[gran-fah-th er]: the father of one’s father or mother.
Today my grandpa would have turned 98. He grew up in a time where as a young child there was a depression, and TV did not come out until he was an adult. He fought in two wars, had two daughters and above all practically raised me.
Hal was very into saving things because of growing up without food to eat. The cupboards would be full of dented cans the store did not want anymore. If it did not have a label when he bought it, he did not care… it was food; and food to him was something very important to have.
I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be a child and starving. How it was about not having candy (like me as a child, or even my daughter), but more being to just be able to eat a meal. It made a big impact on his life I can only imagine.
He never talked to me about his childhood, but I did know about how he became my grandfather. It was not so pretty, it was not like one of these fairy tales about meeting the sweet love of your life, it was plain and simple about adultery.
He got my grandmother pregnant and she made him leave his wife and children behind to start a life with her. That child was my mother. It was after the war.
The wars were something they never talked about. You never heard the stories of how he victoriously destroyed the Japanese, or how you helped South Korea from the communists. It was something that laid there in silence. There were no support groups for things like the forgotten war (Korea) or World War two. It was something you just knew.
Even as a soldier myself, the only thing I knew was that he was in the Navy and he fought in and survived two wars.
My grandfather would take me to the on army base supermarket (commissary) with a brown folder of coupons organised and ready to go. Following it like a map up and down the isles. He still however would let me buy that green jello in a mould that looked pretty to a little kid, but would never eat it.
He would be the one sitting in the kitchen pushing it down his throat instead.
He would always pretend that he did not know I ate all the cream out of the Oreos and left just a little on the edges while making him eat them.
When my biggest dream was to be a waitress, he bought me a pad that was just like the ones they had. He made a menu. He cooked real food, and my grandmother was my only customer sitting on the couch cigarette in her hand and ordering what the daily specials were.
And the smoking. How he tried to get her to stop all of those years from lighting up those menthol cigarettes. He even took pictures of her bed to show her how she was going to light the house on fire from sleeping in the bed with them hanging out of her mouth.
It was too bad she never listened. She died of lung cancer.
When I started school I found this Disney cookbook with elaborate vegetable creations like cucumber wagon wheels and carrots wrapped around and fastened by toothpicks. He made them for me every afternoon I came home and decided to sit in front of the TV watching educational programs or Spanish television.
Every summer he would take me fishing. Loading my grandmother and I in the back of the truck that he made into a camper so we could lie there and hang out. While he sat there in the front driving all alone.
He would take me on a boat, he would fix my fishing lines when they got broken and he would buy me the craziest fishing things I desired.
Then I got older and I cared less about fishing and the basket ball hoop he built me outside the cabin in the woods. I started to be a teenager, and my visits got further and far between.
I wanted to be with my friends and do thing teenagers do. If I could I would have said to them “fuck off!” and spend more time with him instead. I would have ridden with him in the front seat of that old pickup truck, I would have followed him to the store more often and I might have asked him more questions.
I would have tried harder. I would not have settled for less.
This was the guy after all that when I was tired of McDonalds begged him to take me to the generic 39 cents hamburger stand. (He loved that).
Or the man that took it so well when I told him I was gay;
“Well… I never thought we would have one of those lovers in our family”
He never was ashamed. He took it better than most in my family and for someone born in 1920 that is respect.
Right before he died he started talking a bit about the war to me. He told me all of the countries he had been to, and one of those sentences that I will never forget;
“That war started fighting long before the rest of the world knew it,”
He gave me a few bad western novels that I refuse to throw away that will all of my books live in boxes in the basement. (there is no place for a bookshelf in the apartment)
One day before it was the last time I saw him, he bought me a one way ticket to Sweden and told me;
“Go there… that is your home now,”
And then with the room filled with silence with him on and off the morphine he started to speak Norwegian to me.
I looked at him in disbelief.
“I grew up for awhile in a Norwegian orphanage” he said.
Oh the questions I never got to ask him, and the answers I will never know. All about this man that make my kitchen have extra cans, my love for beef jerky, my love for his Thanksgiving turkey and for treating my daughter like he treated me.
He made it to barely 84. I would have been a lot smarter if it was his 98th.