I have the gift and privilege of knowing all four of my grandparents. None of them left this earth until I was well into young adulthood. I also spent significant time with one great-grandmother and have a vague memory of visiting another in a nursing home. At the age of 54, I still have a 97 year-old living grandmother. She had my mom at the age of 19, mom had me at 21, my firstborn arrived when I was 24. Early motherhood and old age both run in the family.
My aunt is a family historian and is gracious to share with others. Yesterday, she shared this photo with us:
My Papa is the groom in this childhood wedding enactment, aka in the 1920's a Tom Thumb wedding*. He is so very handsome, and I see great resemblance to the grandfather of my memory. He was a man of few words, at least words directed at me. I remember a lot of humming, cross word puzzle working, and time spent out in his immaculately organized workshop. He could build or fix just about anything.
He was young for a grandfather and was always working full time when I visited as a child. He rose at 5 am and ate two eggs, bacon, and toast prepared by my grandmother almost every single morning. I know that he went to a warehouse and seemed tired when he returned. He sometimes brought home free boxes and boxes of full sized candy bars that we got to take home and eat.
For hobby and pleasure, he was an AKC dog trainer. Some of my very best remembrances of him are when I could tag along and watch him work his canine magic. His home always housed pets of some sort, and that made it a fun place for me, the animal lover, to visit. He patiently drove a boat while I learned to slalom ski.
Reflections on Papa lead me to thoughts and memories of my other grandfather, Grandaddy. A retired railroad man, he always had time and energy and fun to offer his grandkids. He too was a man of few words, but he spoke his love in tangible ways. Every day spent with him involved a trip to his garden, a walk to feed the ducks, riding the small attractions at the park down the road, or buying treats of the Icee or Dairy Queen variety.
We did not have many conversations, but he always had time to read out loud to me. That is the way that I experienced his voice. Goldilocks and the Three Bears was a treat and I can still hear Papa bear and the baby bear voices in my mind’s ear. He had a special nickname for me. To this day, “Patrish” echoes through my heart and mind.
As I mull over my grandfathers and my experience of them, it leads to thoughts of their very own childhoods. The photo of Papa above certainly sparks my imagination. Why were they both so quiet? What did their childhood days contain? Whisperings of an alcoholic father on one side. How did their experiences form them and then affect my parents and then touch me? Each and every family unit offers up both functional and dysfunctional ways of living. What did each of them take and leave behind from their family of origin?
If I could sit down with them today, I might attempt to understand them more fully. But chances are, I wouldn’t get satisfactory answers. They weren’t chatty or self-revealing kinds of men. But I am grateful to have known them. This week, my curiosity has been peaked around when grandfather was a kid. There is much to consider.
What is your experience? How much or little do you know of your grandparents and the intimacies of their lives? I’d love to hear from you.
*Charles Sherwood Stratton was a dwarf who attained fame as General Tom Thumb in the circus. In the 1920"s, P.T. Barnum promoted GeneralTom Thumb and his recent bride. It seems that one thing people did for entertainment during this time was to recreate the wedding by using children as participants. As to my Papa's experience, I agree with my Aunt Barbara who says, "It appears they went all out with the clothes and pictures. Somehow the boys don't seem all that pleased!" Actually, no one but the bride looks happy. Maybe there was discord around who would get that role.
Thank you to my Aunt Barbara for days of dreaming and wondering.