Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

43 Things about Grandpa

1. He was born 10 September 1894, probably in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

2. He was named Jacob, but generally went by Jack. Grandma's pet name for him was Jake. When I found a distant cousin on the Internet recently, she said she remembered her Dad talking about his Uncle Jake. I gather Jake was the family's pet name for Grandpa as well.

3. Grandpa's family was Catholic, though I never knew him to attend that or any other church. He was the youngest son in a family of 9 children. His parents were 53 and 40 when he was born.

Grandpa is in the middle)

4. Grandpa's father (John/Johannes) was a blacksmith/ploughsmith. He was from Wierweiler, near Weiskirchen in Saarland Germany. In looking at a German genealogical website, I found Grandpa's surname was only listed in this area, so I'm likely related to most of all of them, but I've not yet figured out how. Grandpa's mother, Kate, was also of German descent. She was born in Chicago, Illinois, but I've not found anything else about her or her family. I remember Grandpa saying the Lord's Prayer to me in German when he tucked me in, but he only ever taught me to say 'Schlafen sie goot' (sleep well).

5. Being the youngest of a large family, his mother died when he was only 11 and his father when he was 17. He was largely raised by his older brother, John Matthias, who was 17 years older. As a child I remember Grandpa being upset when he heard of his brother John's death in 1963.

6. Grandpa was also very fond of his closest sister Anna (Ann) -- 2nd from the left in the group picture above, who was about 9 years older. I have a still life oil painting by Ann that hung on the dining room wall at Grandpa's house.

7. He always said he only got through the 4th grade. He was very proud when I went to university at 16. For most of their married life, Grandma handled the family correspondence, but Grandpa eventually had to take this over. After he died I found in his desk a stenographer's pad, the ones that used to have the 100 most misspelled words on the covers. Inside, he had practiced writing those words correctly. That was just like Grandpa, always trying to learn and improve throughout his whole life.

8. Grandpa was maybe about 5'11" and maybe about 180-190 pounds. I remember him as sort of squishy and huggable but not fat. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table and eating his 3 meals, slowly. The only time I saw him have seconds was at our house at the weekend. He had brown hair at one time, which was grey and receded by the time I knew him. For all the 17 years that I knew him, he had a moustache. Grandpa had the kindest brown eyes I have ever seen.

9. Grandpa's sister Ann married one of Grandma's older brothers, Henry. Perhaps this is how they met, I don't know. This meant that my Dad had a 'double cousin', Evelyn.

10. Several of Grandpa & Grandma's brothers were photographers. They are listed in the photographers' directory of the Minnesota Historical society. I don't know who started first, but over the years Grandpa was in business with a number of his brothers and brothers-in-law. I think photography was sort of like computers now, the new technology where the jobs were. Dressing up in costumes and having one's picture taken was apparently a form of entertainment as well.

11. Grandpa told me he had a sister who worked in a candy factory. The 1900 Census verifies that his 18 year old sister Clara did just that. As I child I thought it was funny that his sister made candy, having grown up thinking it was very naughty stuff. Both my parents had terrible teeth and threatened my grandparents on both sides with not seeing me if they gave me any hard candy. I was 27 before I ever had a cavity.

12. Grandpa married Grandma on the 20th of February, 1913. He will have been only 19 years old. I have her engagement ring which has a respectable sized rock and little hearts on the sides of the mounting. They were married in St Paul, MN. I have the original marriage certificate and the cards they received on their 50th wedding anniversary.

13. I have the papers which said Grandpa was deferred from military service in WWI because he had a dependent wife to support. Things were obviously different in those days to later.

14. Grandpa was 23 years old when my Dad, his only child, was born. Grandpa's brothers either had daughters or never married, so he was very pleased to have a son to carry on the family name. They obviously doted on their son; there are many photos of my Dad growing up. I have the impression that Grandma spoiled her son shamelessly and that Grandpa tried to impose a little more discipline, but I don't think he was very hard about it at all.

15. Grandpa was a Mason and he got my Dad involved in that organisation as well. When my Dad went into the Army Air Force, he told me Grandpa made him remove his Mason ring in case he disgraced it. Grandpa gave Daddy a black onyx ring which he always wore after that. I think perhaps my Dad's drinking had got him into a few scrapes by then.

16. By the time of WWII, Grandpa and Grandma were living in Madison, Wisconsin. Their address is on my Dad's military dog tags, which I have.

17. The photography business was booming during the war, as one might imagine. In Mom's letters to Daddy during their first year of married, when he was in Italy, she mentions that Grandpa and Grandma were working very hard to keep up with all their orders. A girl named Jane was working for them and apparently Jane had hopes of catching my Dad. One of the reasons Mom and Daddy didn't tell about their marriage at first was that Grandpa might be in a fix if Jane got mad and quit. I think my Dad may have got around a bit in his youth.

18. Grandpa liked to fish, I think, or perhaps he just liked to get away from the city. Grandpa and Grandma spoke often of the cottage they had on a lake. Pictures in their photo album reveal this was at Idlewild WI on Lake Michigan. I think they must have spent a lot of weekends there.

