Handing Down a Decent Car

Today’s guest post comes from Ben.

I saw one of those plastic tips from the old ‘Tiparillo’ cigars lying on the ground the other day. It reminded me of my Dad as he smoked those for a time when I was a kid. He always said he spent more time chewing on those tips than actually smoking which is just as well.

My folks were a pretty good example of how to be married. I would hear them lying in bed at night talking and laughing. My wife had good examples of relationships too and we’re lucky that way. My Parents Joe and June grew up together. The story goes when they were infants both their Moms belonged to the same social group known as ‘The Mothers and Daughters Club’. At the monthly meetings Joe and June’s bassinettes would be put together behind the furnace at the town hall. Dad said he didn’t expect to date anyone but Mom and Mom grew up on a farm so she didn’t intend to be a farm wife. She says he had to work at it and in the end his twinkling eyes and Irish charm won her over.

Skip ahead about 60 years after they got married.

My Dad decided it was time to give up his job and therefore Mom said they only needed one car. Dad informed Mom he was NOT getting rid of his car. She was rather indignant about that “He didn’t even give me a chance! Who made HIM ruler of the roost!?” she said. My parents ‘fight’ in a rather humorous way… I asked if we should leave so they could work this out? Mom informed me it was already worked out because HE decided!
I was at their apartment with my son to pick up their now extra car because my son wanted a car with actual heat in the passenger compartment. (As compared to his old car that didn’t have heat. I told him having a car with no heat builds character. My first car didn’t have heat either and look how I turned out. Son thinks he has enough character for the moment.)

It was Moms car we drove home.

Mom has always had some spunk in her. When they were farming together Mom wasn’t afraid to inform Dad that his Universal Hand Signals left something to be desired and he could bale his own Damn hay. Among other things…

I only knew my paternal Grandpa and maternal Grandma. This was Grandpa’s farm before ours so he still had a garden out here when he was able. Built himself a little garden shed, cut his own hair – and boy did that freak me out when I saw it—and at the local mall played Santa Clause for a number of years and in 1976 played Uncle Sam.
It was his father that came to our current farm location in 1896. People ask how we got so far off the road and down in a valley but that’s where the water was. They settled next to the natural springs. Grandpa hauled sand from the creek banks to his garden plot so he could grow peanuts and watermelons.

My dad says his Dad didn’t like change and didn’t like to make improvements to the farm. Whenever my dad made a change his dad criticized it. And when they decided to tear down the old farmhouse they didn’t exactly tell Grandpa about it. He drove in about the time the old house was pulled down and I’m told he simply turned around, drove away and didn’t come back until he was invited for Thanksgiving dinner in the new house. Which he did admit was a nice house.

My maternal Grandpa died before I was born. Grandma called every night at 7:00 to talk to my mother and if I answered the phone there was a pause and a little laugh and then ‘Ben?’ Yes, Grandma, it’s me… she also told me not to eat candy cause I was gonna get fat and, in the 70’s when I was trying the ‘gold chain necklace look’, she saved me from myself by informing me that only girls wore necklaces.

One of my favorite memories of Grandma is riding in her car when I was a kid, stopping at an intersection and a couple boys about 10 yrs old on bikes had to stop as we blocked their path and one kid said ‘Aw ya dumb old lady….’ And Grandma laughed and waved and drove off. I think about that a lot; I think how well she handled that (we never talked about it so I’m not sure what she thought of it), but I think there was probably a good lesson in there for me as a 10 yr old. And as a future grandparent.

Grandma’s house was where we watched the fireworks on the fourth of July. All my cousins were there with watermelon and squirt guns in her back yard.
And her 1967 Plymouth Valiant was my first car.

Yep, driven by a little old lady.

What comes to mind when you think of your grandparents?

52 thoughts on “Handing Down a Decent Car”

  1. oh my, Ben – what lovely memories you have – thank you for sharing them with us.
    i’m milking early and then we’re headed in to Duluth for much of the day so can’t get into stories right now, but i have very fond memories of my grandparents too. i’ll check in when we get home – should be fun reading!


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons:

    I could write many blog posts about grandparent memories–and I probably will. Just not today. Grandma Hess was a woman of accomplishment who woke us in the mornings saying “Rise and Shine!” Thus you feel her influence every morning that I make it onto the blog — a form of communication she could little imagine.

