My Grandpa made everything better. He was my favorite person in the whole world. Somehow, he merged a stern German demeanor with a tender, yet manly love. As I look back, I think I was special to him, like he was to me.
Six-foot-tall. Back straight as a broomstick. Hair combed straight back. Striped, bib overalls. Bandana in his one pocket. Redman chewing tobacco in the other. Big hands, gnarly with arthritis. A true handyman, who loved gardening and fishing.
Grandpa began everyday in exactly the same manner. Up at six, even when he was totally retired. Two fried eggs, three pieces of bacon, wheat toast, and Folgers coffee. I know this to be true, not because I was usually conscious at that hour of the morning, but because the aroma would literally wake me up, for a moment. Of course, I would go back to sleep. I was a kid. No way I am getting up at that hour, unless Grandpa and I are going fishing. That’s an entirely different situation.
Incidentally, my perfect meal is still eggs, bacon, wheat toast, and coffee. I have added juice and hash browns just to round out the morning feast of protein, cholesterol, carbs, and sugar.
Grandpa shaved every morning with a pan of boiling hot water setting on the kitchen table along with a little swivel mirror, shaving cream, and a straight razor. I loved watching him shave, and couldn’t get over how fast his whiskers grew. There was that awesome sound as he mowed through the bristly stumble on his face and it seemed like some sort of death-defying trick to shave with that straight razor.
He was a man of his word. Well respected. There was not even a tiny bit of pretension about him.
Grandpa was a common man with a seventh-grade education, who worked as a mechanic and handyman all of his life. There was absolutely nothing sophisticated about him. Yet, he taught me more than all of my teachers combined!
Most evenings would find Grandpa and me sitting on old metal lawn chairs that were once painted green, then red, then gray, in shade of the old two-story house. It was the perfect end to an active, hot summer day. The cicadas provided the soundtrack for our conversations.
What did we talk about? Anything we wanted to, sometimes, something in the news, and how the world is changing. Sometimes we would talk about World War I, since Grandpa was in it, serving as an interpreter for the American forces. He never said much about the war, except that he met General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing, Commander of the American forces in the war.
We certainly never had an agenda. Grandpa went about his normal life, involving me in it, wrapping those spontaneous experiences in a lot of patience, kindness, and love.
There we were, two men, one young, and one old, who loved each other in a way that was seldom expressed, but was always deeply felt. We just liked each other, and liked fishing together and gardening together.
This simple, non-assuming, honorable man was my hero. He still is.
And now I am a grandpa. While I have two lovely granddaughters and three remarkable great grandchildren, for this article, I want to focus on my Grandson, Sam. He is eleven and comes to spend a few days with us every summer.
Sam is smart, with a quick wit and lots of energy, and he is a surprising repository of knowledge. He’s a good boy, and as compliant as a normal eleven-year-old can be.
Last summer, I think we somehow got wet every day he was here, either at the beach or at one of the little public “water parks.” I also, introduced him to Big Star (an old timely drive-in burger joint with carhops) and onion rings. We ate there twice one day, once before the beach, and once after. Running amuck burns a lot of energy.
He has become a connoisseur of these old timely drive-in restaurants. We debate who has the best cheeseburger, fries, and root beer, The Spot or Big Star.
We ride bikes together, have water fights, go to the best playgrounds, hop on the streetcar, and we go to the zoo. We both have fun, and like doing these things together.
We try to find some adventure, and some mischief; and we usually do.
I was blessed with a wonderful grandpa, and I am blessed with an awesome grandson!
This was my column in Monday’s Kenosha News.