This noise startles Donny, his hands shoved forearms-deep in warm dish water. The jolt makes him fling suds in the air, some of which stuck to his white beard. “Are you boys okay up there?” he shouts to the ceiling. He wipes his hands across the yellow “W” in the middle of his tattered black apron, grabs his cane, and heads as swiftly as he can toward the attic door.
As Donny slowly climbs higher and higher on the creaking wooden steps, he can hear his two grandsons, Joey and KJ, whispering to one another. As the dimly lit room above his home comes into view, he sees an overturned card table, a folded chair and a step ladder laying on the ground.
“Manuel Joseph and Kenneth Jr., what in the world are you two doing up here?” Donny asks, voice sounding annoyed and exasperated.
Joey, eyes bulging while quickly shaking his head, points his finger at KJ. “It was his idea, Grandpa,” he tattles.
KJ is kneeling on the floor with something behind him. He wipes his face with both hands from his forehead to his chin, then gives a sly smile. “We were having a TLC match, Grandpa,” he says.
Looking at his grandsons with disciplinary eyes, Donny frowns. “You know you’re not allowed to copy the stuff you see on wrestling! Both of you could have been seriously hurt.”
KJ’s smile fades. He stands up and explains what happened. “We’re sorry, Grandpa,” he apologizes. “I was going to lay on the table so Joey could jump off the ladder and splash me.”
Joey notices a concerned look on Donny’s face, then quickly interjects, “I was only jumping from the third step! It wasn’t going to hurt either of us, I promise!”
KJ nods his head in agreements then continues his explanation. “While Joey was trying to set up the ladder he knocked a bag off the shelf! It fell and hit the side of table, and the table tipped over!” KJ steps aside to reveal a black bag on the floor behind him. Its contents had spilled.
“All these dusty black things fell out the bag,” Joey adds. “KJ blew the dust off of one, and it got on his face and went up his nose and made him cough.”
“Yeah,” KJ agrees. “I’m okay though. And, Grandpa, what are these things? All but one of them have stickers on them. Some of them have ‘Rap City’ written on them, the rest have ‘Soul Train’ written on them. What is a Rap City and a Soul Train?”
Donny’s face is straight, his eyes wide. He knows this bag and its contents all too well. “That black bag belonged to your great grandfather. Those are VHS tapes. Back in the day we used those to record our favorite TV shows. Wow, Rap City and Soul Train. Those were special. I watched those tapes with Dad when I was a boy.”
Joey starts to chuckle. “I didn’t know you could record stuff way back in the 1990s, Grandpa,” he says, sounding surprised. “I didn’t even know you had electricity!”
KJ chuckles too, then jokes, “What does VHS stand for—Very Super Historical?”
Both boys start laughing out loud but Donny doesn’t crack, his eyes surveying the tapes on the floor. “You said there was one without a sticker,” he says to his grandsons. “Where is it?”
Joey bends down to pick something up from the floor. He brushes his hand over the top of the object, then walks it over to his grandfather. “Here, Grandpa,” he says, presenting it with his outstretched left hand. “The tape or whatever is inside this plastic book thingy.”
As Donny looks down at the amaray, his face begins to feel warmer than normal. The VHS was Sanford and Son: The Collection. Seeing stars Redd Foxx who portrayed lead character Fred G. Sanford and Demond Wilson as Fred’s son Lamont makes Donny’s eyes well-up with tears. The sight of their grandfather crying terrifies KJ and Joey. The boys begin to apologize in hopes to console him.
“We’re sorry, Grandpa; we’re so sorry,” Joey pleads.
“We promise we’ll never wrestle again,” KJ adds. “We won’t even watch wrestling anymore! And the tape’s not broken, Grandpa! None of them are! We’re so, so, so sorry!”
Both boys hug their grandfather which makes him smile. Tears still spilling down his face into his already wet beard, he tells them “It’s not you two. You don’t have to not watch wrestling anymore. I’m crying because this tape reminds me of my grandfather.”
Free from their comforting embrace, Donny wipes his eyes then has his grandsons sit on the floor in front of him. “Sanford and Son was this hilarious show about a junk dealer named Fred and his son Lamont. They had a mean aunt named Ester, Fred was always cracking jokes on her.” Joey and KJ became more intrigued as Donny continued. “It was your great, great grandfather’s favorite show, and I watched it with him. Redd Foxx, the actor who played Fred, was a really funny comedian, a very important comedian to the history of comedy. He died in 1991. It was the first time I saw my grandfather cry.”
The sensation of tears returns, so Donny closes his eyes in an attempt to control his emotions. While voluntarily in the dark he can hear KJ and Joey sniffling. “Awww, boys,” he says to them, “old grandpa doesn’t want you to be sad. I’m okay, really. These are actually tears of joy. I’m glad you knocked the tapes down!”
Donny helps KJ and Joey to their feet. He looks at them with a warm smile before ordering them to clean up the mess they’ve made in the attic. He grabs his cane and heads for the stairs, looking back at the two boys carrying out his charge. “When you’re done,” he begins, “come to the den. I have an old VHS player I can hook up to the television. Come watch some Sanford and Son with grandpa. You’re going to like Redd Foxx, and I think we could all use a good laugh right now.”
—Mr. Joe Walker
Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of popular Concrete Magazine blog “Tinna: See”. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.