    Thanks Ben for your entry today with memories of your grandparents. It is a lovely way to start my day!


  3. Nice, Ben. Reminds me of how my mother’s Airstream trailer smelled of percolated coffee…and how all the pieces of hard candy in the bowl on the coffee table all welded together in the summer heat.


      1. thanks for stopping in on your way home. wow your grandmather had an airstream. ill bet that was cool. those are the best trailers ever. did you get to go on the road with it or was it parked in its regular spot?


  4. Morning all! I was lucky enough to have three grandparents and one step-grandparent alive when I was young. Of course, I didn’t realize that my step-grand was really that until I was in junior high. My paternal grandfather was killed in a car accident when my dad was a boy, so I never knew him. By the time I came along, my grandmother was living in a large apartment with her “friend” Ray. Ray had his own bedroom, complete with his dresser and closet full of clothes. He used tree shoes for all his shoes, which was fascinating to me as a child. He was a kind, gentle man, who always had butterscotch candies for us grandkids and it never occurred to me that he was anything more than just a friend of my grandmother (amazing, huh?). When I was in 8th grade, I came home from school to the news that Grandma and Ray had gotten married that day. I was stunned…. mostly because I had never given one thought to a romance between them. Once, several years after Grandma had passed away, I asked Ray why they hadn’t gotten married years and years ago, Ray smiled and said “Your grandmother just wasn’t ready to give up her freedom back then.”


    1. A good friend of the family, who was sort of like a non-family grandpa, carried butterscotch candies in his pockets and would slip them to us kids when the other grown-ups weren’t looking. He was also the king of turning a hanky into a little mouse puppet. (This was also the guy who would read Shakespeare to the cattle when he worked his first post-college job, that involved a certain amount of waiting for things to run, in the oil fields of Texas.)


  5. My maternal grandfather was named Arthur, although the grandkids all called him “Pappy”. He had a very unhappy childhood, during which his mother clearly favored his older brother (which is ironic, considering that if he were alive today, my great uncle would probably be in jail). Pappy carried his unhappiness into his adulthood and it was compounded by what we would today call his OCD and maybe some bipolar stuff as well. As a result, he was not an easy man to live with.

    Pappy threw himself into one hobby at a time and when he did, he would jump in with both feet. When he and my grandmother were younger, before the kids came along, they did community theatre and he did everything… sets, make-up, starring, directing, even marketing. Another hobby I remember as a small child was his Carmen Ghia car. He raced it on the local circuit and spent hours and hours keeping it up and polishing it. It was chrome inside and except for the racing, I don’t think he ever drove it. After the car was gone, he went wild in the basement with miniature trains. The ping pong table as well as ledges and other cardtables were pressed into use for a few years and the level of detail in the towns and landscaping was incredible. We grandkids were not allowed to play with the trains unless he was there and even if he was there, really he was the only one allowed to mess with them.

    Later in life, my grandfather started to mellow a little bit, particularly after retiring from a job that he clearly had never enjoyed. He and my grandmother found a nice little place out of the city and he flung himself into fixing it up and planting a big garden. He never did let go of his OCD (same 7 meals every week), but he did seem a little happier at the end of his life – finally.


    1. we are all dysfunctional in our own way. can you imagne havig to d a job your entire life you didn’ enjoy because thats the way the world works? those were the expectations back then and i am glad we have figured out at least that much today. i think everone knows you need to have life involved in the job selection you choose. glad to hear he mellowed.


