Thursday, 10 September 2015

Grandpa's Birthday

Grandpa was born on this date in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1894, during what came to be called the Gilded Age.  The name came from a book by Mark Twain, published in 1873, calling attention to the major social problems of the day which had been, rather than 'whitewashed', 'gilded' over. It was a period of great wealth for a few, mostly related to development of the railways, but also of great poverty for many. I do worry some times that we are heading back in that direction; I hope I'm wrong.

The year before Grandpa came along, there was the Panic of 1893. I read an excellent book by John Kenneth Galbraith when we were in Budapest, in July this year. I realise The World Economy Since the Wars sounds terribly dry, but I actually found myself reading out bits to Bill and we had loads to talk about and even laughed. I can't recommend it highly enough. It explains - in very readable terms - so much that we all ought to understand. For example, the terms 'panic' (which sounds very tabloid-extreme), 'depression' and 'recession' are all exactly the same thing. The names change as the politicians try to make it sound less serious than it is.

Grandpa was the youngest of nine children. His father was a blacksmith who made ploughs. Grandpa's mother died when he was 10, his father when he was 17. 

Grandpa in 1960-something.

The 1890s were also referred to as the Gay Nineties (in Britain they called it the Naughty Nineties) though things don't sound like they were all that wonderful. The 'hilarity' - because that's what gay meant back then - seems to relate to the writing of Oscar Wilde, the art of Aubrey Beardsley (art nouveau!) and the beginnings of the suffragette movement. 

Of course, a person doesn't really register much until they are much older. I think I may only have started paying attention to the world more when I was about 16. Grandpa would have been 16 in 1910. The census shows that his father, John (aged 69), was a still a blacksmith. His brother, Peter (21), worked as a butcher in a shop. His 28 year old sister, Clara and her 7 year old son, Johnny, lived with them. She had been widowed after only a couple of years of marriage; her son was only one at the time. My dad used to talk about his cousin, Johnny. 

I found some images for 'life in Minnesota in 1910' that are rather evocative and make me better appreciate the broad life experience Grandpa had during his 78 years (1894-1973); the world changed a great deal during his lifetime. 

On a slightly different tangent, Norma (my 2nd cousin) just lost her husband, Art. He passed away at the end of August at the age of 86. They were married for 62 years. I've written about our visits with them. I only spent perhaps a dozen days with Art, if that, but he was lovely. I really enjoyed his company not just because he was kind and interesting but also because his mannerisms and his speech reminded me so much of my Grandpa. 

That little boy, Johnny, who lost his father when he was only 1? He was Norma's father. She was the one who told me the whole family called my Grandpa 'Jake' (short for Jacob), not just my Grandma. Everyone else called him Jack. He and Grandma were married for 60 years. 

I was thinking the other day about 'family traditions' - about traditions of any kind. After listing the obvious holidays, birthdays and anniversaries I was noticing there weren't many we tend to observe in late summer/early autumn. Then I realised that three birthdays fall in September, Grandpa's, Grandma's and Rita's. I was thinking about them and trying to encapsulate what sorts of things each of them loved to do, things they appreciated, things that reminded me of them. My remembrance posts have become a tradition for me for all sorts of reasons, mostly because I'm really grateful I had such loving family members. Not everyone does.

So, sometime in September, I plan to do these things in remembrance of Grandpa:

- Read Mark Twain's The Gilded Age:  A Tale of Today

- Learn more about Aubrey Beardsley and his art

- Make a meatloaf (one of his favourite meals) from one of Grandma's cookbooks, using Grandma & Grandpa's meat grinder

- Play more cards! Grandpa and I spent hours playing spades and hearts, also checkers. He was always very proud when I was able to beat him. I made Bill play gin rummy with me when we were on one of our motor home trips earlier this year (can't remember if it was Budapest or Barcelona). I beat him fairly regularly, which is no way to get him to play more is it? I have a book of card games and we'll have to find one that we can learn together. I love playing cards; Bill only seems to love Spider on his computer...

- Look for some flannel shirts, wool trousers and/or black brogue shoes.

Do you have any traditions to do with your departed family members?

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