Previously published on CommuterLit.com
I tug my grandfather’s sleeve and we leave the bowling and walk along the sands towards the swing boats and the merry‑go‑rounds. He stops, holds me with one hand, and points with the other to a space beside the sea‑wall.
“That’s where the quacks used to put up their stands when they came to town.
“What’s a quack, grandpa?”
“Well, a quack’s a salesman who sells patent medicine. Watch now,” my grandfather stands in front of me. “I’m a miner, see, and I can hardly talk,” his voice changes as he speaks and the words limp out all hoarse and scratchy.
“Now I’m the quack,” he takes three steps to one side and his words emerge strong and healthy. “Good sir, I see you are in need of my aid,” my grandfather draws an imaginary bottle from his coat and holds it high for all to see. “Pretend you’re the crowd,” he whispers to me, “you have to hiss and boo.”
“Hiss and boo. Boo.”
“That’s right,” my grandfather smiles, then he speaks again. “Now, sir: just take a sip of this patent medicine and your voice will be restored,” he hands the bottle into space, strides across the gap, and the miner holds out a weak and palsied hand to receive the offering.
“Thank you,” the miner croaks, “will this help?”
“One sip, good sir, and all will be well.”
“Hiss,” I shout, “Boo.”
The miner puts the bottle to his lips, closes his eyes, drinks, and his glorious voice pounds out a hymn: “Changed from glory into glory / till in heaven we take our place.”
“Hiss,” I go and “boo.”
“No, no,” says my grandfather, “this is where you cheer.”
My grandfather becomes the quack again: “This marvelous potion is yours for a silver three penny piece.” He bows, nods to the crowd, hands over imaginary bottles, and places coins in his invisible pocket while I clap and cheer.
“This performance,” my grandfather tells me, “never failed to sell a great number of bottles.”