My grandparents lived in a two-bedroom, one bath, California bungalow, built in the 20s. The 1920s. Pastel green stucco with three large arched windows across the front, and creamy white trim.
Their spotless bathroom sparkled with white fixtures and small white octagonal floor tiles. The old tank on the toilet was huge when compared to today’s, six or seven gallons of water that made a mighty woosh when flushed. We grandkids were still adept at clogging the plumbing causing an Italian uproar when Grandpa was called to fix it.
There was an obscured glass double hung window with a deep sill next to the commode. Through it I could see the swaying shadow of large hydrangea blossoms outside, and the outline beyond of the house next door. Fresh air flooded the room from the window’s lowered upper pane. In the center of the room was a flat, white cotton rug. Utilitarian and pristine, reflecting the values of its owners.
Out in the hall next to the bathroom door was an identical door. It opened to reveal a large linen closet. The closet could be accessed from inside the bathroom to grab a towel, or from the hall. When the bathroom door was open, the inner closet door was hidden. Only when inside the bathroom with the door closed could one see the other door. We called the closet the “Hi, Guy!” as we could open both doors at once and amuse each other, which didn’t take a lot as children.
“Hi, Guy!” came from a Gillette Right Guard deodorant TV ad where someone opened a medicine chest to see the neighbor next-door also opening his, an apparent shared cabinet. The greeting was, well – you know. My brother and I thought it hysterical to each open a side of Grandma’s closet with an enthusiastic, “Hi, Guy!” salute.
When we grew taller we discovered one could open the hall side, climb the lowest shelf, reach across the tablecloths and napkins, over the sheets to the towels and twist the interior doorknob to push open the bathroom side without the help of a partner in the bathroom. Unlimited possibilities.
I don’t know what brought this memory back so vividly and I’m not an able enough writer to accurately describe the hilarity of my brother or me quietly creeping into the closet to scare the crap (no pun intended) out of the person (usually Grandpa) sitting on the toilet. Grandpa, with his little bald head and messy morning comb-over, who seemed about 150 years old to us, enjoyed a quiet sit in that gleaming old bathroom. He’d have his tazza di caffe on the window sill, a neatly folded copy of the San Francisco Call Bulletin in one hand, and an unfiltered Camel in the other. As smoke lazily rose from his cigarette, he was undoubtedly perched peacefully and unsuspecting until the bathroom closet erupted. My brother and I stayed only long enough to hear the string of Italian cuss words and spy his near fall from the commode as he scrambled to cover himself while manacled by the long johns gathered at his ankles.
Whatever else happened I can’t say because the two of us beat feet out of there. There were a limited number of children in the house on which to blame the deed but if the escape was clean there was no way to know which devilish one was the culprit. We’d crumple to the floor with laughter in a far-off locale.
This story is long ago in the rearview mirror yet every time I attempted to capture it in writing, or retell it to loved ones, I had to stop for a round of giggles so brisk I nearly wet my pants.
The day I recalled the Hi, Guy! escapades I texted my brother at home in TX. “Do you remember when we’d push the Hi, Guy! open and scare Grandpa off the throne?”
Standing alone while typing my message put no damper on my laughter. I awaited a rousing response from my long time accomplice as I attempted to regain composure. Disappointed I received only an “I’m driving” auto-reply. I was revived shortly after when he parked and transmitted his simple answer. “YES!”
I’m pretty sure it really doesn’t matter how far away a location is in our rearview mirrors. If it contains kids pranking adults (especially Italian nonnos) and a sprinkling of toilet humor, it never loses its magic.