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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Doves Coo

When Doves Coo

What are my personal recollections of Grandpa? Having written about his emigration from Germany to America, in 1901 as a 14-year-old, I will just say I would never have known that from him, personally. I had to read it in the manuscript he wrote, after he had retired-possibly, even as I was scrambling around beneath his feet.

He did have infinite patience with me. Whether his patience stemmed from my being a natural born charmer, or because I was somehow chosen to be a godchild, I do not know. I know that his voice rarely changed in tone, and that he had a keen sense of humor.
Oh. My. That. Hair.

He was not above making a slightly bawdy comment, which of course would probably be delivered in German, depending on just how bawdy it was. He and Auntie Anne would lapse into German any time they wanted to escape little pitchers’ ears. 

[Auntie would ask, ‘What do you think, Dear? Are you up for taking them to that western that’s playing at the drive-in? Oh, and for heaven’s sake, stop at the store and get him his chocolate milk, before he drives me nuts.’]

In the piece I wrote last January, I included a snippet about being at the drive-in once with Grandpa. In response to the comment that the movie we were watching (Walt Disney’s Pollyanna”) was neat, he responded by gesturing over to a car parked off to the left, “True, but the one going on over there is not bad either.”

I would have agreed, possibly, had I been able to see through the foggy windows, which obscured exactly what was going on in the car next-door. Grandpa was a proper gentleman at all times, but he still had a very human side to him that included humor and innuendo.

In October of 1956, Mama wrote in my journal that Noel and I spent almost two weeks together at the Wilmar House in August, so I would have  been almost four years old. Noel would have been almost seven. More importantly, Grandpa would have been close to seventy years old.

My earliest recollection of staying overnight, is one which included sleeping upstairs, in the back bedroom to the left, as you got to the top of the stairs. In later years it became Grandpa’s office/study. All four of us older boys were there, and I was still sleeping in a playpen, I was that small. 
Deceivingly innocent, in appearance.

I think the folks went up to Yuba City, circa 1955, but that is only a guess. It goes without saying that I cannot connect all specific memories to specific visits. I stayed with Noel, by ourselves, with JT, with Greg, and also once with the twins, Reggie and Celeste, in October of 1958, while Mama was in hospital, welcoming bro Tom into the world. Mama says I did not seem to get along with the twins, though it’s hard to believe I would display any unhappiness while at Grandpa’s house. It was that enjoyable.

Of all the places I slept in the house at Wilmar, none comes close to comparing to the screened-in porch, upstairs, accessible only by passing through Grandpa’s room. When I was allowed to sleep up there, I felt privileged because I really was in Grandpa’s space. Lying awake in the predawn, reading, I used to hear what I thought were owls.

Several decades and a couple of lifetimes down the line, I discovered the sound I was hearing was actually doves cooing. It remains one of the most soothing noises I have ever enjoyed.

So being in his late sixties/early seventies when I was a sprat, Grandpa was reasonably sedentary. He still went off to work before seven each morning, after preparing for his work day, including making his own breakfast. When he ate with us, he favored soft-boiled eggs, and I used to get off watching Auntie Anne prepare and serve them in those little egg-cups. 

I don’t remember soft-boiled eggs being on the menu, at home on Fellowship Street.

Grandpa served as chauffeur for Auntie Anne, driving her to the grocery store, and to the San Gabriel Mission for mass, rummage sales and pinochle tournaments. He did so uncomplainingly, often playing the radio at a low level. 

As out of character as it might sound, I remember specifically hearing Johnny Horton’s, “The Battle of New Orleans,” playing on the radio, with Grandpa rocking out to it, in his inimitable fashion. You know, “We fired our cannon ‘till the barrel melted down, so we grabbed an alligator and we fought other round. We filled his head with cannonballs ’n’ powdered his behind, and when we touched the powder off, the ’gator lost his mind.”

I remember going with Grandpa and Auntie Anne to a Marine World of sorts, but it was indoors. My impression is that it was in Long Beach. I also remember the epic trip to Disneyland circa 1957. The four older of us boys went, but I was not tall enough to ride the little go-carts on the track, and had to be a passenger in Noel’s car. Still, I was there.

The fact that both the grandparents were willing to take four boys to Disneyland, tells you something about their character. I am sure I would have been a challenge for the weak-of-heart. In 1957 Grandpa would have been 71!

