Are we here to eat or play cards? You haven’t got a ghost of a chance. Throw one away you won’t have so many. Don’t bend the tickets!
Card games: May I…Pinochle…Hearts…
Always accompanied by my grandfather’s litany of patter. To keep squirmy card players at attention. Snack crumbs to a minimum. Playing cards unbent. Always with a smile; however small, tugging at the corner of his mouth. The corner not clamped tight on a lit Pall Mall. The smile winning out at the last directive – discharge in lieu of discard – to get a rise out of my mother who was predictably horrified every time. Snickering ensued amongst the rest of us. Every time.
My grandfather – Opa – was a talker. A rabid card player. And so was I.
He did not offer endless pieces of advice…but a few come to mind:
I was 21 and had just started seriously dating the man I eventually married 3 years later. I was home that March on my college spring break…and spent a weekend visiting Opa and Oma. As we shared a booth waiting for pizzas at a local restaurant, he sat directly across from me. Oma was on my right. The conversation shifted from his questions about my nutrition classes…to questions about my romantic boyfriend. Who had sent a dozen yellow roses. To me. At their house…FTD!
What does he do? He’s a musician…
Uh, huh…? He’s going to be a music teacher when he graduates this year.
Okay that’s good. Opa’s expression at this point relaxed somewhat, but remained neutral. I suspected he was hoping I was in love with someone who would earn lots of money. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Never mind what my career would bring…but I was a year away from graduation at that point.
And then he got to it…
Shifting in his seat, he leaned forward. Looked straight at me, his glasses sliding down his nose.
His blue eyes bored into mine.
Wait For The Ticket.
Immediately Oma kicked him under the table. Muttered his name in a warning.
Waiting for my reply, he repeated:
Wait For The Ticket.
Never breaking his gaze. Uncharacteristically serious.
I nodded. Not really embarrassed, I kept my reaction as noncommittal as possible.
He didn’t want me to repeat his history.
Breastfeeding Is Best
Opa was beyond excited at the prospect of becoming a great grandfather. When I was expecting my first child, he would check in with me every so often to ask about my health. And plans for the baby. Including what the baby’s diet would be. I told him I was planning to exclusively breastfeed. He was thrilled. Your Oma breastfed your mother for a year!
He was one of the first people I called when my daughter was born. His first words…after congratulating me…were:
If You Breastfeed Her For The First Year Everything Will Be Fine!
Papa showed me how to play the classic simple song. A waltz actually. On his piano.
Sitting right beside me. Just the 2 of us.
At his big old house in Cincinnati, Ohio. One warm day in the 1960’s during a rare family visit.
I was only 8 years old. I wish it had been the first of many lessons.
Papa, my paternal grandfather, was born March 9, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. The middle child of five. I don’t know much about his early life except he met Grammy when passing through her small rural Tennessee town. He often traveled by train from Cincinnati, working as a lumber inspector for his brother’s company. He rented a room in my grandmother’s childhood home during stops in Graysville. He eventually won her over…and that was that!
Papa and Grammy married and raised my father and his older sister in Cincinnati, where Papa owned and operated a lumber company. No small feat for a man with only an 8th grade education.
I probably saw Papa maybe a dozen times before he died unexpectedly at the age of 78. Cincinnati was very far away from where I lived on the east coast. Visits did not happen often. The last one was a whirlwind car trip a few weeks before he died.
What do I remember about Papa?
He was a short quiet man with kind brown eyes. Papa loved to put on his cap and go for long walks. Sometimes he asked me – just me! – to join him. During one of those walks, he stopped, plucked a wide blade of grass from a nearby patch and carefully positioned it between the sides of his thumbs. He pressed his thumbs together…held them up to his mouth, took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks…and blew out…. It whistled!
Was this magic?
He then plucked one for me. And waited calmly until I was able to make it whistle all by myself.
I’m (obviously) still impressed all these years later.
I learned how to play chopsticks on the piano during one long…patient…lesson with him. Later, in their sunny kitchen, we’d sit across from each other by the window and play double solitaire. Or a new card game he taught me called 7Up. At the metal table with the shiny sides and checkered formica top.
Sadly our connection was short lived, but fortunately he left his loving stamp on my memory…and my heart.
Happy Birthday Papa!
[ps…Papa would be thrilled to know…that coincidentally…his middle name is the same as his great great grandson’s first name…and…also coincidentally…they were both born on the 9th day of the month…]
If we have someone who loves us — I don’t mean who indulges us, but who loves us enough to be on our side — then it’s easier to grow resilience, to grow belief in self, to grow self-esteem. And it’s self-esteem that allows a person to stand up.
from Grammy 1966
from Grammy 1966
I have much to be grateful for in my life. The love of family is at the top of the list. As a child…and then as an adult…I was well loved by my grandparents. Held up. Cherished. Accepted.
All four of my grandparents – and my one living great grandparent – took the time to write to me. Personal letters. Postcards. Valentines. Birthday cards….
I heard from them on a regular basis…knowing I was important in their lives. And not forgotten, even though we lived miles apart.
Treasured pages of handwritten news, stories, questions about my life and plans for the future….
Offering encouragement and understanding
And unconditional love.
This post inspired by Ragtag Daily Prompt: Homecoming
Prompt questions: Have you ever left home? Have you ever returned?
Answer: Yes and no.
I left home in my mind many times growing up. I had a small knapsack tucked in the back corner of my overfilled closet…containing what I must have considered necessities. Quarters. Tissues. Comb. Toothbrush. Underwear. Perhaps Bazooka bubble gum.
Since I never followed through on my plan, there was never any homecoming.
Coming home from summer camps, summer jobs, college…all happened without much fanfare. And my uneasy life would fall into place once again.
More joyous childhood homecomings were wrapped up with my grandparents, who I adored. One in particular took place in 1964. My widowed great grandmother lived in Ohio and traveled to the East Coast to visit only a few times before she died in 1968. She was sweet and very soft spoken. Her skin…smooth and powdery. Fragile. She was my mother’s grandmother.
When she made the trip, it was a homecoming of sorts as she was able to spend time with her daughter (my grandmother) as well. We always made a very special occasion out of her visits. Celebration meals. Trips. And…lots of photographs.
The 4 generation pose was popular. My sisters, brother and I took turns sitting with my mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
I don’t remember if we were instructed in how to pose.