Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father's Day: My father and Grandfather

Time Russert's death inspired this article.

It is difficult to say whether I loved my grandfather and Father more than I was terrified of them as a child. If they were on your side you always won. If you were in the wrong man or child God help you.

My Aunt, my favorite Aunt and the last of my father's brothers and sisters passed on last month. She was a beautiful blonde haired actress with blue eyes but God help you if you crossed her.

My father and grandfather were from another era than now, so to apply any of the rules people live by now really has no meaning. I understood a little because I was born in 1948 and saw some of the harshness in the 1950s growing up that was a remnant of their much harsher lives than mine.

My father once said that he had seen his father take on 13 men and win in a fistfight over a dispute on a job. (My grandfather was an electrical contractor). When I saw the movie recently, "There Will Be Blood" it traumatized me for a while. The Daniel Day Louis character reminded me of my Grandfather as an Electrical Contractor, except my grandfather had a wife and 5 kids.

My father grew up during the 1920s and the 1930s. Once when they lived in Breckenridge Texas, Bob the oldest son, born in 1912, kept getting beat up because it was a tough town and Dad's family was new in town(then a reason to be mercilessly beaten every day by bullies). Bob was told by Grandad, "Son, you've got to stop them from beating you up any way you can. If you can't beat them up because they are just too big then get a 2by4 building stud piece of wood and wait for him and knock him out with it." Bob did as he was told and waited for the boy at a corner fence. When the boy came around the corner he knocked him unconscious with the hefty piece of wood. No one ever beat up Bob again(or his brothers or sisters).

My father's life made him into a workaholic and a perfectionist at building. One time on a job they laid off 300 electricians and kept only him. That's how fast he was and how efficient he was at being an electrician. His father taught him well but he wouldn't let his boys go to college, only his girls, Eloise and Dorris. The boys hated their Dad for this slight. Only in my thirties did I realize why my Grandfather did this. He sent the girls to college to get educated husbands who would be successful. He didn't send the boys to college because it was the Great Depression. Grandpa knew many of the homeless people without jobs were highly educated white collar workers and teachers who were always the first to go in hard times. But if you know electrical work, plumbing, or carpentry you will always be needed by someone even if it is as a handyman. This was especially true during the Great Depression.I realized that Grandpa knew exactly what he was doing even if his boys didn't and hated him because of feeling like Grandpa's slaves during the Great Depression.

My father and his brother were gunners in Hellcat biplanes in the U.S. Marine Air Corp. Dad said they used to practice dive bombing the beach and laugh when all the sunbathers scattered. Bob, got out to fix the cowling that had come loose on the biplanes engine but forgot to latch his seatbelt. So when then were doing loop de loops he was almost falling out of the plane. Dad was watching and laughing at this, knowing Bob had a parachute on and even if he fell he would likely be okay.

Bob, and Dad got out of the Marine Air Corp. Reserves in 1937. So since they had a trade the government put them to wiring Liberty ships in Seattle Harbor during World War II. Tommy died in a plane crash in 1942 which devastated the family.

My father got married when he was 21 and his wife 17. Bob got married when he was 19. Bob was born in 1912 and Dad 1916 so they were 4 years apart. Dad got divorced in 1946 and married my Mom. I came along in 1948. Dad didn't want any kids but my mother tricked him into having me by saying she was already pregnant.

My father was a very intense, focused, self disciplined man and extremely intelligent. My mother was a very intuitive common sensical woman from a very well educated father who was a minister and his wife was a lot like Mom.

When I was born we lived for my first 4 years on my Grandad's 2 1/2 acres of land with Cherry trees, apple trees, bosenberries, raspberries etc. It was a fun place to be there in Lake Forest Park, Washington except for the dreary weather. When it was sunny there was no place more beautiful than living there. (When it was sunny)

Grandad took a liking to me as he saw himself in me. I was always very determined like him. However, when I got whooping cough and almost died it knocked me down a peg.

My father because he didn't want children did not want to be in charge of disciplining me. Being intelligent he didn't want to beat me like he was beaten and so left all discipline to my mother and her mother who lived with us. So my experience of my father was strange in that if he criticized me it hurt much worse than anyone beating me. I can only remember once when I put airplane glue in a girls hair when I was 9 that he publicly flogged me on the front lawn with my own belt. In some ways I was glad to be beaten by my Dad even for once. That time I really deserved it. There was a clarity and finality to it all that was nice.

My Dad finally accepted me as a friend and compatriot when I was about 10 years old. Before that he didn't play with me much other than to teach me how to ride a bike. So becoming proficient at riding a bike was everything to me. He took me camping and hiking a lot from age 9 or 10 and after so being an excellent woodsman and camper and climber became important to me for a lifetime. His Mother, gave me his 22 rifle when I was 8 years old, a Remington, 17 shot pump 22 rifle. As soon as possible I became a crack shot with it because I was following in Dad's and Grandads footsteps just like Country Americans since the 1600s and my relatives since 1720 who arrived in Philadelphia Harbor from Germany and Switzerland on my fathers side.

I think what I most experienced from my father and grandfather was a quality that could best be expressed, "We're going to survive no matter what!" I was always taught
"Always prepare for the worst and hope for the best". It was how all my relatives had made it even when others didn't in America since 1720. My Dad and Grandad are my most unforgetable and terrifying people I have ever met, I love them both and miss them greatly now. The world is a very empty place without them.

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