Tag Archives: souveniers

The World’s Largest

It was September of 1966, and the girls were too excited to sleep, concentrate on their homework, play in the yard or even watch their weekly shows.

Grandpa was coming.

They hadn’t seen him in over six months. He’d bought the camper after mother passed and had been seeing the world ever since, fulfilling her dream of wandering the country trying to see all of the best places.

National landmarks? No. Famous museums? Nope. Skyscrapers, cities, overlooks, natural wonders? I only wish.

She wanted to see all of the sideshows.

As a little girl, her father had a business venture out in the middle of nowhere, and due to reasons never fully explained to me, there was one time that he had to bring a young version of my mother with him. On the way home, he was particularly exuberant due to such a successful meeting that, in his good mood, he detoured at a sign that said, “Come see the world’s largest frying pan.” And that’s when she caught the bug.

I always thought it was about the rare moment she shared alone with her father. Her mother never really left her father’s side, which is why I’ve always been curious as to the events that lead them to this trip without her. But she always told me it was about the sheer size of it, the fathoming of how a job that large could even have been completed. The pan was the size of a house, she’d said.

Anyway, she spent so many years talking about traveling cross-country to see these monuments to human wastefulness, but they’d only seen about seven or eight; father was all about the history of our great country, not oversized objects. So he started this adventure and spent a chunk of their savings on a camper to see as many of them as possible, I think out of guilt.

So now, my girls, who love their grandpa very much, who have spent the last half of a year missing him, are excited at the prospect of his arrival.

Every car that drives down the street calls them to the window.

“Is it him?” I would ask.

“Nope,” Linda would say with a dejected look on her face.

“Uh-uh,” Nancy would respond, slumping back onto the couch.

“You know, girls, he may not even get here today. He’s driving a lot, there’s traffic, accidents, and he’s old, he needs to sleep and rest sometimes.” They hated hearing this.

It was the next day when he finally showed up, and the girls were distracted by a new board game I’d set out for them. It was the loud bang of the camper’s old engine that made them jump up and run to the window. “He’s here!” Nancy shouted as she ran to the door, Linda’s little legs trying to keep up with her big sister.

Nancy threw the door open and ran out to my father, who was coming up the drive. “Hello my princesses, how I’ve missed you!” he exclaimed, reaching out and wrapping his arms around the two of them, lifting them off the ground to a chorus of giggles. “My how you’ve grown!”

As he put them down they blushed and then became shy.

“I hope you girls are ready, after dinner I’m going to put on a slide show!”

Oh no. A slide show. My parents had been putting us through those for years, and they were one thing I didn’t miss. And to think those were shots of historical landmarks and beautiful, picturesque landscapes. The last thing I wanted to see was a photograph of the world’s largest artichoke.

“I even got one of the world’s largest artichoke! Well, it’s a photograph of a photograph, of course, but it’ll do.”

The girls ran around a bit and as they tired themselves out I approached.

“Hey dad. How are you?”

“Couldn’t be better! When’s dinner? I’ll get the slide projector set up for after!”

Dinner came and went, a bit too fast for my liking, when dad got up and went out to the camper, returning with a brown paper bag. “We’ll do the slide show in a moment, it’s still a bit light out. But first we’ll do gifts!”

The girls got excited and started smiling as he rooted through the bag.

Stephen, at the head of the table, was the first recipient. “Okay for my favorite son-in-law, a t-shirt!” It was a shirt that had a drawing of a man leaning against an artichoke that was almost his size, and it said “I Got Choked Up at the World’s Largest Artichoke, Castroville, CA” and he smiled.

“Wow, thanks Bill,” he said, barely containing a laugh.

I got a mug that had the words “Come Say Your Prayers at the World’s Largest Rosary” and it had the rosary around the lip. “Wow dad, this is great. Where did you see this, again?”

“Oh it says it on the bottom, Newport, Rhode Island.”

I smiled.

“And for my special little granddaughters, I got you these!” They were two stuffed strawberries.

“World’s largest strawberry?” I asked.

