…my grandpa who died last week…
When I was little, Grandpa Beek was the only solid male figure in my life. He was an Army medic and served in Korea and Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star along the way. He was big, blustery, profane and I adored him.
He had one arm much shorter than the other, a curly mop of hair that sat right on top of his head and tattoos up one arm and down the other. His ears were large and Dumbo-ish, and I adored him.
That is until the day I overheard him loudly tell my mother he didn’t want me calling him “Grandpa” anymore, because he wasn’t my grandpa.
I think I was about 8 or so and my world swam in and out of focus as those words rang in my ears.
What on Earth was he talking about?
I walked into the room and all eyes turned to me. I pretended like nothing had happened and I continued to call him Grandpa Beek.
Over the years I finally got the courage to ask my mom what that had been all about, and she said it was because he was my step-grandpa and felt way too young to have a grandchild at the time.
He’d also just gotten back from a tour in Vietnam.
So, there’s that.
Time passed and my Grandma died at a very young age from surgical complications. At first, Grandpa Beek kept in touch with my mom and me.
Then, he re-married and the communication slowed to a trickle. Finally, it stopped altogether.
By that time, I was married and raising kids of my own. Kids I wished could get to know gruff ol’ Grandpa Beek, but every attempt to reach out to him was rebuffed.
Hurt and confused I gave up.
Then, two years ago I joined Facebook at the urging of cousins to keep in touch with family and was friended by my aunt – Beek’s daughter – who is only five years older than me. We’d grown up thick as thieves, but like everything else time and distance came between us.
Still, when we did re-connect it was as if no time had passed. We quickly caught up on one another’s lives – our kids, husbands and grandkids. We exchanged pictures and I finally asked about Grandpa and why he had turned his back on me.
She said she didn’t have a clue.
I asked her to take a picture of me and the kids to show him at the nursing home where he now lived.
She did, and he said we had a lovely family, but he wasn’t interested in talking to or seeing me.
The wounds were refreshed, so I quickly covered them and didn’t mention it again.
When he passed last week I asked my Mom, again, if she knew why he’d shut me out.
….and I swear I am not making this up…
1. He remarried and because his new wife looked, and acted, like my Grandma, my mother kept comparing the two. It grated on new wife’s nerves.
2. When he and new wife moved from Indiana to Arizona they were involved in a near-fatal car wreck. My mother never did a thing to help or contact them when it happened. (I had no clue that it had happened).
3. My mother constantly rode Grandpa about a $100 debt he owed her. Mom says she doesn’t remember this, but my Dad does. (Really? $100? Really?)
So, I guess it all makes sense now, and Grandpa if you’re listening I’m giving Mom $100 on your behalf.
You can pay me back by buying me a beer when I get to Heaven, and in the meantime keep a barstool warm for me.
RIP Grandpa Beek
I took two of my grandkids to Mickey D’s Sunday afternoon. We, and by “we” I don’t mean hubby and I…because you know FOOTBALL…I mean “I” had agreed to babysit them for a while so their Mommy could attend a meeting.
Knowing they’re six and four and there’s nothing better than a huge indoor playground I decided to take them to our local Mickey D’s for some ice cream, french fries, soda and playtime with other little hellions like them.
They had platforms:
And these connecting tubes that swayed or bounced:
*DISCLAIMER – and I hate disclaimers, but it is what it is….I am NOT racist. I am, in fact, a healthy dose of Native American along with the whitebread of England. My maternal grandfather was a full-blooded Apache/Cherokee, and my maternal grandmother was German/Irish. On the paternal side, strictly English. What follows is a true story. I’m just the messenger.*
In the 1960s, my mother met and married a distinguished gentleman from the South. Soon after, he became my stepfather.
Mom had been born in rural Indiana, but never really a country girl she and my dad had moved to the big city (St. Louis) when I was five.
Soon after, they decided to divorce.
She loved the big city life, and once worked at the St. Louis Playboy Club – and before you get all excited, this was a regular nightclub – as the bunny who played bumper pool with guests. She was good, and once beat Minnesota Fats in a best of three series. He was so impressed (and I’m sure her beauty had little to do with it…yeah, right) he gave her an ebony and ivory custom made pool cue.
She still has it, and I have dibs.
After she and Dad split, Mom took a job working for a major radio station in St. Louis. From her desk, as secretary to the station manager, she met celebrities and sports figures, movie stars and recording stars of the day.
Yet, when it came right down to it a li’l ol’ country gent is the one this dark-eyed, black-haired exotic beauty fell for.
He’d come from the South.
The Deep South…as in southern Alabama.
His family wasn’t into cotton, and all that that implies. They had a modest farmhouse and acreage on the outskirts of town.
But most of all, they had status. In the South, status means something. Mind you *I* have no idea what it means, lacking status myself, but I have often heard that it means something so I’ll go along with it.
They married in the winter of 1968 and we planned a summer road trip – me, new dad, new sister and mom – to meet our new family.
As the trip got closer Mom grew increasingly anxious. She worried she wouldn’t fit in, that the southerners wouldn’t take to this Yankee, and so on.
She knew that her big coming out, to the social circle, was going to be an afternoon tea.
No, really, they still have these things in Alabama. Complete with hats and white gloves. It’s a very honored tradition.
The day of the tea arrives, and Mom dresses in her nicest summer dress, fixes her hair and make-up and left off the gloves – everyone simply had to marvel at her custom wedding ring set, so why bother?
I wasn’t present, it was a strictly grown-up affair, and that was fine with me. I had seen a small pond, full of frogs, and I was intent on capturing a few, so I spent my time failing at that.
After the tea, I went inside to find my Mom crying on Dad’s shoulder.
“They hate me!” she sobbed.
“No, they don’t.” he said, patting her reassuringly.
“Really?”, she sniffed.
“Really”, he said smiling at her.
And that was the end of it. Although I’m pretty sure it was followed by a generous application of alcohol.
I didn’t find out, then, what the problem was. I found out a few years later, and what follows is a recounting of the event that caused the meltdown….and I should preface it by saying that my mother, with her Native American blood, tans easily…and darkly.
The tea nearly over, the ladies huddled together as Mom awaited their verdict.
Was she in? Out? Granted, they had seemed rather reserved, but Mom just thought that was the way southern ladies were. And, she desperately wanted to be accepted into this society.
She wrung her hands and paced the garden path, not even noticing the sweet and heavy lilac scent in the air, as she pondered these things.
At last, one of the group came to talk to her.
Gloved-Hand-Fancy-Hat Spokeslady for the group: Ms. Johnson? We were just delighted to make your acquaintance.
Mom: Thank you! I was delighted to spend the afternoon with all of you.
GHFHS: There is just one, minor, problem….ummm…detail we needed to clarify.
What could it be? Did I use the wrong fork, chew with my mouth open, uncross my ankles…WHAT??
Mom’s mind raced.
Mom: And that is?
GHFHS: Well, to put it delicately, Ms. Johnson, we were wondering….
GHFHS: Are you normally that…..dark?
Mom said she was speechless, although her first inclination was to burst into laughter. She also didn’t fully understand the implications.
An awkward silence ensued, broken only when another of the group walked up and said it was time to go.
The South, where it was always 1940 in the minds of some.