  6. my dads mom was killed in a car accident the year i was born. she was holding one of my cousins on her lap and he made it ok but she didn’t. she was kind of the irish mother from the movies from what i hear and my grandfather was a stoic old salt who was kind of a sitting in his chair looking over the tp of hs glasses kind of guy. he was an interesting guy who lived in the same house in fargo from the day they were married til the day he died. he was good enough to pitch in the big lagues i am told and treasured that old 3 finge baseball glove in the basement but h decided to stay home and tend to the family in fargo where he became a bricklayer. nt only a bricklayer but a foreman on the jobsight. everyday he would put on a whte shirt and bow tie and his stetson open road hat and head off to days bricklayng. every noon he would come home for lunch get a new shirt and head back out clean and crisp and ready for the second half of the day. when we went to his house the first thing i always think of is the candy n top of the refrigerator that was there for us. he didn’t like candy but had no fewer than 10 bags up there for us. he had always wanted a packard automobile and in about 1960 my dad and his siblings made sure he got one. packard had stopped making cars in 1958 but they got him a good one and he drove it with pride. his name was j.b. and everyone called him simply j.b. grandkids, his kids, everyone. when asked why his grandkids didn’t call him grandpa or something like that he would simply reply that wasn’t his name , j.b. was. my dad was the baby in his family by 15 years so j.b died at age 83 when i was 6 or 7. i still have his cuff link box.
    mom’s parents were a different deal. he was a north dakota farm boy came to the big city to be a construction guy and after working for th estate for a year or two started his or bridge and road construction company. he was kind of a dapper little ma with that crisp part in his hair way up high, not in the middle but so close it may have well have been. he got a new t bird everytime they came out with a new body style to show his success to his peers. he had 5 girls and had little knowledge skill or interest in raising girls , that was left to my grandmother who was raised by the indian and the polock. she was a spry old gal who would get very upset with spilled pop or the knick knacks out of place on the knick knack shelves that ere everywhere in her house. her father was the 1/2 native american who worked hard to make sure he did things that mattered and her mother was polish royalty whos mom got run out of poland on a rail back when the european juxtapositionng was going at the turn of the last century. she was always interested in the society pages and the newest styles in the magazines. my dad was the lap sitting grandpa and my mom is the activities grandma, both very different form their folks but i guess thats evolution. thanks ben for the chance to recall. wonder how i’ll be. its coming up.


  7. Greetings! As a child, my maternal grandparents seemed to me rather sour, musty folks. They were kind in their own way and had interesting backgrounds, but my interaction with them was limited and they lived in a duplex in the city. They died when I was about 18.

    My paternal grandparents lived in a small house in the country, so it was a little more fun to run around their property. They usually had a good supply of comic books which us kids loved of course. If we asked nicely, we could take them home, too. Grandma was very short, quiet and had a slight palsy. Grandpa was tall and was the definition of a stoic German. Having 11 kids of his own during the Depression, who each had 5-8 kids each, the dear man had a terrible time keeping our names straight. When we came to visit, he would start rattling off my sisters’ names trying to determine who I was. “Theresa? Catherine? Loretta? Ellen? Joanne?” When I shyly nodded my head that he guessed right, he would seize my hand and shake it vigorously, loudly saying, “Jo…, , oh Yohanna, Yohanna!” as his eyes lit up. Sometimes his German accent came through.

    I later learned that I was supposed to be named Joseph or Josephine after him. They both died before I was 20. Grandma died first, and I still remember Grandpa going up to her coffin helped by two of his adult children, wailing and crying and kissing Grandma in her coffin. Absolutely heartbreaking. He died exactly one year after his wife, apparently while planting flowers in her memory. It still brings me to tears to think about it. Stay cool, baboons!


  8. My maternal grandparents, especially Grandma, were the epitome of frugal, back when frugal was being phased out to make way for conspicuous consumption. They were both born in the early 1900s, so the Great Depression was very real to them (both their kids were born during the 30s, along with the one baby who did not survive). TImes were tough, and Grandma and Grandpa had to learn to make do with little or nothing. Every scrap of garbage was saved for possible reuse, food never got wasted, produce was homegrown in a huge (to me) garden–about 20 feet deep and at least 100 feet long. What was not eaten during the season was canned or preserved and put into the root cellar for eating during winter.

    They were miserly with heat in the winter, never had air-conditioning, Grandma sewed all the kids’ clothes, and we grandkids always got pajamas from her as gifts at Christmastime and Easter–winter and summer weight. Yeesh, but some of those pajamas were butt-ugly. Grandma always made them from scraps of material that she got from who-knows-where.

    Even after the kids were grown and gone and her husband died, Grandma continued to save EVERYTHING. Old magazines and newspapers were saved. Newspapers to burn in fireplace, magazines for … well, we never knew what she saved them for, they just stacked up in the attic.

