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Grandfather

August 3, 2012

 

My 2 1/2 year old grandaughter called this afternoon via skype. Always such fun to see her on the monitor in front of me and see what she has to say and show me, etc. Today she was all decked out in panties and frog wellies (English rain boots!). Quite an outfit for sure, but she loves those boots. Her mom tells me that it sprinkled a few drops yesterday and she ran for her boots and was sure it warranted a big outdoor adventure. But after a few minutes of modeling those snazzy boots, showing me her new treasure box that her mommy made for her, and dumping the entire contents of her pink piggy bank on the floor, she asked me….  “Can you get me your Grandfather”? I laughed and asked if she meant “Grandpa Frank”….my hubby, her Grandpa! Well of course, she did! I have never heard her use the word “grandfather” before and wished that Grandpa Frank had indeed been here to chat with her, but he was out and about doing errands. They have been bonded since she was born. He is her hero and she is his princess!

After we hung up… which is no small feat, since one first must exchange skype hugs by hugging one’s own self tightly, then throw kisses to each other, and finally rub noseys as in an “Eskimo kiss”….I thought about my own grandfather. Of course I did have two grandfathers, both of whom I called “Grandpa”, but I only knew my paternal grandpa well. He immigrated to Chicago from a small village just outside of Budapest, Hungary around the turn of the 20th century, coming by boat and then through Ellis Island just as so many hundreds of thousands of Europeans did during that era.

He was a teen ager when he arrived in the windy city but ambitious and determined to make a good life in America. It was soon after that he found a job as a brake inspector with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad where he worked for fifty years before retiring.

When he was twenty years old he married my grandmother, who was sixteen at the time, and also an immigrant from Hungary….in fact from the same village as my grandpa, although they did not meet until they both settled in Chicago. Over a span of thirty three years my grandparents had six children, with my father being fourth in the line up after the oldest son and two daughters. Two other boys would be born much later.

By the time I came along my Grandpa still worked for the railroad but had also purchased a small dairy farm in central Wisconsin and it is in that setting that I remember him best. I don’t know all the details of how he managed both a farm in Wisconsin and a full time job in Chicago, but with the help of my grandma and my dad, and him visiting on the week ends and vacations, the farm work was carried on and is the place that I remember as my grandparent’s home.

My Grandpa was a typical old style European who had come to the new country with a purpose and as a small child I was intimidated by him. He was a yeller and yelled at my grandma on a regular basis, although she just brushed it off and paid little attention to him most of the time….or so it seemed to me. It was not what we would call a match made in heaven, nor was he a sweet and gentle soul in today’s vernacular. He worked far more than 40 hours every week, was an astute businessman, and demanded that same sort of work ethic and frugality from his wife and children…..and grandchildren! My grandfather was a short, wiry man but somehow his personality filled up a room and I always thought of him as much larger than he actually was. He dressed shabbily around the farm with torn shirts under suspenders that held up his ragged jeans that were much too short and barely reached the tops of his boots. He often wore no socks and didn’t bother to tie his boots so that the tongues flapped over the toes. In the summer he wore a white tank top undershirt with a bandana tied around his head and became as dark as the proverbial brown berry. He was fairly bald the entire time that I knew him with bushy salt and pepper eyebrows and piercing brown eyes that met your gaze and held during any conversation with him.

Education was paramount to my Grandpa and he managed to put 5 of his 6 children through college….two nurses, a chemist, an MD, a psychologist. There were no excuses in my grandfather’s book for slacking off and he expected straight A’s, high achievement at all levels, and completed course work. Of course he was terribly proud of those kids….my aunts and uncles and would stand up straight like a soldier with his chest puffed out when he talked about them and their careers.

I was not immune to his expectations. From the time I was in early grade school right until I finished nursing school my Grandpa was interested in my grades, what I was studying, and how I was doing overall at school. He would take my shoulders in his hands and look straight in my face and ask what I had learned that week in school. He demanded to see my report cards and I don’t think my mother dared to turn him down. He was just such a force in the family.

When I was away at school in high school and college he would write me letters. He had learned English soon after coming to America, but spoke with a very heavy accent his whole life and would often lapse from English into Hungarian in the same sentence, so his English writing skills were marginal, at best. A letter from him meant time out from whatever you were doing, because it was going to take you a long time to dicipher his messages. Not only did he write in broken English but he never used just one regular sheet of paper. He would write on the back of a church bulletin, on a napkin, on scraps of torn paper, and on one memorable occasion he wrote over the article in a newspaper! The pages were never numbered so it was truly a puzzle and linguistic challenge reading his letters. He wrote to me quite often when I was in high school always exhorting me to do my very best. He would tell me that I needed to make the family proud and respect my teachers and remember my goals, etc etc. As a teen ager I suppose I thought of him fondly enough, but certainly didn’t take the time to sit and converse with him in the way that I wish I had.

In college he knew I was engaged and about to be married as well as finish my nursing degree and his letters took on a more adult tone telling me to make sure my husband had a good job, that we had a savings account and that we should buy stocks! Oh those stocks! My grandpa bought and sold stocks his whole life and when I was in middle school he bought both my sister and I a couple stocks in Greyhound. We thought we had hit pay dirt when the dividend checks arrived a couple times a year…..for a quarter, fifty cents, a dollar! I think the most I ever got was around two dollars and then I sold my stock for twenty five dollars! I really didn’t appreciate much about all that high finance back then!

My Grandpa was a wheeler dealer too and when we visited him in Chicago he would take us down to Maxwell Street on Sunday morning. I think that must  have been the beginning of the yard sale in America. A more colorful place would be hard to have found back then. Vendors up and down the street for several blocks, food carts, street people, and less savory characters wandered around as well. My sister and I loved the place. Somebody would give us fifty cents and we would check out every table for treasure. I don’t remember a thing that I bought, but I do remember my Grandpa toting home old pots and pans…..banged up and battered, and my grandma having a fit over his junk! He bought a suit there one time too….a shiny brown number…..shiny due to it being so threadbare and worn, but he wore that suit proudly to church for many years!

Such an eccentric character he was. The last time I saw my grandpa was when I was in my mid twenties. I had been married for a few years and had a four year old son. We lived in Ohio where my then husband was going through Physician Assistant’s training. We lived in a condo complex and on the particular fall week end that my grandpa visited, we and some friends of ours decided to take a walk in the afternoon. Grandpa wanted to stay behind and rest, so we left him there, although I had my reservations. Sure enough, when we returned an hour or so later, smoke was pouring up out the back of our condo. My husband and the other guys took off running. Grandpa had decided he was hungry and not knowing how to use the electric stove or microwave to heat a potato, had started a fire in the fireplace. It had gotten out of hand and he had thrown the burning logs into a garbage pail and brought it outside…..thus the smoke!

Yes, that was my Grandpa. I wish I had known him better. I don’t remember him ever hugging me, but I do remember him standing proud for a picture with me at my high school graduation and again at my first wedding. I may not have understood or even liked his old world ways as a young person, but I know that his DNA is strong inside of me and has made me, in part, who I am today.

Here’s wishing you all good Grandpa memories…..and a great week end.

Chatty Grandma

 

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4 Comments
  1. jeannie lindberg permalink

    Thanks for giving me a broader and fuller picture of your Grandfather. I remember him well.

    • He was a unique individual. One of those old world die hards.

  2. Elfling permalink

    Loved your article. My Grandpa Linck I thought looked like Abraham Lincoln. His pipe tobacco, hair in his ears and nose; and opinions of Jackie Kennedy fascinated me. I’m glad my husband has the experience of being a grandfather.

    • Grandfathers are very special and leave indelible marks on our hearts.

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