Today my maternal Grandfather would have been 129. He died in the Spring of his 102nd year. My mother’s side of the family enjoys longevity, my father’s side, not so much. My mother’s line comes from hearty French-Canadian farming family stock, and my father’s came from Scots-Irish and English fighting family lineage. My father’s side carried the banner of anger and scrappiness, while my mother’s touted ‘get along and go along’. My father’s ancestors were outwardly ill-fitted to society, while my mother’s forebears had more decorum, but certainly had their fair share of dirty laundry, so to speak.
I loved my maternal Grandfather, but never really knew or cared for my father’s father. I remember him being a somewhat grumpy old man with a mean little Chihuahua named, Tippy, who would growl at you if it wasn’t trying to hump you. That dog summed up my father’s side of the family to me. My uncle, Chuck, was a burly man, like my father, whom I barely recall, but I do remember his wife, my Aunt Shirley, who was so kind, and pretty, having what my mother called ‘spanking blue eyes’. She also had long fingernails and would chase my brothers with her hands curled, claw-like, toward them. She was the only good thing about my Dad’s family, as far as I was concerned. I don’t remember my Dad’s mother at all. I think we visited with them twice, that I can remember, because they lived in another state, several hours away.
My mother’s family lived mostly nearby, which is probably why I have such a drive to stay near my siblings and mother as well. I often think about my mother’s family in terms of how we all ‘turned out’. My mother was the last of eleven children, all born in the depression era, five boys and six girls. My mother was the surprise baby, born after my Grandmother thought she was fertile anymore. My mother was born into a hard-working family, my grandfather and several of his sons worked on the railroad, while several others made military careers. The women in the family mostly ran their families, and a few held outside jobs, or pursued passions other than domestic concerns, but they all fared well, mostly.
My mother is the only child whose marriage ended in divorce, the only child who married an unpredictable, angry man, and the only child, that we know of, whose first child was the outcome of a rape, that she was nearly disowned for keeping after being sent to a home for unwed mothers with the express purpose of giving up her child upon birth. My mother stayed with one of her older sisters for a while, and her parents finally relented and let her go home with my eldest brother. She flailed for some time, but found work, and an apartment, and shortly after met my father. He was in the navy, handsome, and fresh out of a hellacious home life, and a disastrous first marriage.
I saw Back To The Future, when it first came out, and I remember thinking that my life would have been so much better if my mother had made a better choice to begin with. Of course, were that the case, I likely wouldn’t have been born, so it was a moot point, but I would gladly not have been born to have spared my mother from my father.
My grandfather was kind to me, and used to call me ‘tiger eyes’. He would also buy me Lucky Charms cereal, a treat my mother would never have approved of, but he also used to give me Jordan Almonds, which I hated, and still do. I enjoyed visits from my Grandpa Brousseau, and vaguely remember my Grandma Brousseau, who died when I was just three. It’s odd that I still feel connected to her even though I never really knew her. I suppose it’s a testament to how much my grandfather meant to me that my grandmother means just as much. My grandfather was kind to me, but he was also strict. One of the first things he’d demand upon seeing us was to show him our fingernails. It was important to him that we keep our hands and fingernails clean. I guess that was his determination of good breeding. Thankfully, we usually had enough warning of his visits to clean our fingernails before he arrived.
I remember visiting my grandfather in the last few years of his life, and he said how tired he was. He could barely hear anymore, and was fairly blind, losing his two favorite pastimes: listening to baseball games on the radio, and reading the newspaper. He said he didn’t know why he kept waking up every day, and that was one of the saddest things to hear.
It’s hard to see someone you remember as robust seeming so frail and lackluster. During my last visit, when I was in my twenties, he asked me to come sit next to him on his bed, and then he asked me to comb his hair. I wish I had the understanding that I do now. I was so embarrassed because it seemed like such a silly request to me then. I’d give anything to go back with the understanding I have now and comb his hair – and he still had a fair amount of hair even at a hundred. I recognize his request as a way to connect with me, but I was too self-conscious then. It wasn’t like when I was eight and would have combed his hair gleefully. I can’t get that time back, and all I hope is that my grandfather’s spirit knows that I understand now, and that I’m sorry I was so awkward then that he took the comb out of my hand and said ‘never mind’.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I love you, wherever you are.
Here’s a video link to a short video shot by one of my cousins when my Grandpa Brousseau was 101: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV-gmdb-w3A
© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.