    She became a borderline horder, but never got quite as bad as those people on the reality TV shows who are genuinely sick. I think Grandama truly believed that we’d suffer another Depression in her lifetime and by God she was going to be ready for it.

    But, her frugal ways rubbed off on me. I don’t waste energy, we have a compost pile, recycle religiously, I wear my clothes until they fall apart, keep my cars for years, until they die or get too expensive or dangerous to run. My current cars are a 1991 Camry with 215K miles on it, and a 2002 Camry Solara with 128K miles. Previous cars lasted 16 and 18 years, and the latter served a friend very well as a winter car for 5 more seasons!

    I always shop for bargains, especially food, and comparison shop for most everything. I used to teach a community ed class called ‘The Frugal Wine Gourmet’; how to find excellent wine for $10 or less (actually $5 back in the early ’90s).

    Consequently, my wife and I find ourselves in a relatively healthy financial position after 33 years of marriage. We’re not millionniares, but when she retires we should have enough money to take care of ourselves comfortably in retirement. We think a lot of Grandma’s frugality often, especially when we’ve saved some money on one purchase or another (or not spent the money in the first place). Still, we manage to enjoy life, are able to travel some, and don’t feel that we’re depriving ourselves of anything. So we learned just enough from Grandma to find a happy balance. Thanks, Grandma!



    1. nice chris. congrats on picking up on the seful part of the lesson. keep te newspapers and magazines out of the attic and i think you’ve got it. isn’t that camry a wionderful car. less than 200,00 would be a disappointment. my daughter is driving one 3 rd generation grandma drove first 100,000 mom next 75,000 she has 50 of her own and is being encourages to fix stuff to make it hit 300 before she gives it up for dead. (germand side of the family too)


    2. If you ever make it to St. Paul, Chris, check out the wine at Morelli’s. Can’t beat their prices.


  9. Morning everyone–
    Thanks for the comments and stories; they are great to hear! Couple of you have mentioned smells; it’s interesting isn’t it the whole business of smells and memory.

    If you click on the ‘Tiparillo’ link in the story Dale found some ads that made me wonder if that’s why my Dad smoked Tiparillo’s.

    I have a couple pictures of my Grandpa that I posted here: http://tinyurl.com/42f46wq (It should be a public Facebook folder).

    A follow up on the car part of the story. I was talking with my folks the other day about the car and how much my son likes Mom’s car. Mom agreed it was a nice car. Said how much she always liked it. ‘Better than Dad’s car!’. Ah; apparently there’s still some bitterness there… My Dad is a great guy, don’t get me wrong on him… but he screwed up there with the car business.

    Don’t overdo it out there today Babooners!


    1. Nice pictures, Ben. What a wonderful smile your Grandpa has. Are you the little guy in the pictures?


    2. My grandma smelled like Dove bar soap. I made the mistake of telling a friend in college that he smelled like my Grandma’s soap – which to me was a good thing, but probably less good if you’re an 18-year-old male…


    3. I think smells are more evocative than any of our other senses. A certain smell, especially one that you don’t smell often, can transport you back in time to a certain time and place in an instant.


  10. My two grandfathers could not have been less alike.

    My dad’s father was a sour old man who would have looked like a sour old man at 25. He was skeptical, quiet and harsh in his judgments of family members. My clearest memory of him is visiting him in Des Moines a couple of years before he died. The house next door was being used as a brothel for some African-American women, and that had my grandfather in a dither. He spent countless hours studying their every move through binoculars and then sent hundreds of pages of notes to the cops. I remember thinking that was the perfect hobby for him.

    My mother’s father was a gentle, genial, avuncular guy who was everyone’s image of a grandfather. I posted about him long ago. I was shocked to learn, right about the time of his death, that my grandfather was so wild about sex that he had a string of girlfriends around town . . . women that he visited regularly in his 70s until finally he began having so many accidents with his car that they took his car keys from him.

