Underpants: TSA and my axe-wielding gypsy grandmother

By PollyAnna
Reader Columnist

Everyone knows that, as folks hit a certain age level, all sorts of behaviors are suddenly excusable. It starts when the first grandkid is somewhere between five and 15 years old. Soon, the familial excuses steamroll through family conversations like summer tourists crossing the Long Bridge:

“Oh, don’t worry about Mamaw. She’s just cranky when she’s hungry.”

“I could never get away with saying what Grandpa says. I think it’s ‘cause he’s so cute in a wrinkly way, like a naked mole rat.”

Of course, there’s always one or two elder behaviors that are addressed immediately (rather than being observed with a wry smile): “Grandma! Get away from that bear with that loaf of bread! No, now!”

In my genetic lines, our senior family members deal with the usual lapses in memory, well-intentioned jokes gone way too personal, and loudly-spoken comments about people standing right next to us. It’s all common stuff. It’s not shocking to have to tell Grandma that the cashier doesn’t want to hear where I lived in the sixth grade.

The one thing I didn’t foresee about aging was my grandparents’ growing ease around deadly weapons.

Last week, my PawPaw wound up in a hospital bed, at the mercy of a couple of ailments (and a couple of incredible nurses that he grumpily referred to as the “wicked witches”) Losing control is never an easy thing. When the hospital starts to resemble a frequent flyer program, we all want as much attention and as many distractions as possible. So, in the middle of the night, my aunt wasn’t surprised to hear “Psst! Barb!”

“What is it, dad?”

“Do you have any ice?”

“No, they said they don’t want you to have any ice yet.”

“That’s not what I said. Do you have a knife?”


“Do you have a knife?”

As Aunt Barb got over to his bed, she realized PawPaw had already removed a lot of his vitals monitors, and one of his two IV lines, and was holding up the other line at the precise location and angle needed for her to slice him free with whatever knife she might have in her pocket. “Come on,” he motioned to her, “let’s bust outta here.”

Much to his annoyance, PawPaw’s plan failed to play out from there.

About two years ago, my mom’s mom suffered a hiccup in a very different scheme. She was excited to be flying to the Inland Northwest from Texas for the first time, carefully supervised by my aunt and uncle. Grandma packed her carry-on bag herself, complete with wrapped presents for my father’s upcoming birthday. She flies a lot for her age, knows the script, and everything was rolling along smoothly… until security.

“Ma’am. We’re going to have to take a look in this bag.”

Aunt Bea turned around, puzzled to hear the TSA agent addressing Grandma. Her husband, Grandma’s son, sighed, trudged away, and plopped on a bench nearby to enjoy the show with an “I’m-curious-but-not-involved-in-this-at-all” expression.

“Why sure, go ahead.” Grandma was confused but compliant. “But there’s really nothing in there.”

“Grandma.” My aunt hoped to get this figured out before the TSA agent did. “Did you put hair spray in there?”


“Maybe you forgot you had a bottle of water?”


“Shampoo? Make-up?”

“No, no, no!”

The TSA agent was reaching the bottom of the bag, and pulled out one of the larger wrapped gifts, about a foot and a half long. “Ma’am. I’m going to have to unwrap this.” He looked over his glasses at her for permission.

“Oh, okay. That’s fine, it’s only an axe.”

Needless to say, TSA kept the hatchet that was meant to be my dad’s birthday present. The agents also kept another wrapped package — a smaller, glow-in-the-dark rubber axe that was meant to accompany it as a gag gift. While Grandma was disappointed that her surprise was spoiled, she will probably never forget her son-in-law’s thank you for the gift. “A hatchet would have been really nice,” he told her with a smile. “But the gift of this amazing story is far, far better.”

PollyAnna lives, loves, and writes from Sandpoint, and she’s looking forward to seeing her ax-wielding gypsy grandma in August.

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