Monday, August 08, 2016

Childhood memories, Pt. 2

So many ideas for writing float through my head, but I want to finish this first, this recollection of a precious generation, lest it be forgotten and overlooked.

My Grandma and Grandpa On the Street. I wrote previously about my mom's folks, Grandma and Grandpa On the Farm. Now for my father's parents. Since both sides used Grandma and Grandpa as names, my brothers and I came up with our own distinctions for them: On the Street and On the Farm.

My family lived out in the country. My mom's folks lived out in the country. But my Dad? His childhood home was clearly unique in our world -- he was a town kid! His folks had neighbors within a stone's throw on all sides, even across "the street". We lived on a road like everyone else, but this -- this was a street!

Grandma's backyard was pretty much a postage stamp and much of that was dedicated to her beautiful roses. Her gardens could have won competitions. Climbing curtains of white and pink, huge blooms of reds and yellows. Always immaculate and healthy. And beyond the back fence of that garden were the grounds of the public elementary school with swings and slides and even a ball field, if I recall correctly.

Grandma and Grandpa kept things "spit spot". Even Mary Poppins would have been pleased. I don't remember much about the garage but in my memory it is tidy, with a place for everything and everything in its place. A garage boasting the kind of order that elicits a calm sigh.

Grandpa was the head maintenance man at the public high school. As a very young girl I would visit him at his office and tag along as he performed his duties. Walking down those long, empty, shining hallways lined with locker after locker was always delightful to me, knowing all of this was under his charge. How important he was and how well he cared for his domain. He would always chuckle and smile with a twinkle in his eye as he shared a pleasant word with those who worked for him. My favorite duty was checking the pool. What strange smells as he tested the water and added needed chemicals. How very HUGE this pool was to me! Grandpa was wonderful and he knew so very much!

Grandma On the Street passed away when I was five years old. She died of liver cancer, fairly quickly so I've been told. Therefore, my memories of her were truncated. I wish I had a clearer image of her entirety in my mind's eye, but I do not. Sadly, I recall her demeanor, presence, and character more than her actual physical being. Were it not for photos, I think a clear image would be lacking.

But her stature and roundness of face and features are there. She had soft eyes and plumpness, I think. Her smile boasted straight clean teeth. Actually, she kept everything clean. I recall linoleum kitchen floors shining and crumb-free, polished hardwood, and tidy rooms. Always tidy. Kitchen counters were clear and clean. No clutter allowed in this home!

In one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, Grandma had a large tin filled to the brim with buttons. How I loved touching, sorting, and arranging those buttons! They filled my time at Grandma's house. And in that same room, Grandpa had large silver coins - dollar coins and half dollars. Such treasure - and he let us touch them! And his old pocket watches. This was the stuff of pirate lore!

We spent overnights there on occasion. I would stay in the room with the buttons, and my brothers across the hallway. When in need of a shampoo, my hair was washed in the whiter-than-white kitchen sink with me stretched out along the counter. No "tangle-free" conditioner in those days, and Grandma never had a girl (my father was an only child.) Grandma didn't tolerate much fuss, so I well recall hair-washings and the subsequent combings with Grandma!

Grandma provided meticulously for our physical care, making sure we were clean and properly fed when we spent time at her house. But Grandpa was the one who cared for our hearts. When my brother fell out of bed in the night, he was the one who scooped him up and held him until he was settled. He would play peek-a-boo and let us climb on his lap during TV time.

Grandpa retired a few years after Grandma's death and he moved in with us. Our new ranch house had a finished basement, and next to the rec room was his bedroom and bath. Now his lap, his smile, his "same ol' jokes" were with us continually. I loved him so dearly.

He shoveled our snow in the winter, mowed our lawns in the summer. He drove us back and forth to after-school rehearsals and ball games. Sometimes he took us to the diner if Mom and Dad had other things going on. And ice cream treats were often a part of time with Grandpa. His chuckle and the twinkle in his eye as he smiled are indelibly etched in my memory.

He was no longer Grandpa on the street but was now Grandpa Follette. Louis LeRoy Follette. I love all of those names because of him.

He accompanied us everywhere on all sorts of family outings and vacations. My head would routinely rest on his shoulder in the back seat as we traveled roads to NYC or Boston, or just around the corner to the nearby golf course.

And he smoked cigars. He had a chair - Grandpa's chair - in our living room. This was where he sat to enjoy his afternoon and evening cigar while he watched sports on TV. And there my brothers and I would fight for time on his lap, never tiring of being with Grandpa.

Always tanned from working outside, always puttering on equipment, and always taking his Saturday night bath whether he needed it or not!

He passed away shortly after Carina Beth was born in 1984. What a deep loss that was for me. Even as I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. How I loved him.

What a dear special man he was; his presence fills all of my childhood memories. He was always there. Always.