“Yup, Strawberry Point, Iowa. Stood on top of a pole. It was a statue, of course. But quite large, even for a statue!” He looked out the dining room window. “Well, kids, it’s dark enough, everyone get ready for the show!”

We assembled in the living room on the couch as he doused the lights and turned on the projector. It started with a shot made from a titling set we bought him before he left. “World’s Largest” it said.

“Clever title, Bill,” my husband stated dryly.

“Thanks! Okay here we go!”

And thus started a cavalcade. A stuffed steer that almost reached the ceiling. A statue of a sharptail grouse (I didn’t even know what one was until then) that he’d driven all the way to Canada to see. A doorknob (I’m not kidding). A dog dish (again, not a joke). A shot of a penny with Lincoln’s head larger than my father. A potato. Yes, a potato. Followed by a huge pierogi statue on a fork. The shots went on and on until about an hour later, when we were finally saved by that giant white light of emptiness in the slide cartridge.

Stephen and I clapped, the girls snored.

The next morning as I served breakfast he had a surprising announcement.

“I’ll be heading back out after breakfast.”

“Oh I’m sure whatever you need we have here, dad,” I responded.

“No, I meant back on the road.”

I looked at the girls, who both teared up.

“But dad,” I said to him softly. “You just got here. We were going to take you to the pool today. The girls-“

He looked down at the eggs I’d placed in front of him. “I’m sorry, dear, but they’ll understand one day. This is something I have to do.”

After breakfast he brought his already-packed bag down and had his camera.

“Come on, girls, let’s ask your mother to get a photograph of us outside of the camper.”

We all went outside and while the girls checked out the inside of his vehicle, he hugged me. “Sorry darling, but you have to understand. I still have a lot to see before-”

I didn’t want him to finish so I hugged him again. Stephen came up and shook his hand.

“Girls, come out and let’s get your photograph with grandpa.”

They came out and posed with him in front of the camper as I took the shot. They looked a bit sad to see him go so soon, this man whom they adored.

“Drive safe,” Stephen said to him.

“Always,” he said, gave me one last hug, then picked up each of the girls and giving them a kiss.

He pulled himself up into the driver’s seat with some difficulty, shut the door, started the engine and then rolled down the window.

“Where will you go, dad?”

“Circleville, Ohio. World’s largest pumpkin, which they then made into the world’s largest pumpkin pie.”

He smiled a huge smile, waved and drove off.

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He Says Oui

Julie and Quinn watched the couples walk by at a pace slower than what they were accustomed to in the United States. Their breath clouding the air in front of them, they admired the beautiful view, a simple rue full of little shops like every other street they’d seen in Old City, Quebec.

“I wish we could live here year round.”

“And I don’t? That would be lovely.”

She pulled a mittened hand out of her pocket and picked his up, holding it tight. He squeezed back and she looked into his eyes. A couple passed and she returned to people watching.

Lovers walked by closer than they would walk back home, and Quinn squeezed her hand a little harder and a smile grew on her face. She rested her head on his shoulder for a moment and closed her eyes.

That’s when a distant ruckus startled her a bit, and she was not the only one. The meandering couple who moments before were full of bliss jumped a bit too and hurried away from the little courtyard-like road. The noises approached from around a corner.

“Here they come again, merde!” Julie whispered.

“Jul, they are so obnoxious. I can’t take it anymore.”

A large group of people, their loud laughs echoing against the stony storefronts, began to emerge from around the corner, headed by a rather large woman with a giant American flag t-shirt and armed with a disposable camera. She screamed at the sight of the fountain calmly pushing water into little waterfalls.

“Be positive,” Quinn whispered into her ear.

“I’m trying. It’s tough.”

“Look at the cute older couple sitting over there.”

She followed his finger towards the same fountain, where a couple, probably in their seventies, were sitting close to each other and preparing lunch. The man pulled out a sandwich and unwrapped it making sure the paper came off just right, handing the woman her half, and waited to start eating until she was settled. Meanwhile, she opened a bottle of Perrier and placed it next to her. She took her half of the sandwich; they looked at each other, and began eating. That’s when the American woman ran up to them.