    This grandfather was a photographer and occasional journalist for his small town newspaper. He was often disgusted by the paper’s tendency to exaggerate. One day that disgust moved him to write a parody of his paper’s coverage of some mild windstorm. My grandfather described whole flocks of chickens that were denuded by the wind, their feathers blown clean through the wood sides of barns. Barns and silos were sent sailing through the air, landing on the wrong farms. And “Arleigh Johansen’s prize Hereford bull was blown through the air and dropped astraddle a barbed wire fence. The poor animal was blown 80 yards along that fence, thereby ruining him for future farm work.” He meant his story to be a private joke, but the boys in the composition room printed up the newspaper with the parody windstorm story until there was an uproar that stopped the presses. I was told that those issues of the paper containing my grandfather’s parody were collector’s items.


  11. I’d like to borrow Clyde’s line about my paternal grandparents. ‘Nuff said.

    My maternal grandparents were both from hard-working farm families from rural Waseca County. My grandma was Presbyterian and my grandpa was from a strictly Catholic family. In those days, the two did not mix. Grandpa’s family disowned him when he married my grandma. She worried her entire life about “taking him from his family” and about the fate of her own soul for forcing him to adopt her religion. Before she died, she told me she was very afraid that she would be going to h*ll for having taken grandpa away. There was no consoling her about it. She was really convinced that she’d done wrong. I understood that she really was afraid but it seemed silly to me. I can’t believe in a God who would be so judgmental. They were good, honest, hard-working people who loved each other very much and made a good life for themselves, and for my mother and my aunt. I tried to reassure her but I don’t think I was very effective.

    They refused to buy anything on credit or mortgage. Everything they had was adequate, humble, spotless and well-maintained. Their did not splurge but saved for their favorite car – an enormous Buick. They also saved for a retirement cabin on Gull Lake in the Cinosam neighborhood. They were determined to do everything for themselves. They had a huge garden and grandma was famous for homemade soups (vegetable-beef) and rhubarb meringue pie. Later, when I showed grandma my own homegrown, canned tomatoes, she said, “Why work so hard? That’s what grocery stores are for!”

    Grandpa had nicknames for all the women/girls in the family. My mom was “Toots,” my aunt was “Poots,” and I was “Tootie.” My aunt hated her nickname. He was the grandpa I’ve written about before, the one who had a large, benign, fatty cyst in the antecubital space of his right arm. He told me that’s where he kept his worms for fishing. He loved fishing and was the BEST at frying fish. That was my favorite family dinner: grandpa’s lake-caught fried fish and grandma’s garden green beans and sweet corn with rhubarb meringue pie for dessert.


  12. Good morning to all,

    Very nice story about your granadparents and parents, Ben. There are many stories I could tell about my grandparents, but I am running behind on my chores today and can only say a few things. One of my grandmothers was a very good cook know for her chicken and pies. Her husband was a very handsome man who had a very full head of pure white hair. He ran a livery stable as a young married man and then became a farmer. I remember being told that he could leap into the air and kick the ceiling of a room with his foot when he was younger.

    My other grandmother was known for her many hobbies and her flower gardens. She earned a large number of ribbons at the county fair for her many entries. Her husband was a cheese maker and a very good gardener. He always took my brother and I fishing when we visited and he always knew where the fish were biting.


  13. My paternal grandfather died a few weeks after both of his sons returned safely from WWII (and well before my parents even met), and while there are pictures of my paternal grandmother holding me as a tiny tike, I have no memories of her.

    My maternal grandparents, on the other hand, were around while I was growing up and lived nearby, so we saw them a lot. Sundays often meant dinner at Perkins, with the old wishing well full of toys for us kids, and silver dollar pancakes for me. There was always Fresca by the fridge, but not for us kids. My grandfather had grown up on a dairy farm, but became a teacher (both of my grandparents were teachers, actually) – living in the city he claimed the closest he could come to milk fresh from the cow was buttermilk, so that’s what he drank. And boy did he complain bitterly when his doctor told him he had to quit drinking buttermilk.

