I was going to begin this post with a digression about how I dedicated an entire week of my blog to Moms but only two days to Dads, but then I realized trying to capture my Grandpa in a single post was going to be long enough, so I leave the digression up to any armchair psychoanalysts out there. Now, let’s get down to business.
Grandpa was born right on the turn of the century, in August of 1900. While Grandma’s birthday was always easier to remember (the day after mine), I always knew how old Grandpa was. I could never remember if Grandma was three of four years younger than Grandpa.
With a family that immigrated into New York like thousands of others during that amazing time, Grandpa grew up in the most culturally diverse area known as New York City. As with everyone in our family, Grandpa was not tall, but he was strong. He wrestled in college (Greco/Roman, or Olympic, if you prefer) and had a crazy record of success (I think he was like 97-3). Basically, don’t mess with my Grandpa!
During the Great Depression, he lost his job at the factory he was working. Grandma liked to tell me (privately) that she was the one that got him his job back, by going to the foreman and demanding he hire back her new husband. I’ll never know for sure if that really happened, but I can believe Grandma when she said she never told Grandpa. He was old-school; a hard working wage earner who believed the wife kept up the home and raised the kids. That turned out fine with Grandma and they passed 65 years together before he died…almost 20 years ago today.
Losing your job in the most desperate financial crisis in the country’s history and living through that led Grandpa to put a high value on every penny he earned. In turn, this led to a (well deserved) reputation as a man reluctant to freely spend. Call it miserly, penny-pinching, cheap or tight-fisted; the appreciation and protectiveness over his hard earned gains was as much a part of him as breathing. For me and my sister, it was never an issue. Perhaps it’s my own dimly rose-colored memories, but as kids, life seemed to be less about “things” back then.
Grandpa built up his own business in Mechanical Engineering. He did some important work for the government during WWII that leapfrogged his business to greater success. Along the way, he owned (and then sold) some unique patents, some which would surprise you. My favorite, though, was the aerated bucket. This was a “bucket within a bucket” where you lifted the “inner” bucket (filled with water) and then released it. As the bucket slowly sank, air was forced up through several holes in the bottom, effectively aerating the water. Voila, you now had a perpetually renewable, totally portable live fish bucket which could be used for bait, caught fish or, as was often the case with us, fish for our tanks.
After he sold the business and moved down here, he still dabbled with inventing things. For example, he created an adjustable “circle grip” that could fit over bottle tops to twist open their tops (years later, someone else released a version of this made from plastic that became quite successful).
His talent and his energy ultimately led him to try various types of art. He created some amazing and intricate wire and wood constructions of sailboats (complete with backlighting, ‘natch). Working from old pictures, he molded busts of his father and others from clay (finished with paint, of all types). All without a day of prior experience or training; just his own incomparable will and imagination.
And, of course, there was the boat. The 29 foot inboard engine boat he would take Dad and me out into Biscayne Bay (or even the Atlantic). Sometimes we would go fishing; sometimes we would just ride the water. Hearing his gruff voice barking orders to Dad or me would always conjure up images of him captaining a pirate ship. Don’t mess with my Grandpa!
There was one memory-searing fishing trip when the three of us were out on the ocean. I had hooked something big and my skinny pre-teen body was struggling mightily to reel it in. Dad would help me a little and then back off. As we finally got the fish closer, we identified it as a shark. No wonder it was so tough to battle!
Whether because it was fouled or some other reason, the shark was bleeding badly. In a scene one can only picture from a bad movie, suddenly the water was literally filled with sharks. Even with my overactive imagination, I would not have thought that many sharks could so suddenly appear around us. It is definitely true what they say about blood in the water.
Or course, I was screaming in terror. I was sure I was going to get pulled overboard in the middle of all those fish. Then I heard my Grandpa’s gruff voice barking at my Dad to take the rod and step back. Out of the cabin comes Grandpa with a rifle or shotgun, I don’t know (hey, I was a kid…and I was pretty darn distracted!). He fired a couple blasts into the middle of the sharks. The water exploded almost as loudly as the gun and the sharks turned away from the remains of my “catch” and began a frenzy. Dad cut the line and Grandpa fired up the engine and we slowly (it takes a while for those boats to hit top speed) moved away.
Later, Grandpa would tell me that his only concern was that the sharks would get caught in the propellers and cause damage to the boat. Then he schooled me on sharks and their behavior, including how he knew what to do to distract them. Of course, I just sat there in awe.
Don’t mess with my Grandpa!