“Hel-lo,” she yelled as if the elderly couple was both deaf and unintelligent. “I. Would. Like. To. Take. A. Picture.” She held up her disposable camera and pretended to take a picture. “Could. You. Please. Move.” Then she began to back up, ready to take the picture. The couple looked at each other and then, with a sad sigh, began collecting their little picnic. The loud American grunted.

“Take your time, geez. I just wanna take the friggin’ picture!”

She rushed them, shooing them away like unwanted children at a dinner party, and then tried to take the photograph multiple times until she realized the camera must be advanced.

“Ugh. It’s so embarrassing that we’re with them,” Julie said.

“Agreed.”

“But what are we supposed to do? Quit the tour now? We spent so much money.”

Oui.”

At the sound of Quinn’s simple attempt at French, Julie smiled. She loved that he was trying, because she knew it was just to impress her. She loved the one or two words he was comfortable saying, such as this one and the other common expression, “Merci.”

He also smiled, because he knew she was impressed. She had taught him other words on the plane as they took off, but those were the ones he was comfortable saying, for now. He would try harder.

The large group of Americans filed into the nearby stores, most of them purveyors of Canadian flags, t-shirts and hockey jerseys.

“I’m dying of thirst.”

Moi aussi. Let’s get a Perrier. I’ve always wanted to try one.”

Quinn got up from the curb and offered her his hand, and she took it and allowed herself to be pulled towards a store.

Merci,” she said with a cute smile.

They walked up to the nearest store with a visible refrigerator and entered.

“Mom! MOOOOOM!” a woman in the back of the store screamed into a cell phone. “They have all kinds of shirts! They have blue! BLUE!”

Julie looked at Quinn who was already rolling his eyes.

“This is so embarrassing,” she whispered. “No wonder the world hates Americans.”

The woman continued her phone call as if she were yelling to her mom from two hundred miles away. “MOM! THEY ALSO HAVE A RED ONE WITH A CANADIAN FLAG! OH AND A GREEN ONE WITH A MOOSE! OH AND MUGS! THEY HAVE TONS OF THEM!”

Quinn ran to the drinks and grabbed a Perrier as Julie pulled out a toonie, almost as if they had rehearsed this before. The little bell hanging over the door rang in no time and they were back on the curb. They opened the Perrier and took a sip.

“It’s okay.”

Oui,” he agreed. “It’s kinda just like club soda. But the moment is so great, I can’t help but love it. Just look at this place. It’s beautiful.” He looked around and his eyes ended on her. “You’re beautiful. How do you say beautiful?”

Beaux.”

“You’re beaux.”

Merci!”

They stared into each other’s eyes and then heard footsteps, so they returned to their people watching. Another couple wandered onto the street: a boy in a longer pea coat with large buttons, and a girl in a similar coat but red. They both wore white scarves and walked in unison. At first this was confusing, until they looked closer.

“Were they sharing headphones?” asked Quinn.

Oui, Je pense ainsi, I think so.”

“That is adorable. I love this place. The couples seem so loving, the streets are so clean, it’s safe and beautiful everywhere. The only really ugly thing is the…”

His voice was drowned out by two loud Texans who exploded out of a nearby restaurant.

“I can’ beleev that stuff we jus ate, the damn es-car-got,” he yelled, spelling the word out, as if his wife were deaf. “What the hell is up wit these damn frogs? Eatin shit that I wouldn’t use as bait! And what the HELL is a loonie? Sounds like a damn cartoon!”

The end of his sentence echoed down the street a little, and the pea coat couple turned around for a second, recognized the situation, and then continued on shaking their heads.

“Maw, let’s get one of those damn Canadian flags to burn at the pig roast next week! Ain’t never had a pig cooked over a fire without some flag from a stupid-ass country! Whatta ya think?”

“Sure thang, Walter. Les do it!”

They entered a store, where their voices could be heard even once the door was shut.

Jul took Quinn’s hand and he squeezed.

“When we finally get to Paris, we’re going alone,” Julie said.

Oui.”