Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whenever February comes around

Since this post is about my grandfather and since he once told me that he sometimes dreamed he was a cowboy in the Old West, it seemed appropriate to use a painting by Montana cowboy and artist, Charles M. Russell, to illustrate the piece. This particular painting is entitled, "Lassoing a Steer," and was painted by old Charlie in 1897. Ride 'em, Grandpa!

Every year, about this time

Like many American children, I grew up without the presence of a father in my life.

My parents were divorced before I was aware of him -- the father figure. I saw him three times during my entire life, once when he had been drinking, before I was in school, probably about age four; once when he had been drinking, when I was about age eleven or twelve. Once, when I was twenty-one. That time was the first and the only time I spent a day talking with him -- none of the time privately, and, as it turned out, not a word of which served an real purpose.

I did have a step-father from about the time I was becoming a teenager, and our relationship deteriorated the older and more rebellious I became until, three days after I graduated from high school, I said, "Hasta la vista, baby," (or something like that) and left my parental home forever.

Actually, this piece has nothing to do with my father or my step-father. Rather, it is a notation that today is the birthday of my mother's father -- my grandfather. He quit observing his birthdays several years ago, I might add. He is long in his grave.

Since my parents were divorced, again I will mention that I was in another typical American situation. My mother and I lived with her parents for a number of years. Therefore, I came to know my grandfather very well.

What can I say about him? Well, he drank too much. But, he labored like a superman until he was well into his sixties. He worked for the Great Northern Railroad forty years in an ancient job. He was a section hand, which is to say, he repaired and replaced rails and did similar chores in the heat and humidity of Minnesota summers and in the blizzards and frigid temperatures of Minnesota winters.

More than once, I can recall him called out in the middle of the night to help repair a bridge that had been damaged in a flash flood or to help shovel out a train that had become snowbound in a blizzard. He was a real man among men, from my perspective.

I can remember him coming home once so frozen and exhausted he could not remove his own clothing, and my grandmother stripped him naked and helped him into a tub of hot water and bathed him. They did not see me standing nearby, watching; for a few minutes, nothing else existed in the world other than themselves. I envy them for those minutes. He was full-blooded German, by the way, and she was full-blooded Norwegian. That sort of twain did meet.

My grandmother, together with her sisters and brothers, had a farm as their inheritance. It was not unusual for my grandfather to help with the work there on weekends. Before my time, when my grandfather and his identical twin brother were in their twenties and thirties, they raised horses on the farm. The twin once saved a drowning man by riding his horse far out into a lake to reach him -- just like in the motion pictures.

What I mostly remember about my grandfather are his books and his constant reading. He seldom watched television. He like to listen to music on his radio and to read. He sat outside in a chair under the shade of a tree and read all day on Sundays during the summer months, no matter what the heat and the humidity. He read whenever he was not working or gardening. He must have enjoyed gardening, too, because he spent hours at it.

By now, you might have guessed that he rarely spoke. What I know of him, I know because I watched him and saw what he did. By the way, his twin brother died when I was somewhere between two and three years of age. Strange as it might sound, I remember this identical twin brother from one occasion, and I remember I knew who was which.

The last time I saw my grandfather, I was twenty-three and he was sixty-nine. I invited him to a bar in a bowling alley in suburban Minneapolis, and we had a couple of beers. I cannot remember what we talked about other than he really liked my new wife because her black hair and darker complexion reminded him of his sisters when they were young. He, himself, had wavy, black hair and perfect eyesight to the day he died. Must have been all the beer he drank ....

He was happy and laughing that day. A couple of months later, he sent me a Christmas gift. He did, I mean, by himself, not with my grandmother. A couple of months after that, he was dead from a heart attack.

The only purpose of this post is to mention that I carry him with me, and think of him often, especially this time of the year when his birthday arrives, and I visualize him, mostly with a book in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other hand -- sitting in a rocking chair under the shade of a tree on a hot, summer day, reading and reading and reading.

These memories are true and good, and give me strength and a reason to smile at times. I miss him.

A musical footnote to this post

For a touch of music to accompany these words, here are three pieces by German composers featuring the violin. As I mentioned before, this grandfather was full-blooded German. As I did not mention, he and his twin brother took violin lessons as children, and continued to play into adulthood.

Only a few years after I came into the world, my grandfather's twin died, and I never heard them play together. On occasion, however, after a stein of beer or two or three, my grandfather would become nostalgic and bring out his violin to discover what his hands and fingers remembered from his childhood.

By then, he was no longer an accomplished musician, by any means, but, for me, it was enjoyable to experience and a childhood treasure to remember now.


Anita said...

I think your grandfather was great!!

Very nice music too!!

May you have a good time Fram:)))

Fram Actual said...

Well, yes, Anita. Thank you. I think so, too.

And, the old German composers are among the best. No doubt about it.

I am so full of pizza I can hardly walk, so I must have had a good time today. Best wishes, to you in return.

Peggy said...

I enjoyed your reminisces of your Grandfather - he sounds like a neat guy to have known. Memories like these are so precious. Something from the past to hold onto and as you say, to give us strength. Thank you for sharing these with us.

You choose the most interesting pictures to feature in your blogs. I liked the one you selected today. It reminds me that my Dad went as they say "out west" in his younger years and worked on a ranch as a cowboy.

I have to admit, while I like classical music, I mostly just listen to it either to de-stress after a hard day or while I am working as it doesn't distract me as other music does. I very much enjoyed your selections today. Very relaxing to listen to.

Another confession about classical music is that I got my introduction to to it when watching cartoons on TV on Saturday mornings. They used to accompany them with snippets of classical music to suit whatever was going on.

Fram Actual said...

Too often, we do not appreciate people when we are in daily contact with them, but, when they are gone, realize how important they were in our lives.

I do not only mean this in a life and death scenario, but also to include those who are no longer close to us for whatever reason.

Having lived in South Dakota and Montana, I know there still are cowboys out there in never-never land. I have a friend who was on the rodeo circuit for a while. His specialty was Brahma bull riding. In the place where I lived in Montana, there was an old timer who rode his horse into town every Saturday night, got drunk and then headed for home aboard his faithful mount. It was evident his horse knew the way without any guidance from his rider.

I am never sure if my mood follows the music I listen to, or if my mood determines the music I will listen to at a particular time.

Your comment has stirred my mind this evening, Peggy.

Something special ....