Thursday, April 19, 2012

Visiting My Grandparents

Lynnewood Gardens

I recently read a story about a girl visiting her grandparents and liked the idea of writing about visiting mine. My grandfather would have been 114 this week. This remembrance just covers the years I knew them.

The years before are worthy of a noir novel. I kid you not.

From 1941 until about 1953, my grandparents, Clarence (Chick) and Dorothy (Dot) lived at Oak Terrace Country Club in Ambler, PA, where my grandfather was the manager, a job that had belonged to my father until he was drafted. This caused some tension between them over the years.

During their years at Oak Terrace, my grandmother didn't have to cook at all. She got to serve as a sort of Grande Dame, which suited her perfectly. The owner of the Club was the husband of her best friend, which worked out well too. She was able to dress for all of her meals, served in the main dining room or on the terrace. She greeted other diners, sitting at the head table.

But things changed when I was five (no one ever told me why) and my grandfather returned to architecture, a profession that never earned him much of a living. They moved to Lynnewood Gardens in Elkins Park, Pa, about fifteen minutes away from us. He specialized in designing churches and synagogues.

Unlike grandparents today (ahem!), my grandmother was stricter than my parents. I would usually stay for a few days and was expected to entertain myself without getting dirty or breaking things. I was expected to keep my nails clean, my hair combed. My brother's visits were usually separate from mine since their place was so small.

The good thing about Lynnewood Gardens was that it had a lot more open space than our row house in Philly. It also had play areas for kids. It was here that my grandfather taught me how to pump a swing. We also spent a lot of time looking for four-leaf clovers. We both liked to roll down the huge hill that ended at the playground. He was a rotund man who most often wore Bermuda shorts, socks and sandals. He liked to sit on the floor and if urged, he would draw for me.

At dinner, he ate a small dish of canned French peas with the rest of his meal every night. I never saw the attraction and wasn't made to eat them. Their apartment had just one bedroom and I slept on a daybed in the living room. The shadows on the wall at night were different from the ones at home and no one would get me water if I yelled. They pointed out they were too old to have their sleep disturbed. I could tell this was true by their joint snoring.

His favorite dessert was a Duncan Hines spice cake with chocolate icing. Dinner was unfailingly a piece of meat, a potato of some kind and a vegetable. Although my grandmother was a better cook than my mother, it was a close race.

The only books in their apartment were the Readers Digest Condensed books although my grandfather held a master's degree from Columbia University. They both liked to play cards and we would do that at night as I got a bit older. My grandmother made beautiful clothes (by hand) for my dolls. My grandfather encouraged me to talk about adult things. We never left the apartment complex that I can remember. When I visited, it was there I stayed.

Their favorite TV shows were Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and Bonanza. In the daytime, my grandmother watched THE EDGE OF NIGHT, and an ongoing argument until my mother went back to work, was which was better that or THE GUIDING LIGHT.

When they moved into the apartment, they had no furniture so they bought it all new. It was the mid-century look that's become popular again today and I have some of it still. They liked to have parties and serve highballs and dance. Those country club days were never far away.

My grandfather died of a heart attack in 1960. They were returning from the movie PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES. I was home watching THE TWILIGHT ZONE-the one where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses at the end.

After that my grandmother lived down the street from us for eight years before marrying again. Although it was one block away and she was only in her fifties, no one ever thought of her walking down the street to visit us. Someone always picked her up. Still the grande dame.

Was visiting your grandparents similar to this?


Erik Donald France said...

Oh, I love this!

Sounds eerily familiar in some ways. My Dad lived in West Philly (Larchwood) around the time of Pearl Harbor. My grandfather (paternal) died of a heart attack at 57 almost twenty years after that war ended. My grandmother was a "Gray Lady" and did stuff at the hospital in East Stroudsburg, PA. She watched The Lawrence Welk show and other surreal things like that. . . she called all squirrels "Petey" . . .

Hey, great topic! Cheers ~

Anonymous said...

All my grandparents were gone by the time I was two, except my father's father. He lived with us until my high school years (1959-1963) when he had a series of strokes and went into a nursing home. I was never made to visit him there, he could not speak and was no picnic to look at, I'm told. He died there, so my memories of grandparents are only of him. He was a very grumpy old man who had little use for children, especially if they made any noise. His strongest praise was "pretty good".

George said...

My grandparents lived on the other side of town so we always drove over a couple times a week. My grandmother would always have home-made soup for us and a big meal. And, they would always have wine with dinner. They would give me a little cup of wine as a kid. It sure calmed me down!

Todd Mason said...

My maternal grandfather was murdered in an engineered coalmine cave-in when my mother was about six, and my paternal grandfather died of a combination of granite-polishing-shed-driven silicosis and alcoholism when my father was fourteen, so I never met them. My maternal grandmother seemed to resent her own children, much less her grandchildren, though temporary exception could be made when my mother would give her money which she would turn over to the likes of Jimmy Swaggart. My paternal grandmother seemed a bit puzzled by her grandchildren; she and my father didn't have the best of relations (she tended to denigrate her daughters to such an extent that my father, her oldest boy, had to physically restrain her from beating them when they dared come home late from a date). My father liked his stepfather a little better, though he freaked me out a bit when I was young...he was relatively stoic, for one, and I came from talkers.

Visiting them (mother's family in West Virginia, father's in Vermont), an annual summertime occurrence, was mildly interesting if a bit stressful, in retrospect. A lot of unresolved things between the large batches of siblings, as well as with their mothers.

I remember reading a lot, on the Beckley porch, and in the Barre upstairs bedroom that had once been my half-uncle's, the only son of my step-grandfather and my grandmother. It was amusing to see some French-dubbed American tv out of Montreal, in Vermont.

