Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Day for Daddies, Daughters & Grandbabies

Daddy was a maverick. He learned to drive when he was 11; he went out Drinkin' & Dancin' as a young man, even though his Southern Baptist heritage forbade those pleasures of the flesh; he served his time during WWII, first as a Subway Soldier, guarding the Island of Manhattan against a German invasion (as such, he lived in the Astor Hotel & rode the subways all day long, suited up in his Air Force uniform), then with the Eskimos near the North Pole on Baffin Island--again, keeping North America safe from invasion.

He and Mom were married in Trinidad (take a gander at the Happy Couple, circa 1951. Mom & Dad are on the left, along with Mom's Twin & her Hubby), & he worked for the Bahamian Government for 25 years. He was a West Texan who lost his accent, gained some culture, but never forgot his roots.

Frank Junior--or "Buddy," as he was known by his family, & "Pancho" (Frank en EspaƱol) by my Mom--loved Peanut Butter & Banana sandwiches, with a touch of mayo on white bread. He wasn't athletic, but enjoyed watching sports on TV. He & Uncle George occasionally craved a Dry Martini & talked about The Old Days, when both worked for Pan American Airways.

Both kids knew Dad was special, especially Ella Numera Dos. She was so taken with Pancho & his sense of adventure that she wanted to live life with the joie de vivre that Grandpa did--starting off with her college choice.

Let's make one thing clear: Numera Dos is a Yankee Child, through & through. She was born & raised on the East Coast, and wears Uggs year-round. "Nordstrom's" & "How Much?" were her first words. She doesn't know Texas from a combination enchilada dinner, but the team she always roots for is their flagship university in Austin. She's wanted to be a Longhorn since she was knee-high to a barnyard rooster. This child has University of Texas written all over her.

Daddy died a few years back. We were all profoundly affected. We didn't realize how deeply he had touched Numera Dos, however, 'til she wrote this essay for her UT application last fall. The words have that poignant touch, only accessible to the young. Hope you enjoy it on this Father's Day of 2008.

Four years ago, in an unfinished pine dresser, an old gold class ring with the engraving “F.B.R.” pointed me toward the future.

Throughout my childhood, every two weeks or so, I’d visit my grandparents. We didn’t need TV or video games—we had Grandpa. He told colorful stories about growing up in West Texas: how the summers were unbearable and how luck was on his side during winter ice storms; about his dogs, and learning to drive a truck when he was 11, and how he left Stamford for the bluebonnets of the Hill Country when he was 18.

Grandpa’s stories shaped my childhood. My sister and I huddled over the checkerboard (of course, Grandpa let us win) while we listened to his tales. Texas held the memories of my mom growing up, my aunt making friends, and Grandpa driving a diesel truck during the Depression so he could afford to attend UT.

I remember the week that helped shape my future perfectly. During that last week in July, I came home from the pool, soaking wet, to learn that Grandpa had had a stroke.

One night while we were sitting around a red-and-white checkered table cloth covered with barbequed chicken, corn and pasta salad, the phone rang. My mom answered and talked for quite some time. “It’s a nurse from the hospital. She said that Grandpa was speaking earlier. Why don’t you talk to him a little?”

“Hi Grandpa,” I mumbled tentatively into the phone. “How are you doing?” I was afraid he couldn’t hear me, but remembered that he always could talk me out of a bad mood. “When you get better I promise to play you in a game of checkers. I bet I’ll win. Love you, get better soon.” I gave Grandpa a kiss into the cold receiver and tried to think warm thoughts.

Grandpa died the next day; a day filled with tears and tissues, and coincidently three days before my 13th birthday. Something I found a few weeks later, however, gave me a feeling of hope.

I helped my mom clean out Grandpa’s house. Upstairs in the back bedroom, I tugged at the top drawer of the dresser. At the bottom of the splintered drawer, the heavy college ring gleamed. I turned it over in my hand. Grandpa graduated in 1939 from the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. The ring with the cut stone and engraved letters reminded me of Grandpa’s stories.

Some girls plan their weddings years in advance. When I found Grandpa’s University of Texas ring, I began to plan the rest of my life. I felt I could do anything, and Grandpa would be by my side. The ring pointed me toward Austin; it told me to be a Longhorn, and set down roots the way Grandpa did. I knew I wanted to live a life of love, giving and family, and the ring could help show me the way.

With this treasure in a jewelry box on top of a pine dresser in my bedroom now, I know that whatever I do, Grandpa will be right there, telling me everything’s going to be OK.

Numera Dos got into UT, even though they only accept 4% of undergrads from out-of-state. Her college selection deliberations were long & painful; she wanted to go to Texas--but also knew that her major & her family must figure into the equation. She's going to go to college in Wisconsin this fall, following her career path & also her Big Sister to the Land of Cheese, Brewskies & Bratwurst. She says that Austin--and UT--can wait. The Cherub has grown up a lot since first sitting on Grandpa's knee & listening to the Wild Tales of the Lone Star State. She knows now that Texas won't bring her closer to Grandpa--he'll always be in her heart, no matter where she lives.

3 comments:

Tara R. said...

What a truly beautiful tribute to her grandfather! That was wonderful. Your dad sounds like he was a real character. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Melissa B. said...

Tara: Thanks, & happy Father's Day/Anniversary to you all, too!

freegal1000 said...

i didnt know you posted this mama

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