Happy Birthday Papa

Chopsticks!

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.

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Papa and me

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.

papa and me
Papa and me
circa 1958-59

Sadly our connection was short lived, but fortunately he left his loving stamp on my memory…and my heart.

papa letter004 copy

Happy Birthday Papa!

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Fishing in Tennessee

 

[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…]

 

Happy Birthday Grammy

Johnny Eva.

My southern grandmother – who was born and raised in Tennessee – had a boy’s name first and a girl’s name second. But everyone called her Eva. Apparently this was customary at the time (1892) in USA southern states. She had a sister named Jimmy Ruth. Her brother’s name was Creed.

Johnny Eva was Grammy to me – my paternal grandmother. As a child, I was somewhat mystified by her. She had very long dark wavy hair – almost down to her waist. I’d sit and watch her comb it out, coil it up and then secure it with combs or clips. I never knew another older person with such long hair. Not one for makeup and frills, she wore sensible dresses and sensible shoes. We had that in common.

I only saw her sporadically when I was growing up because she lived in Ohio and we lived on the east coast. After my grandfather Papa died unexpectedly in 1964, Grammy would come and live with us for a month or 2 several times a year.  She didn’t always have alot to say, but she’d look over your shoulder to see what you were doing and comment. (As I recall, this did not go over well with my mother!) An excellent seamstress, she repaired anything that needed mending…and sewed dress-up dresses for my sister and me. And fancy clothes for our baby dolls and Barbies.

She loved to watch The Lawrence Welk Show on TV and rarely missed it. Frugal to a fault sometimes, she would insist on buying day-old produce and bread when she went grocery shopping with my mother – even if the quality was poor.  She was always generous with her family though; slipping me a few dollars when she thought I needed it. I never took advantage of this; but it was comforting to know that she “had my back” – and her help was always offered without judgement…an unspoken underlying connection between us.

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Grammy and me

I often wonder now if she had some undiscovered underlying medical issues. She would often disappear into her bedroom to “rest a spell” during the day. I also suspect she may have suffered a level of chronic depression that only worsened after Papa died. I often sensed a real melancholy about her.

When I told her I was pregnant with my son – our second child – her reaction was…”why? why bring another child into this terrible world?” Needless to say, that’s not the kind of congratulations I was expecting; but I was not altogether surprised and I wasn’t upset with her. Unfortunately she passed away the week after he was born, at the age of 95.

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Grammy and me

I had forgotten how much she kept in touch with me.

In my treasure trove of letters I have found dozens from her. I don’t think she went to school after the 8th grade, but her letters were full of detail & vivid descriptions. And, most importantly to my childhood self, full of genuine interest in and love for me.

She wrote the following letter 2 years after Papa died, when I was 12. It was near Thanksgiving. She was staying in her childhood home, where her sister was still living in Tennessee. Apparently with no heat.

grammy letter 1966 pg 1

grammy letter 1966 pg2
From Grammy – age 74

 

It was expensive to make long distance phone calls when I was a child, so letter writing was the only way to stay in touch.  And I am so grateful she did.

Growing up – and into her adulthood years – she loved to go fishing.

It’s August 9th…Happy Birthday Grammy!

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Johnny Eva aka Grammy

 

 

Grammy and Papa

Weeeeellllll, I sure like those crispy things!

Grammy, my paternal grandmother, was born and raised in Tennessee. She often unwittingly entertained me with her distinctive southern accent…and dietary habits. And observations about life. She loved to fish, pick walnuts, hickory nuts, berries and eat fried food (especially at the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips near my home)…hence the favorite crispy things/bits left on fried fish. Oatmeal bread was too “rich” for a slice of toast. The best part of a leftover roast from dinner was what rose to the top in the broth amongst the congealed fat — which, once cooled, she poured over cold cereal for an evening snack. An expert seamstress, she sewed Barbie clothes for my sister and me; as well as long colorful “dress-up” dresses embroidered with rick rack and lace. She crocheted orange coasters for my wedding gift in the 1970’s. And over many years, she mended our countless “holey” socks, ripped seams and torn play clothes when she visited.

Grammy and my grandfather Papa, lived in Cincinnati, Ohio in a large house (or at least it seemed large to me) set on a hill. We made the trip from NY and NJ several times in my early childhood to visit them and my mother’s relatives as well. It was always an adventure: my sister, brother and I stretched out in the rear of the station wagon – back seat flattened out – supposedly to sleep during the long trip. We would leave around 9:30pm.  This was the 1950’s and 1960’s when the risk of kids flying through the air from a sudden stop wasn’t on the parental radar. Not sure how much sleep we actually got amidst the rolling around and poking each other. I do remember being somewhat awestruck by seeing the stars in the night sky out the window. The worst part of those trips: when I threw up out the window due to my tendency to get car sick. (at least I hope it was always out the window)

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circa 1956-57 Ohio
grammypapaandrea012
circa 1956-57 Ohio

Papa was from the Chicago area, and met Grammy passing through her small country town on a train while working as a lumber inspector. He wooed her to Cincinnati, but she forever missed her southern home. And she missed her sisters and brother and fishing holes and woods.

The last time I saw Papa was in 1964 after one of those long car trips.

diary july 1964

Several weeks later he died unexpectedly at the age of 78.

We all missed him and his sweet smile, but I don’t think Grammy ever completely got over losing him.