my knee and giggling and looking wide-eyed out the window to see where this magical man would take me next.
These are the old memories I'd have mixed in my mind later in life as an adult, now with my own son as I would pick him up for my weekend visitations; a disquisition on modern commuter parenting. These memories, mixed with more recent impressions of a rocky failed marriage and searing power struggle divorce; jagged recollections I'd have all swirling around in my head while I’d try to drive and listen to my son’s disconnected chatter. He’s a curious child like I had been and I’d try to answer his questions while keeping an eye on suburban traffic. When he became too distracting, I’d remember my grandfather’s technique and unexpectedly grab his small knee and squeeze. As expected, both he and I derived pleasure from this one-sided, mirthful assault.
But my son was braver than I at his age, he’d try and retaliate, lunging at me, trying to squeeze my knee for a similar reaction. He was surprised and disappointed when I didn’t laugh. Then he’d work his small fingers under my arms, across my ribs and even under my chin, all to no avail. I, for the time, had the ‘tickle spot’ advantage.
I kept this advantage for a while. After his failed tickling attempts, my six year old son would ask, “Dad don’t you have a ticklish spot? Why aren’t you ticklish?“
I would tell him I didn't have one. This answer didn’t satisfy him and during the course of our routine hour drive from his mother's house to mine, he'd randomly try to surprise me and trigger a ticklish spot. Following each try to get me to laugh, he’d reluctantly stop and regard me with a calculating, sly squint-eyed expression on his young face.
This went on for several weeks until one day he stopped as if struck by epiphany and turned in his seat to face me directly. He then claimed, "Dad, I know where your ticklish spot is.”
“Oh, you do huh.” I challenged him back.
“Ok, buddy, where?”
“It’s your brain.” He stated decidedly and he sat against the car door, arms folded across his chest, perfectly satisfied with victory.
I was dumbfounded. He was absolutely correct. A six year old child, my son, found my ticklish spot when no adult since my grandfather, had been able to find one. From that moment on, my son and I shared a special "knowing" between us, a private secret. We both knew each others ticklish spots and at that frozen moment in time, we shared a rare reward between adulthood and childhood.
© 2012 roarke
Shelved in 1 LibraryAdded on March 14, 2012
Last Updated on March 14, 2012
AboutBio I've been a professional teacher, artist and musician for over thirty years and I currently pursue an off-the-grid homesteading lifestyle. I'm continuing life's journey, accepting and creating n.. more..
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