19. I can't tell if Grandpa had his own business during the war, but that's my impression. However, after the war, I gather he was connect to the photography department at Baron's Department Store in Madison. It is possible he had two jobs, one at Baron's and his own on the side. I never heard that Daddy worked at Baron's, so it may be that he helped with the other work while Mom went to work at Baron's with Grandpa.

20. Mom didn't care for the cold weather in Wisconsin. She said she had fur-lined stadium boots and a seal-skin coat, but she was still cold. She told me she could walk on top of the crusted snow, and though she was snuggled down in her fur coat the air was so cold it hurt to breathe. Grandpa would crunch along beside her inhaling deeply and exclaiming "Smell how fresh it is, Kay! Isn't it wonderful?" She laughed about it, but I know she was glad not to live up North any more.

21. By about 1950, Mom and Daddy moved back down to Oklahoma City and Grandpa and Grandma soon followed, buying the first house they ever owned on Pennsylvania Avenue, near what would become Penn Square shopping mall.

22. Grandpa established his photography business there in Oklahoma City, using one of the two bedrooms as a darkroom. I can remember that he had the occasional sitting, but he was mostly retired by that time.

23. Grandpa was 62 when I was born. As I've said earlier, I should have been a boy but having waited so long for a grandchild I guess they figured they had to take what they were given. Had Mom not mentioned to me the issue of the family name, I would never have known Grandpa had longed for a grandson.

24. I have the desk that sat against the dining room wall at Grandpa's house. It has a fold down lid for the writing surface with drawers on either side, cubby holes at the back and elegant turned legs. It was where Grandma wrote letters and Grandpa paid bills; it seemed like the centre of the house in some way. The drawers held wonderful things like Grandpa's clove chewing gum, the key to the floor furnace (which I still have), rubber bands twisted around a dead D battery for storage and a double ended 'rubber' (a name that made me laugh). It had a pink end to erase pencil and the other white end to scrape a hole in the paper, called 'erasing ink'.

25. Grandpa and Grandma's house was simple and orderly, the garage was clean and tidy, Grandpa's car was clean and vacuumed, the grass cut, the house painted. Their days had a routine and Grandpa always had things to do. They had every bit of discipline one could want, the very thing my Dad always lacked. Consequently, I've not inherited it either; does that sound a plausible excuse?

26. Grandpa wore pleated wool trousers with cuffs, plaid wool or flannel shirts and big black shoes that laced with only one or two grommets and with stitching around the outside top of the toes. This provided a nice platform on the top of his big feet for my smaller ones. He would walk me around the house backwards, me standing on the tops of his feet.

27. Grandpa often smelled of camphor. A product called Campho-Phenique was popular at their house, almost as much as Vick's Vaporub.

28. Mom always said Grandpa had a 'Barrymore profile', something to do with that family of actors, but I've not been able to find a comparison. I think photographers of the day were interested in that sort of thing as the fashionable way to be photographed.

29. When I went to their house we often got out the folding card table (which I still have) and played cards: spades, mostly, occasionally hearts which I think I taught them later. We played checkers a lot too, and Grandpa was always pleased when I beat him. They talked about playing canasta with their friends up in Wisconsin, but they never taught that to me.

30. In the years before I went to school and during summer holidays until I was 11 or 12, I spent several days each week at home, a few days with my Mom's mother (Grand
mother), and a few days with Grandpa and Grandma. At the time, I understood this was because having waited so long for a grandchild, they all wanted to spend time with me. Looking back, it may have been to give Mom some relief from entertaining an only child and a chance to get caught up on her painting.

31. I liked vanilla ice cream the best, but sometimes liked strawberry, so they kept a carton of Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer for an occasional dessert. A special treat was to get in the car and go for a 'nickel cone' (nickel = 5 cents), soft ice cream, from the Dairy Queen near by. I remember going to McDonald's when it only served the little flat hamburgers. They had a number on their sign telling how many hamburgers they had sold; Grandpa and I were very impressed that they'd sold just over a million. I can't imagine what that number would be now.

32. Grandpa didn't carry a wallet, he had a coin purse. The main one I remember was a brown leather pouch with the metal knobs that crossed each other and closed with a snapping sound. Later I think he had a green rubbery plastic oval with a slit down the middle that you squeezed lengthwise to open. He always counted out exact change whenever possible for his purchases. I grew up thinking this was the sign of someone who was careful with their money. Grandpa was always very careful with his money. Unlike Daddy, Grandpa had a savings account, even though he helped Daddy out on several occasions.

33. Grandpa worked around the house for most of the day, stopping only for lunch. After dinner he would sit in his chair, which was low slung, green floral upholstered and had very wide arms which were perfect for me to sit on beside him. We would watch the news and various family oriented TV programs. He didn't sit much otherwise, but when he did, he had a fidgeting mannerism of rubbing his fingers against his thumb, as though snapping each of the fingers on his left hand. He generally did this when he was staring into space, thinking.

34. He always drank his coffee from the same blue cup with the letter "B" on it. This contrasts with the 'Coffee Hound' cup my Dad always favoured. The cups are perhaps a useful analogy. Would it surprise you to know I have both Grandpa's and Daddy's coffee cups?

