Sunday, March 6, 2011

One From the Family Archives

Many thanks to all that commented on the picture of my grandpa in the last post.

I’ve written before about my other grandpa, my mom’s father, who was the Storyteller; a larger than life tour de force of jokes and songs.  He was the guy I wanted to grow up to be.

I wrote a bit about my dad’s father before, too, in a post about going to my cousins’ wedding.  In it, I said:

My dad’s father is old school Italian and all of 93-years old.  (Then.)  He’s so old school that outside The Old School, they have a statue of him.  He’s as staid and buttoned down as my other grandpa was flamboyant.  He doesn’t say much but when he does, it’s usually something good.  So after about 10 minutes of talking to my cousin on video, she asked him, “In conclusion, do you have any words of wisdom for your grandson, the groom.”

Grandpa said, “Tell him that if he takes after his Grandpa, he’ll be fine.”

While Grandpa was good at handing down life lessons, they didn’t always take hold.  Like gardening, for instance.  As I mentioned in a prior post, my dad did not inherit his father's gardening skills, hence the golf clubs used for tomato stakes.

Grandpa’s garden was a work of art.  He grew enough stuff to stock a salad bar all summer long.  This is what it looked like:


These shots were from 1992, so Grandpa was in his mid 70s.  At this point, he was taking it a little bit easier.  You can tell because the tomato stakes aren't exactly the same height, nor are they all painted the same color.  But what you can’t see are the boards laid down between the rows, so he could walk between them securely and care for each plant.  Also note the grapevines at the top left of the first picture and the fig tree on the right of the bottom picture.

As for weeds?  There were no weeds.  Ever.  I think that whenever a weed dared poke up out of the ground in Grandpa’s garden, he’d stick his head out the back door and go, “Hey, what’choo doing over there?  Get outta here!

The weed would zip right back into the ground.

Grandpa got shit done.

As I wrote about yet another time, he was instrumental in helping us remodel our Barn, directing Dad, my brother and me on how to put a new ceiling and interior walls into an ancient and unevenly built barn.

Another tradition that took hold: the Post-Mass Shots.  Even though my family gave up going to church, we’d still go whenever we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa.  I wasn’t crazy about going, as I was having my own serious doubts about the Catholic thing, but realized that it was the least we could do, to make our grandparents happy.

Once we got back to their house, Grandpa brought out the shot glasses, for a couple of “eye-openers.”  (And I was so pleased once I was old enough to partake in this ritual!)  We’d do one shot, then Grandpa would say, “Well, we have to open both eyes, don’t we?”  Then he’d pour us each another shot.
“Sal-ute!”
If you'll notice, Mom and Grandpa have little shot glasses shaped like beer mugs and are holding them by the handles.

Would you believe I get my height from my mom’s side?

As usual with me, I have an ulterior motive in telling you all this.  I want to tell you a story from the family archives, one my dad has told for years.  Because it’s been a while since I’ve heard it, I might not have every fact lined up, so Dad, a little leeway here, OK?

In Coraopolis, the little town outside Pittsburgh where my dad grew up, there were train tracks that ran through it.  One of the treats we kids enjoyed when visiting our grandparents was watching and listening to the trains rumble by all day long.  They were usually freight trains, presumably shipping steel and other goods involved with steel production to and from the plants located on nearby Neville Island.  I’m sure that trains were as fascinating to my dad, when he was young, as they were to us.

One night, when my dad was, I’m guessing 15 or so, he and his friends got picked up by the town police for hopping on and off the moving railroad cars.  As one might expect in a small  town in the 1940s, they weren’t formally “arrested,” but the cops took them down to the city jail for holding while they called all the parents.

Dad knew he was screwed.  He knew that his dad would not come get him out of jail.  Grandpa used tell him, as a warning to stay out of trouble, “The police pick you up and put you in jail, you can stay right there.” 

Grandpa didn’t play.  He didn’t have time for that kind of foolishness.

So one by one, Dad’s friends’ parents came by to pick up their sons.  And one by one, they led their boys out, usually by the ear, leaving Dad to sit in the jail cell.

Come on, you know your dad will come get you.  He wouldn’t leave you here all night.”

Nah, he’s not coming.  No way he’s coming, he said so himself.  I’m going to be here a while.”

Finally, the last of his friends was picked up, leaving Dad there alone to get comfy in his new accommodations.

Then, some time around midnight, to my dad’s great surprise, Grandpa showed up.  I'm guessing Grandma made him go.  He didn’t say much, as he took him home, but he didn’t really have to.

Message delivered:  “Knock that shit off or you’re going to have to get used to that view.”

Now I won’t say that from that point forward, Dad went on to live a squeaky clean childhood.  He did, however get better at not getting caught.

Grandpa, enjoying the 3rd decade of his retirement with his son, who is enjoying the 1st decade of his.

17 comments:

  1. Beautiful post Tony, brings a tear. Just talked to my Dad an hour ago, he is feeling fine. Said the top half is well, but needs to get the bottom part working better. (Still wobbly at 95) Great post.

