Yesterday we went to my cousin Sarah’s wedding. It was a simple and beautiful ceremony, then later we met for lunch at the Lion house. Ryan and I sat at a table with my parents and my dad’s sister and brother and their spouses. I felt kind of like the kid at the grown-up table, but got over that quickly, as I love my aunts and uncles. They ended up talking about their dad, and how things were growing up, and I heard lots of stories that I had never heard before. I wish I had had a tape recorder and gotten everything down, because these stories need to be written down!
Now my dad’s father was a gruff man. I remember him as kind of grouchy, but by the time I knew him he had mellowed. A whole bunch. I have heard the stories that he kicked all of the kids out of the house at least once, and knew he had a temper, but some of the things I heard yesterday were shocking. I guess everyone realizes now, in looking back, that he must have struggled with depression. But back then, who knew what that even was? His mother killed herself when he was just a boy of 15 or 16. She shot herself with his gun, after she asked him how to work it. From then on, he was on his own. He worked at carnivals, in the mines or at construction jobs. I don’t know if he ever had steady work, or if it was always seasonal or just when work was available.
I learned that my dad and his brothers and sisters (and my grandma) would often come home and find belongings thrown out of the house. If the ironing didn’t get finished, he would throw the iron, ironing board and the clothes out on the lawn.Ã‚Â That was accompanied by yelling of some sort, like, “If you aren’t going to get it done, why even have an iron?!” My uncle Keith said that he told his parents he wanted to go on a mission (which was not enthusiastically received) and then went to Lagoon with his girlfriend. When he came home, all of his belongings were on the grass. He went to live with a friend until it was time to go on his mission. My aunt JoAnne, when I asked why she got kicked out, told this story: She had worked late one night, and asked her friend who she usually rode home with to call her home and tell them that she would be home late. When she got home that night at about 6:30, her dad was very angry that she didn’t have dinner on the table. She asked if he hadn’t received a phone call that she would be late, and he just ranted on. He threatened to kick her out, but she said he couldn’t do that, she was leaving. So, she packed up her stuff and went to live with friends, I guess. Later, when she was getting married, she came to ask Grandpa if he wouldn’t come to her wedding. She had asked my dad, her oldest brother, to give her away because she didn’t think her own father would come to her wedding. When she came to ask him, he was dressed in dirty clothes, and he told her that no, she didn’t live in his house, and No, he wasn’t coming to the wedding. She cried and cried, but then when she came out of the dressing room after getting ready, there was her dad, all cleaned up and ready to give her away. Her mom told her later that as soon as she had left, he had jumped up and gotten in the shower to clean up so he could go to her wedding. Why would he do that?
So that you don’t think my grandpa was a complete tyrant, let me tell you the funny stories I heard yesterday, too. Always unpredictable and spontaneous, I guess Grandpa was good for a few fun times, too. He would always get hungry at night, and he didn’t like to eat alone. My Grandma worked nights at the state hospital, so she wasn’t around, and she told my aunt that “if Daddy wants to go and get a malt, you make sure he doesn’t crash!”. I guess Grandpa would take a sleeping pill, but then would get the munchies and feel like driving down to the drugstore. So, whoever he took with him had to make sure he didn’t fall asleep at the wheel or be ready to grab it and drive if needed. Or he would make breakfast of eggs and toast and bacon at midnight, and wake all the kids up to eat with him. “Don’t you be waking those kids up,” Grandma would say, but he would get them up anyway. I guess he really didn’t like to eat alone.
Outings were unplanned, too. “Let’s all get in the car,” he would bellow. If Grandma (or anyone else) said something like, “just a minute, I have to finish up these dishes”, he would say, “Then you aren’t going!” It was go now or don’t go. And they would go on drives or bottle hunting or some other adventure. Once they pulled up next to a truck full of pea vines. They rolled down the windows and grabbed pea vines and pulled them into the car, until they were all covered with peas. Then they went home that night and shelled peas and put them up. (I was actually reminded of the book The Glass Castle, hearing some of these things).
After hearing all these stories of how unpredictable and how harsh their father was, I said it’s a wonder that they all returned to speak to their parents after they were thrown out of the house. “Yes, it is.” they said. And it’s a wonder that my dad and his siblings turned out as well as they did. My mom said that it’s comforting to know that no matter how much you screw up as a parent, it looks like your kids can still turn out ok. That makes me feel better when I have those days when I yell at my kids over silly things (like today, actually).
My Grandparents did not have an easy life. Neither did their kids, actually. It’s too bad that Grandpa couldn’t get help for his depression, and that nobody even understood that disease back then. I know I loved him, even though he was grouchy and didn’t want to do much other than sit in his chair. Grandpa died about 13 years ago. I hope I can learn more about him (the good stories as well as the bad ones) and that we can get these things written down so he won’t be forgotten.