35. Grandpa and Grandma saved all their dimes for my college education. It was a ritual we shared, looking through Grandpa's coins for dimes to put in the paper tubes that stood in the phone cubby in the hall (the phone lived on the desk around the corner). When the tubes were full they went to the Penn Square bank. It was a strong message I received, that my family felt it was important for me to go to university. I never questioned that I would.

36. As Mom didn't drive and Daddy was working in an office when I was older, it was Grandpa who drove across town to pick me up at school and take me to dentist and doctor appointments. I had braces on my teeth when I was 12-13, so there were a lot of dentist appointments.

37. At one time Grandpa drove an ugly mustard yellow car but his last car was a huge rounded 1957 Chrysler, in a very odd
pinky-purple colour, which I liked. The upholstery was pink, brown and silvery tuck roll that left your bare legs sweaty and imprinted. After Grandpa's death I drove his Chrysler a few times up the 39th Expressway to a boyfriend's house. That was a drag strip for the teens on the North side of OKC around that time and I got a lot of attention, looking like I'd just driven out of American Graffiti.

38. When I was 11 or 12, my best friend had a German Shepard named Misty and I had a sheepdog looking mutt named Duchess. We walked those dogs for hours. Norma's mother was single when she got Misty but when the new step-dad came along, Misty wasn't wanted any more. We kept her for a few weeks and then she became Grandpa's dog. Misty shook all over around most men, but not around Grandpa. Even she could tell how innately gentle he was. She was the first dog Grandpa had since I was very small and they had a crotchety old black Cocker Spaniel named Pudgy, whose death is written in the family Bible. Grandpa walked Misty every day around 7:30 and for whatever reason, the rush hour commuters waiting at the traffic light began to wave to him each morning.

39. Grandpa like to drink a beer or two at our house on the weekends, but I never knew him to have any at home. When cleaning out his garage I found the makings for homemade beer so perhaps he had done at some point. He was a former smoker -- liked cigars apparently -- but had quit before I came along. The closest I ever heard him come to swearing was to say 'Cheesus'.

40. I never remember Grandpa ever being angry or even impatient with me, but he did sometimes get annoyed with Grandma, at which times his pet name for her ('Cottie') didn't sound quite as affectionate as usual. I know Grandpa was often frustrated with my Dad and my Dad felt he had been a disappointment to his father. This seemed to create a barrier between them that Mom and I tried to bridge. Grandpa used to clip newspaper articles to bring over to provide topics he might discuss with my Dad, but my Dad didn't always want to cooperate.

41. I don't recall seeing Grandpa read much other than the newspaper and Readers Digest, though he sometimes looked things up in the Bible.

42. As Grandma became more senile, Grandpa shouldered more of the housework. I went over one day and found him ironing towels he'd brought in from the clothesline in the back yard. I explained that people didn't normally iron towels. He then handed me some pajamas with an L-shaped tear, asking if I could improve on his attempts to mend them with huge criss-cross stitches.

43. Grandpa had a heart attack one day and was hospitalised at Deaconess. A couple of days later the hospital called Daddy to say Grandpa had had another heart attack and could Daddy come right now. Daddy drove a green Rambler station wagon that was on its last legs. I remember hearing the starter whine over and over, failing to catch, as the minutes ticked by and I was frantic for Daddy to get to the hospital. That taught me as nothing else could about the value of reliable transport. Grandpa died that day, the 13th of August, 1973.


Rick Stone said...

You have such great memories and it is great that your family, and you, kept all those great items. My mother was never one to hang on to things. They have had three major auctions over the years, selling off all the good stuff. I am helping my dad, who is 89, while he is writing a book of his life. Actually it will be more of a story and will be self published. I can't believe the stuff I've learned about his early life, and my Grandparents, by doing the typing and editing of this endeavor.

Shelley said...

Well, I'm pleased someone thinks my pack-rat habits are a good thing! I envy you having the opportunity to do the life story project with your Dad. I think both my parents would have been a bit reticent to discuss their whole life story. I think they were a bit self-conscious about not being as traditional as the rest of their families, which is a shame since in some ways I think that's what made them more interesting!

Your Photobucket suggestion seems to be working very well. I'll blog about it soon. Thanks again!

Sharon said...

Hi Shelley,
Had to finally get around to signing in so I could send this message about your post. Really loved reading about your grandpa as I have reading about all the family. He sounds so lovely, wish I could have met him. Had a laugh about the coffee cups. Tom has used the same mug for the past 20 years. Nothing special about it, just plain white with the slogan "Because I'm the boss, that's why" written on it. A few weeks ago he left it on a low table & ours son's dog knocked it off with it's wagging tale. This cup even travels with us as he doesn't like his coffee in anything else. So far I am $40 down & no replacement is quite right. He cant even part with the broken mug which has taken up residence on his office desk. At this rate it might be cheaper to take a course in pottery. Keep up the great posts, love reading them. Sharon

James said...

How wonderful, thank you so much for sharing his story.