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  2. You have such an awesome family, Bluz! Shots after church? Fantastic!

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  3. We who wore glasses got two more shots to unfog our lenses.
    About the little shot glasses with handles: When I first came to their house as a young woman, Grandpa passed around a tray of little shot glasses with handles filled with anisette for the ladies and standard shots of liquor for the men. I took the little handled glass, went to the kitchen, dumped the anisette in the sink and returned to put liquor in my lady glass. I explained to Grandpa that I really loved those little handled glasses but preferred liquor to anisette. From that day, he served my Sunday shot in the little shot glass with the handle. He liked it too.

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  4. Dad,
    What, no details to add about what it's like doing time in the Coraopolis Hoosegow?

    Glad you liked. It's easy to do a good post when you have solid source material.

    Raven,
    The shots are what made the church tolerable.

    Mary Ann,
    Hey! I had contact lenses! Y'all owe me 2 more shots!

    I'm sure Grandpa was unaccustomed to tiny little ladies that could knock back the Jack with the rest of the men. But give him credit... he learned.

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  5. An enthusiastic gardener in the family is definitely someone to be treasured.

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  6. His garden reminds me of my own grandfather's - he could grow anything. And he indulged every whim I had when I would pull seeds out of whatever fruit/veggie I was eating and insist on growing. And they always grew. Unfortunately, I didn't inherent his skill. I am death to plants.

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  7. Now THAT is a garden. What an awesome grandpa!

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  8. I love the old pictures!! As soon as get my printer up & running (because now I have a computer that will support it) I'll post the one I promised you ages ago..

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  9. O.K., some detail about being in the Slammer. I knew, just knew my Dad wasn't coming; Mom would never go into a police station. But about an hour after I was alone in the cell, HE came in, didn't say much, but did say on the long walk home, "You need to Thank your Mother." I did and she later said he really wasn't coming. I have somewhere a picture of Dad in the Garden with his tomato plants growing about three feet over his head. Granted he is only 5'2", but it is still an accomplishment. Thank you Miracle Grow.

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  10. Snowbrush,
    If only I could figure out a way to grow bacon that way. I have a dream of frolicking through vast, waving fields of bacon. (Right in the shadow of the hamburger trees.)

    Gina,
    I’m pretty good with houseplants, but I’ve never done an actual garden… probably because I’m not much of a vegetable eater.

    I didn’t mention in the article, but Grandpa was also brilliant with fruit trees. He had a green apple tree that was just amazing. It yielded these giant, softball-sized apples. Man, we used to race through Grandma’s extravagant dinners just so we could go outside and pick an apple or two to eat. Or course, then we’d spend the rest of the night on the can, but those apples were totally worth it.

    He also had one of those fig trees that you had to bury every winter. I have no idea how all that works.

    Now, Grandpa functions as Senior Advisor to my dad, as he tries to get some orange and pear trees going down in Florida.

    Jessica,
    If that garden were any more awesome, we’d have found Adam and Eve living there.

    Jennifer,
    Yay for new computers!

    I love it when I get to borrow old photo albums. I scan all my favorite pics to add to my electronic archive, for future blackmail, I mean, use later.

    Dad,
    Oh, that’s priceless. “You need to thank your mother.” LOL… I knew it!

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  11. My father ALWAYS said the same thing to us: You get busted, I'm not coming to get you!

    Then my sister got arrested and taken to juvi - on Christmas Eve (the details are not mine to tell, or you know I totally would!). She was 16. Dad was a nervous wreck, pacing the living room for an hour. Then he went and got her, saying he couldn't leave her there to miss Christmas morning. She always got away with a lot with my dad.

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  12. Kernut,
    It’s different with daughters. If it had been one of my aunts down in the holding cell, Grandpa would have been down there in an instant.

    And I bet you got away with plenty…

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  13. HA! My parents used to tell me that, if I ever got thrown in the clink, the only way I wasn't staying there for the duration is if I was arrested for political protest. And even then, it would depend on exactly WHAT I was protesting.

    I wisely decided not to take any chances.

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  14. Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    Sure, that's what they TOLD you. They were bluffing. I guarantee they would not have let their baby girl spend the night in the pokey.

    (I love synonyms for jail.)

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  15. That garden is pretty fantastic. My SIL & her hubs grow an awesome garden, too. There's nothing quite like fresh tomatoes, dirt and all! Yum.

    I love that you referred to their ages as their "decades of retirement" - I really need to look at life that way. Sounds much more fun!

    This KILLS me:

    ...frolicking through vast, waving fields of bacon"

    I have a wonderful relationship with bacon. We go way back. Cool imagery. Thanks for that. :)

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  16. This post took me forever to read because I had to go back and read all of the older posts that you linked to. I really enjoyed it, and that garden is amazing! I'm so glad you use the blog to expand and improve your ability to tell a great story. Keep 'em coming!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for caring enough to look up all the backstories! Readers like you are why I leave tracks in the first place.

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