Happy Birthday, Grandpa
I remember December 23 as my grandfather’s birthday. We celebrated it when he was alive, and after he died I watched my grandmother get sad on that date every year for almost twenty years.
My grandpa was different. I know that he grew up without much of anything and that it was a hard life. He felt that love was best expressed materially. He felt that way because his father was an alcoholic gravedigger who died an early death. His mother was a drug addict and a prostitute. She also went toes up after having many children with multiple men. My grandpa and his sister were then passed among their parents’ siblings. Not one of those aunts and uncles wanted him. His fondest Christmas memory was of an uncle by marriage who gave him a used pocketknife as a present.
So, my brother and I got the best of everything in terms of toys. And every Christmas the house was filled with not only my grandmother’s homemade cakes and cookies and candy but also the nuts and oranges and tangerines that my grandfather insisted we have.
Grandpa was a funny man. He had no sense of smell, which helped with his job in the packing plant. He wore flannel shirts and overalls and chewed Skoal and sometimes smoked a pipe. He often smelled a lot like pipe tobacco. For as long as I can remember he was retired.
Given his precarious background there was some question as to the year when he was born. He always claimed the younger of the two dates. When the bastards at the packing plant tried to fire him after a lifetime of service one year before he would have qualified for his old school defined benefit pension plan, he got some paperwork together to prove that he was a year older. Then he retired with the pension that he had earned.
My grandpa used to delight in teasing us, especially if he got the name of a kid of the opposite sex that he thought we might have a crush on. My brother got an earful about a little girl named Candy that, as far as I know, didn’t mean that much to him. We used to slap him on the thighs until it had to have stung, and he would just laugh and laugh until tears would come to his eyes.
He also used to recite these improvised limericks. They were really very funny nonsense rhymes that just went on and on for what could have been hours. We found them very entertaining as children, and I think this was a special talent. I would love to have a recording of one of those sessions now.
He loved country music, and his favorites were George Jones and Marty Robbins. He loved to watch the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw and professional wrestling. What I know about Hee Haw and professional wrestling comes entirely from my grandfather. We didn’t watch that shit at our house, but when we went to my grandparents’ it was all we watched except for college basketball.
I remember once as a young woman telling my grandmother that I had decided that I would never marry someone who had been divorced. I was always opinionated like that. Most of these opinions were actually my father’s and not my own. Well, you would have thought I’d told her that the earth was flat.
It turned out that my grandfather had been married once before. That was all she said on the subject. My mother knew more about it but declined to go into detail. When I was a young adult my mom did eventually give us more details. When she grew up she heard that my grandfather had been duped into marriage by a woman who told him she was carrying his child. Later the baby, a girl, was proven not to be his, and the woman had been cheating on my grandfather. He got a divorce.
When my grandpa died, and my grandma had to go to the Social Security Office to file her claim my parents went with her. Turns out the baby was actually a boy, and even though the man never made any claim and he supposedly wasn’t my grandfather’s child, he had to be listed with the Social Security Administration. I find this dubious at best.
My mom tracked down the court records for her father’s divorce and eventually she tracked down her possible half brother. His mother remarried, and he took on his stepfather’s last name. He lives in California, and he’s a plumber. But my mom chickened out over contacting him.
The court records say that my grandfather was a wife beater, and his first wife left him because she feared for her life. I never saw my grandpa lift a hand to my grandmother…because it never happened. The house where they raised their family was a tiny one. Trust me when I say that if my grandfather had so much as sneezed at my grandma my mom would have known about it.
After the divorce Grandpa became a hobo. It was during the Depression. Grandpa hopped trains with a knapsack and everything. He ate out of tin cans heated with bonfires at railway stations. In short, he was no different from the homeless panhandlers that I pass by everyday on my way to work while they hold signs, begging for money. He bummed around like that for several years before he eventually got the job at the packing plant and married my grandma.
She was sixteen, and she was itching to get out of her mother’s house and have a home of her own. She was a very large woman, and in spite of the fact that she was pretty I don’t think the men were beating down her door. When my grandfather proposed her parents disapproved of the match, but they didn’t try to stop her. I think they were aware of the divorce and maybe the rumors of domestic violence and no doubt the years of bumming around and found him an unsuitable candidate for marriage. But they were successfully married for over forty years.
Life is a curious thing.
Entry filed under: Alcoholism/Substance Abuse, Child Abuse, Childhood, Love, Marriage, Relationships. Tags: Divorce, George Jones, Grand Ole Opry, Grandparent, Great Depression, Hee Haw, Marty Robbins, Social Security Administration.