    Grandma (who we called Lady Bop Bop – Grandpa was Bop Bop, so clearly the lady that lived with him was Lady Bop Bop) was an interesting lady. She looked, and seemed, to a lot of the world like your typical small Norwegian Lutheran grandma – quiet, unassuming, scornful of those who were too prideful. But here are a couple of things that snuck out sideways and talk to her character: when she was teaching in Mpls, right before she retired, she taught at Phillips Junior High, during the late 60s/early 70s and the era of race riots. The Phillips neighborhood was certainly not an easy neighborhood to be in then, and a lot of her students were Native American. The would come to school without socks, without food, without a lot. She fretted about the violence that surrounded those kids, and how much their lives lacked, and would shake her head and say, “those poor kids.” She never flat out said that she was fearful while she taught – and I get the sense that she didn’t put up with much guff in her classroom, but I know she worried about those kids (more than her physical safety, which she largely seemed to ignore). Fast forward 20 or so years. She is now living in a senior high rise, Grandpa is not longer living, and she has gone down to the dining room for pie and coffee. Two men at the table behind her are talking about “the gays” and AIDS and fussing about how it serves them right , what with homosexuality being an abomination and all. My little, quiet, 5’2″ grandma stood up, used her best teacher/scolding voice and told those men, “no one deserves to die that way. No one. You have ruined my pie.” And she stalked off. (Go grandma!). Needless to say when we got to talking politics during the George W era and she mentioned that she had voted for Reagan my cousin and I about fell out of our chairs (she had been an “old school” Republican and hadn’t realized how much the party had changed). Her response – “…that is one vote I regret – he wasn’t any good.” She also didn’t think much of W, either. MIss my grandma.


    1. Anna, I’m wondering why your grandpa was advised to quit buttermilk by his doctor? I love buttermilk, and it’s low fat, so what’s the problem? Do you know?


  14. Just a general comment about how interesting it is to hear about other folks’ grandparents. There are some great stories here.

    I worry, though, about the great stories we haven’t heard. It was difficult for me to research my family when I wrote my book. In the end, I had learned things about my family members that were shocking or moving or just amazing. It was enough to tell me that we go through life for the most part not really knowing the most important things that ever happened to people we think we know. And I guess that leads me to encourage those on the Trail to make a good effort to learn the stories your grandparents and other relatives have to tell. If they are willing to share, be a good audience for them. One day they won’t be there.


  15. Lovely post today, Ben, and very thought provoking.

    I thought I had a lot to say on this subject, but the more I think about it, I’m not so sure. I knew 3 of my grandparents. Maybe it would be more apt to say I was acquainted with them-I really don’t remember spending much time on my own with them or having conversations with them. I spent time in their homes and have memories of that, but I can’t say I really got to know those three people well. I suspect my situation was not unlike that of first generation Americans and their relationship to their Immigrant grandparents. Both of my parents were the first in their families to go to college-they worked hard to become professionals and raise their children accordingly-my grandparents were from a different country education-wise.

    I did get to actually talk to my dad’s dad during the last 2 years of his life, right after the s&h was born. Grandpa was not much of a talker, but I’m still glad for what I got. He was Tillie’s (my gravatar) first born—but that’s another story.

    Writing is escaping me this summer, dear Baboons-too many neglected chores and duties have emphatically made it known that further procrastination will not be tolerated.

    Maybe when winter returns-remember winter???


    1. get to work see yo when you can, but remember the 15minutes you are stealing form yourself here may be the best quality 15 minutes of your day. they sustain me for the other un baboon moments which are not neary so sustaining


  16. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, so I have no stories to tell about him.

    The woman I think of as my paternal grandmother was not a blood relative. My father was an adopted child and his adoptive mother died when he was four years old. The woman his adoptive father hired as a housekeeper, and whom he later married and had four children with, is the grandmother I knew. Her four children are the aunts and uncles I still visit whenever I go to Denmark.
    Petra was a short, rotund woman with a kindly disposition. I recall that whenever I visited her, she had cold crepes in the icebox for me, and she taught me how to knit. Petra died of cancer when I was 9 years old. She was in the hospital across the street from the boarding school I was attending, and I remember visiting her every afternoon. These visits made an impression on me for two reasons: the unmistakeable smell of cancer, and the obvious pain she was in. I loved Petra and remember worrying about whether people would think I didn’t care because I didn’t cry at her funeral.

    On my mother’s side of the family things were also complicated. Her father deserted my Granny and their 11 kids when my mother was a young girl. He took his accordion and with only the clothes on his back he vanished without warning. They never saw him again, although my mother discovered when she was in her 50s that he was still living in Dublin, no more than 20 miles from where she grew up. Being Irish and Catholic, neither birth control nor divorce were viable options to end his marriage and the seemingly endless stream of children it engendered, so he took matters into his own hands. He was rarely spoken about in the family.

