14 July 2008
I listened to today's morning story, called "Grandfather," inspired by host Tony Kahn's coming across an old photo he had taken of his grandfather when Tony was a child. The family was living in his grandfather's house, after their return from a many-years' exile in Mexico, due to his father's being blacklisted. His grandfather moved into the basement of his house and let Tony's family have the ground floor. Tony didn't have a deep relationship with his grandfather, who was more distant than not, but he still took lessons from the interactions. The story got me thinking about my own grandfathers and how little I knew either of them.
Though I, of course, knew my mother's father, I only have memory of one interaction with him. I don't know how old I was--but young. He had newly hatched baby chicks in the hen house and took me to see them. I just have a flash of memory and then it's gone.
He was a farmer when I knew him. He and my grandmother had retired to a house on a 1 acre plot of land in Inverness, California. He ultimately divided the land up and two of my aunts built houses on their quarter, but I remember when he raised corn and chickens and had a whole fence full of blackberries that we used to pick.
My father hated the long drive, about 40 miles in the days before freeways, perhaps half of it on a winding road that always made me sick to my stomach. So his solution was just to go there as little as possible. Knowing how much I enjoy spending time with my mother, I can only imagine the pain it must have caused her to be unable to visit her family more than two or three times a year. Even then, you could be fairly certain that my father would be in one of his "moods" when we drove home, because he would have to clean me up when I vomited.
But even if we had visited more often, I don't know that I would have felt close to my grandfather. He scared me. He had no teeth (hadn't had them for decades--he lost his teeth, I believe, while my mother was still a child). He could eat steak and even corn on the cob with his gums and do a darn good job. He was the only person I ever remember seeing put sugar on sliced tomatoes. He was also bald, having lost his hair in an accident when he was in a hole and a bucket of tar fell on his head. In his later years, he had to have both of his legs amputated for poor circulation problems.
So I remember him as a toothless man who always wore a hat and who grumbled in words I couldn't understand. He always seemed to be angry, but I suspect it was more just his manner of speaking and his quiet ways than real anger.
But I don't ever remember feeling any connection with him. He must have been quite a guy in his day. He fathered 11 children and my grandmother once said that was because they loved each other so much they couldn't keep their hands off each other.
I saw my other grandfather more, but didn't know him any better. My father's parents never owned a car, so we were their drivers to Mass each Sunday and to anyplace else they wanted to go. My grandfather had been a minor star in the waning days of vaudeville, but my grandmother squelched his chance to have a recording career and he spent his entire life parking cars in a garage in downtown San Francisco. At one point he was offered the chance to be a partner, but she didn't want to risk the money, so his friend became the boss and Grandpa continued to park the cars.
I remember my grandfather as a quiet, gentle man, always dressed, as he is here, impeccably, with a handkerchief in his suit pocket, his shoes with a high shine. Whenever he saw my sister and myself, he gave us a quarter and asked us to "tell me all about yourself." We never knew how to answer him. There came a time when he became angry and said we only wanted him for the money and stopped giving us coins.
He was henpecked all the years that I knew him and belittled whenever he said anything, so he rarely did. I remember his singing twice at family parties, both times, my grandmother sat off in a corner and rolled her eyes and made jokes at his expense.
He yelled at me once and it shocked me. I was sitting in a living room chair, eating my dinner on a TV table and I poked the tines of my fork into the upholstery of the chair. I can still her him say "HEY!!!" and tell me not to do that. Funny, but I can hear his voice, which was normally silent more clearly than my grandmother's, who never shut up.
Maybe my non-relationship with my grandfathers was a sign of the times. Men didn't involve themselves with children. I suspect, looking at my friends, that this generation of grandfathers isn't quite so stand-offish. I can't imagine Brianna not having a great relationship with both of her grandfathers.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
MILES TO NOWHERE: 56.5 miles