Ron Scheer said...

My grandparents were in their 40s when I was born. They lived into their 80s and 90s, so I knew them until I had children of my own. My youth was a world where children were better seen and not heard, so grandfathers did not play with their grandchildren. I don't recall a single word from either of them.

Grandmothers were working out age-old grievances that far predated me. Farmers, my grandparents did not see the benefit of more than 8 years of parochial school education. As someone with a PhD in English Lit, who knew something about computers, I was a mystery to them.

Naomi Johnson said...

My paternal grandfather died in a coal mining accident, and my maternal grandfather drowned when my mother was only 5. My maternal grandma died when I was six, and I only faintly remember her. I only have real memories of my paternal grandmother. She lived in a two-room house on a West Virginia hillside, overlooking the house of her oldest son and the railroad tracks. She never remarried. She had a lovely antique porcelain oil lamp on one small table, along with a water globe containing a red rose. She made apple jelly, and that was where I first tasted it. She wore those old-fashioned granny shoes that lace up and have high blockish heels. If I spent the night with her (very rare), I wasn't allowed to go to the outhouse after dark; I had to use the "slop jar" kept under the bed. My siblings and I loved her, and loved to visit her, but we also knew from firsthand experience that we were far from being her favorite grandchildren, of which she had many. In the baby book my mother kept when her first child was born is a list of people who visited and signed the book. My grandmother was well down the list. That didn't surprise me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So many of our grandparents had a hard life. Both my paternal grandparents were dead before my birth as my father was third youngest of 19. Some of his sisters were older than my maternal grandparents.

Deb said...

Both of my parents are from very large families (I have over 30 first cousins) and were children of the blitz of London. Both sets of grandparents were working-class English of (mostly) Irish and (some) Jewish ancestry, with a little Scots thrown in. We never spent the night at either set of grandparents's homes. My father's parents had a dreadful marriage (although they remained married for 60-plus years...and hated every minute of it); I would not have wanted to spend more time with them than I had to. My mother's parents had a much more loving, affectionate relationship, but my grandmother was ill for much of my childhood. Both of my mother's parents died before I was 20. My father's parents lived to ripe old ages (grandmother 85, grandfather 93)--their hatred for each other made them determined to outlive the other. Grandfather finally won.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So many people have unhappy lives. Perhaps expecting something more is folly.

Charles Gramlich said...

One of my grandfather's was living with us when I was itty bitty, but he died around the time I was 4. The others had already passed so I didn't get to know them unfortunately.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I had wonderful grandparents on both sides though my paternal grandmother, a published writer and columnist, died long before I was born. I have her collection of published writings including some fine poetry. My grandfather worked in a publishing house and once edited a reprint of Wren & Martin, the English grammar book popular in Indian schools from 1960s to 1980s. He wrote for newspapers and reviewed books. My maternal grandfather was an artist and ran his own art classes, a family enterprise that continues to this day. He thought me how to draw and paint. My grandmother was a homemaker, a gentle, softspoken woman, who always had a happy smile on her face. My parents tell me they went through a lot of hardship but they never let it affect their children. They were the quinessential grandparents, caring, loving, affectionate, and spoiling.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - What a lovely idea for a post! And I've been to Lynnewood Gardens, so you reminded me of that, too. It's so beautiful there...*homesick*

John said...

Two of my grandparents died when I was in a very young boy and I recall little about them. My father's father had a stroke when I was about 12 then lived out his final years in a nursing home. My memories of visiting him are not at all good ones. He was in a VA hospital, home to many Viet Nam and Korean war men most of whom were in terrible shape. Not a fun place for a kid to visit once a month.

My maternal grandmother lived the longest and spent her final days in our home. She was a spirited, eccentric woman who used to refer to herself as a gypsy who had fortune telling powers (she was born in the US of Romanian immigrant parents). She is the only grandparent I have real memories of. Visiting her in her own home in Milford, CT was like travelling back in time. The house seemed to have frozen in the mid 50s, a decade after my mother had been married and left her home. It was sort of a shrine to my mom's girlhood in a way. I enjoyed exploring in her vast backyard that had an overgrown garden that was like something out of the Frances Hodgson Burnett book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if all of our grandparents were as eccentric as they seemed or it was our age that made them seem that way.

Todd Mason said...

Writerly folk are strange. This set of reminiscences makes me wonder if there isn't a tendency for the children of people who've had hardscrabble lives to be guarded, and if those guarded children are able to achieve a certain level of basic security, if their children, us, might not be particularly curious about the interior processes of other people because of the guardedness of our parents and their siblings, as much as we know them. And, certainly, if our grandparents have been raised and otherwise lived vastly differently than we have, they are likely to seem strange in many of their default assumptions, etc. I note that Prashant is the major exception here, having come from a fairly literary/artistic family...those sorts of kids become artists or artistically-inclined because it seems natural.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I had another piece about things my parents never told me but it might be too persona.
My parents were scared. The war, the depression, their nature. They were urban peasants, seldom striking out of their neighborhood. My grandparents were more worldy.

K. A. Laity said...

My paternal grandparents lived next door to us growing up. My grandmother always introduced my mother as "the first one in the family who wasn't a Finn." She conveniently overlooked her brother in law Emil, since that was a common Finnish name (though he was born in Spain and raised in Cuba). My maternal grandparents lived about a mile or two away. We saw them frequently. That grandfather was by marriage as my mom's folks divorced in the 1940s. We didn't know that as kids. My dad's folks had a farm, worked in the mines, as a butcher, then for the state, lived all over Michigan, but usually with other Finns around, even Detroit for a while.