Grandpa loved sunflower seeds. My two strongest sense-memories of him are of sunflower seeds and of tobacco; he smoked a pipe, and always insisted that I smell any new sort of tobacco before he used it. "That a good one?" So now, of course, every time I smell pipe tobacco, I'm reminded of Grandpa Joe in that old recliner.
But this is about the polly seeds.
Every day, the sunflower seeds, little black-and-white striped shells sprinkled into the dish. He called them "polly seeds" because they were traditionally fed to parrots - polly wanna seed? He would sit there and hold court for my sister and I, the fourth and fifth of five grandchildren, and the only ones who were local. And he'd tell us stories.
"I got a polly seed stuck in my throat once."
This did not seem unusual, we thought.
"Your grandmother had to get it out with a back-scratcher."
Well, that seemed odd.
"This back-scratcher." And he held it aloft. An old wooden backscratcher, hand at the base, little tassel on the top. "It was really down there! I couldn't breathe! So your grandma, she grabbed this backscratcher," he brandished it again, "and she started working on me. That polly seed just wouldn't come out! Your grandmother had to put that backscratcher all the way down my throat just to get that polly seed out! And finally she got it out. And you know what I did then?"
"What did you do, Grandpa?"
He winked. "I ate another polly seed." And he set another little shell in the dish.