    My Granny I knew as a colorful old lady. She liked her Guinness and worked in a weaving mill all her life. I still have Irish linen dishtowels that she wove, they’re virtually indestructible. (Brings to mind the song about William Bloat http://www.irishsongs.com/lyrics.php?Action=view&Song_id=389 ). Although I spent very little time with her because she lived in Ireland and I grew up in Denmark, I have vivid memories of her from a three week visit to Drogheda when I was 11. She used snuff, and because no other bed was available, I had to sleep with Granny. Every night I’d erupt into prolonged sneezing fits because of all the snuff on the pillow. She delighted on taking me around to visit with friends, aunts and uncles. “Say hello to auntie Sallie,” she’d say, and I’d politely shake hands and curtsey. Apparently Irish little girls didn’t curtsey, and I once caught her poking whomever I was saying hello to to make sure they didn’t miss it. Often these greetings was rewarded with a shilling with which Granny would make me pay my own way. My mother’s family has lots of stories and has much in common with Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.” Granny died at the age of 84 but I never saw her after that visit.


  17. It is so fun to read all the Ben-prompted stories. My grandparents lived in New York City so in many ways my stories are different, yet the emotional tenor is the same. Both of my grandfathers were self-taught students of the history of NY and could tell you about the history of every building. As a 4th grader I was bored. As a grad student back in NYC, I would have loved a chance to tour the city with them (too late.). Neither my Irish nor my Jewish grandmothers were good cook, but they both put together great meals from the various purveyors in the city.


  18. Thanks for all the great stories today – and thanks for starting us off with some swell writing Ben. Great fun – and nice reading on a hot, sticky day…


  19. I had just one set of grandparents and we only visited once a year at most. So I didn’t know them very well. But I remember my grandmother subscribed to Highlights magazine and sent copies home with us. The farmhouse my grandparents lived in didn’t have indoor plumbing, except for a pump handle at the kitchen sink. It was pretty rustic, almost like camping.


  20. I had to think about this for a long time.

    I was never close to my father’s parents (who spoke a different dialect which was a whole ‘nother language really), though my dad’s dad passed in the most peaceful way I knew anyone to go — he had a fruit stall I believe at the local market and made it halfway there one morning when it started to rain so he turned and went home for another snooze… and never woke up.

    My mother’s dad passed of a stroke. He was a perpetually upbeat character who loved his grandkids and cracking their knuckles. One of my most vivid memories was a yummy salt pork, silken tofu, pepper and dried chilli broth-soup he made one cold (for the tropics) and rainy night for dinner… I must have been about 8? I don’t know if it was an original recipe, but I’ve not had it since and really should attempt to recreate it one day. The first and last communication I had with him after he was paralyzed took place the evening before he and grandma left for a specialist doctor. In one startling moment of clarity, I realized from his grunts and blinks at me that he was telling me to “Go get your mother” — she had figured out how (or at least had the patience) to listen to his attempts at vocalization and communicate with written words and blinks.

    It seems my most vivid grandfather-personality memories are of the couple down the street (they must have been in their late fifties to early sixties) who babysat me while my parents were at work. I can still remember their telephone number after all these years, though they are both gone now. I called them “grandma” and “granddad” and they’d let me do dishes and I’d get soaking wet. They had a tiny front yard with all kinds of lovely pokey things like bright red ornamental berries to put in toy pots and stir and squash. I distinctly remember bawling my eyes out from being majorly bitten over the legs by big red ants in their garden, the kind that hide out in mango trees.

    “Granddad” would pick me up from playschool… and on some special afternoons we would catch a big red-and-white bus with those drop-down windows (usually half-empty when we got on, not crazy packed like Mexico off-the-beaten-track stories) Route 222 (I had to Google this to make sure I didn’t imagine it — and it still exists) to downtown Kuala Lumpur which must have taken at least hour to get to. I was what, probably three or four at the time. I don’t know what his backstory was, but from him I acquired a taste for lambchop and Danish bleu cheese — definitely not regular fare in Malaysia at the time.


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