We drove in his late-model Rambler sedan, which was always meticulously clean inside. When he took Greg and me fishing at Legg Lake, he sat in the car and read the newspaper, while Greg and I unsuccessfully attempted to land dinner. He was not the type of guy who would bait our hooks, leaving that up to us, but he was still willing to transport us there.
Eighth grade

One year I received from Grandpa a subscription for “Mechanics Illustrated,” a monthly publication that was geared to do-it-yourself projects that Grandpa thought might appeal to me. He was generous to me, as Mama indicates in her journal, there being gifts for me at Christmas and my birthday, religiously, though Auntie Anne most likely handled the logistics.

In my journal Mama notes that as a gift for my eighth birthday, Grandpa and Auntie Anne took me (and probably other munchkins) to the Los Angeles County Fair, on October 16th of that year, an excursion I remember with a fair amount of clarity. I used my own money to buy Mama a glass swan, that allowed one to fill it with artificially colored water, to create a pleasing effect.

Somewhat noteworthy, in her special way, Mama managed to hang onto to that little glass swan, when the move was made to Bell Springs Road, because it appeared on book shelves above the piano, at one point as the big house got furnished. When I expressed surprise that she still had it, she feigned shock that I would have the unmitigated gall to suggest she would ever throw it away.

One Christmas season there was a fundraiser going on at the Mission, and I was recruited to go door-to-door selling Christmas wreaths. The pool room at Wilmar had been converted into a wreath-making factory, and Grandpa ferried me around in the Rambler. He thought he had it all figured out because he took me to this apartment complex, where there were a whole passel of doors to be knocked on, with minimal traveling.

I got the boot after about three doors.

In 1961 I spent three days at Grandpa’s house, and then returned and spent the Labor Day weekend there, which coincided with my ninth birthday. Grandpa and Auntie Anne took me to the San Gabriel Mission fiesta, including the parade. 

Finally, as my sister JT pointed out on a recent post, there was the television set. We are not talking about a TV here, but nirvana-with color. Watching “The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” in color, specifically the “Swamp Fox” series, was incomparable short of going to the theater, which occurred on the average of twice a year.
Here are two of my four arches.

And if you want to see Grandpa’s influence over me, know that as we faced the television set, from any angle in the spacious living room, in the background were two arches, one on each side. They led into the small library that was filled with books, many of them in German.

I say Grandpa influenced me in that I liked those arches so much, I have four of them in my house. I constructed three of them, and though they are not perfect, they are perfect to me. 

Somewhere long about 1968 or so, the four older of us boys traipsed off to Wilmar one Sunday afternoon, ostensibly to visit, but also to take advantage of the pool table. By now Grandpa would have been eighty. I mention this in passing, because he always seemed available to me/us. 

I went with Mama to visit him in the hospital, only days before I shipped out to Missouri, in January of 1972, and he told me he was proud of me for entering the service. When he passed, only 17 days after I began boot camp, I knew I could not return home for the memorial.

As overwhelmed as I was by his not unexpected passing, I had plenty enough on my hands in the frozen tundra of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Quite candidly here, I was afraid that if I went home, I would never return. True story.

I remember his voice vividly and I remember his laugh. For a man who described in his own words, being raised in an environment where the adults were all considered good, and the children were all considered bad, he had a funny way of showing it.

I conducted myself properly when around my father, because I knew what was in store for me, if I did not. I conducted myself properly around Grandpa, because I knew instinctively that I had a good thing going, and that if I acted like a jerk, I would have the rug jerked out from under me.

I remember him clearest, sitting in his big easy chair, a solid wooden number, with three adjustable positions for sitting straight up, or reclining. With a hand on either armrest, he would watch television and we would watch with him.

I spent the weekend following the assassination of JFK, at Grandpa’s house, and the television was on a lot, tuned in to the coverage of the atrocity in Dallas. I was just past my 11th birthday, and I really feeling the pain. 

I couldn’t believe the guy who was the center of “PT109,” a film Papa had taken us all to see in August of 1963, was gone. Correspondingly, it took me a long time to absorb that Grandpa was gone. 

It’s been 45 years now but his memory comes back to me now every time doves coo. On this ridge-top where I live, I hear doves a lot.


  1. Wow, thank you for that! As I said the other day, my memories are far and few between and I love hearing about this man that I barely knew. I really wish I had been born sooner so that I could have spent time with both of them.

    1. You are creating these types of memories with your own grandkids, that will live on... xo