Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Grandfather

From time to time, a memory comes to the surface. Recently I thought of my Grandfather and one memory led to another. My mother's father passed away when I was just a  toddler, so I don't remember him at all.  My father's parents, on the other hand, lived close by while I was growing up, and I saw a good deal of them. 

Thoughts tumble as I remember Grampa. He was always dressed nicely, even at home, but especially when he was out in public. Even when he was retired, most always he wore a shirt and tie, and if he needed a light jacket, he'd put wear a wool flannel shirt over top, buttoned all the way, including the top button.

 He had a vegetable garden between his front house and the little cottage in the rear of the property.  There were also grape vines out there. He would work the garden with his hoe, dressed in clothing that I was unused to seeing him wear.  His gardening outfit was a pair of cut off  dark green work trousers, and a high-topped pair of heavy shoes. He was a firm believer in wearing 'proper shoes'.  In fact, one time while I was visiting at Grandma and Grampa's house, he was not happy to see the shoes I was wearing, and that very afternoon we cleaned up after gardening, and drove to the shoe store. There he purchased a pair of  ankle-high, brown Buster Brown, lace-up shoes.  I don't remember  being very fashion-conscious at the age of five years, but my mother wasn't pleased to have me wearing those shoes!  However, wear them I did, because Grandpa bought them and she'd never have hurt his feelings. Aside from that, my Mom was never one to waste something that was useable.

My Grandmother was the cook of her home, but Grandpa sometimes cooked breakfasts. He'd fry ham or bacon, and then stir up some 'griddle cakes.'  He'd pour the batter into the hot, cast iron, black frying pan, and it would cover the entire bottom of the pan.  He told me that you have to watch and wait for all the bubbles to stop on the top before the pancake could be flipped.  Somehow, those breakfasts are remembered as the tastiest of all I've ever eaten.

When Grandma died, I was a few months past my eleventh birthday. I missed her terribly. I can only imagine how it felt for Grandpa. He stayed alone in his house for a few years. During that time,  he took a few short-term trips.  Frequently he went off for the day, and on occasion, Grampa would invite me to go along with him.  One time, he took me on a trip to New London, Ct.  In order to get there, we had to take two small car ferries, and a larger one for the trip from Orient, NY to Connecticut.  I remember holding Grampa's soft-skinned hand with the large,raised veins as we walked up the hill from the ferry pier to the city street.  As we stood in front of the restaurant where we would have our lunch, we looked down toward the water, and he said, "This is where we began."  I'm sure the comment was lost on me then, but all these years later, after doing some ancestral research,  I know that he meant that our earliest Beebe family arrived in New London from Great Britain.  How I wish I'd been interested sooner!  I'd ask so many questions!  

Our lunch at the restaurant was fun for me, as our family rarely ate anywhere but at home or in a family home.  It was sharing the time with my only Grandpa.  I didn't know what to choose from the menu, and he invited me to have a 'hot turkey sandwich.'  I agreed, and when the meal  was delivered to the table, Grampa chuckled at my reaction.  I was expecting hot turkey meat between two slices of bread....not a plate full of mashed potatoes,vegetables, and hot turkey on a slice of bread, all covered with gravy!  But, I wasn't disappointed when I took my first bite! To this day, I cannot see the hot turkey sandwich on a menu without recalling that date with Grampa.

When I was a teenager, there came a day that Grampa decided he didn't want to live alone anymore.  My parents and he had worked something out so that he could come and live with us. Construction began on our house, so that Grampa would have his own room and bath.  He had use of the entire house, but other than to make his own breakfast and lunches, and to share our evening dinner with the family, he stayed mainly in his room. He rocked in  his chair and he read voraciously.  Every two or three days, he' put on his necktie and off he'd go, on foot, with the library as his goal.  He'd walked and he whistled as he walked. I perceived that he was as content as he could be as a widower who chose not to drive any longer.

My Mom tells me that he was uncomplaining. No matter what she cooked for a meal, he ate it without complaint. He complemented her, especially when she'd gifted him with a flannel shirt that she'd made him. He wore it often, and it fit so well, I'm sure that he really liked it.

Grandpa passed away at the age of 84 years.  When he did, he left a legacy of kindness and love of children. He'd been the father of three, but raised only two, as his first born was stolen from him by Scarlet Fever at the age of six.  He had seven grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.  His love for all of us was evident throughout his life, and not only for us, but for the many, many neighborhood children who went to visit him over the years. What a joy it has been for me to hear from a large number of them in the last few years as to the way he remains one of their favorite childhood memories.  I'm honored that Grampa was mine to share with all of them.