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Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Grandpa's Girl: A Memory

By Kay Dennison of Kay's Thinking Cap

In my Dad's family the stories abound of me as a baby and a toddler and my uncles still love to tell stories about the spoiled brat I was – especially to my kids.

When my dad came back from his stint as a gunner's mate during World War II, he went home to see his folks and secure a position working with his dad on the New York Central. He then headed to Milwaukee to marry the girl he had met and fell in love with at a Big Band dance in Milwaukee when he cut in on the guy with whom she was dancing while he was at Great Lakes (which my sailor daughter calls Great Mistakes.)

They had the sort of simple wedding many young couples had after the war. My mother wore a white suit with a corsage of pink tea roses and Dad wore a brown pinstriped suit. A buddy of Dad's and my Aunt Jeanne stood up for them at the side altar 'cause Daddy wasn't Catholic. After a visit to my immigrant dairy-farming German grandparents out in central Wisconsin, he took his bride home to Greenwich, Ohio where, ten months after the wedding almost to the day, I was born.

I was the first grandchild. My dad and grandpa were away in northwestern Ohio working on the railroad when I was born. My mother, a stoic sort who kept telling everyone that she was okay, finally woke up my teenaged Uncle Bob in the wee hours if April 17th. My grandma had ordered him to sleep on the sofa at my folks' apartment when mom's due date arrived as we didn't have a telephone.

He ran the few blocks to my grandparents' house to wake Grandma and they drove my mom the half hour to Willard where the hospital was. An hour later I was born at 3:25AM. My grandma got word to my dad and he hitchhiked (he rode to work with grandpa) to the hospital to see Mom and me.

On the weekend my big, tough Grandpa came home and even brought a gift: a tiny pair of engineer's overalls and a gold locket. I was six months old before I fit in those overalls and my mother always made sure they were worn with a ruffled blouse, my locket and a bonnet so people would know I was a baby girl.

Grandpa delighted in me and I in him. He called my his best girl. Every weekend he'd come home on Friday night and early on Saturday morning he was at our place to visit me. As I grew, we began to go for a drive in the country on our mornings together. By the time I was two and talking, he'd ask me, "Where are we going today, Kay?" and inevitably, I'd say, "Horsies, Grandpa!" and we'd head to he countryside and visit farms in the area and he'd sing to me as we drove and I learned to sing I've Been Workin' on the Railroad and Won't You Wait 'Til the Cows Come Home? as did the eleven grandchildren who followed me.

Sometimes Grandma went with us but mostly it was just Grandpa and me wandering the countryside, singing and stopping for ice cream. The last always ruined my lunch to my mom's dismay. Later after we moved to Elyria and, eventually, Toledo and my grandparents moved back to Galion, I'd spend a week each summer at their home and we always went to see the horses, sing, and have ice cream.

When I was a junior in high school my parents began the long, bitter divorce that ended their tumultuous marriage and for a few years, I didn't see my grandparents. When I finally initiated contact again and drove to Galion to visit them, we went to see the horses and sang the old songs.

And a few years later, at their 50th anniversary party, I organized my cousins and lined them up like a choir and conducted as they serenaded them with I've Been Workin' on the Railroad and the other old songs he taught each of us as toddlers. It was the first time I had ever seen that big, tough, old railroader with tears in his eye.

We reprised our performance the next day to enthusiastic applause at the reception great-uncle Bill and great-aunt Martha hosted at the country club in their honor.

It was the last time we all gathered together until he died in 1984 at the age of eighty-two when I led the grandchildren into the sanctuary of the Methodist church in Galion to pay our final respects and farewell to the good, kind man who taught us to sing and love horses and always called me his best girl.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I loved your story. If any young people should read it, you have shown them that although divorce is very painful to teenagers,they can still stay in contact with all the loving people who were in their lives before the divorce.

Good for you for reestablishing contact with your grandparents. I know they loved you for it and maybe you showed the way to the other cousins in your family.

Great story, Kay. And nice to see you get to tell the whole tale. (Not like on my blog, where you're limited to an enticing beginning.)

Kay, I finished your story with big tears in my eyes. My great-grandfather was like yours (although a farmer) and I was his favorite. He died when I was 15 and I still miss him so much.

Rhanks to all of you!

Nancy -- my folfs were the onoly ones who divorced. I just did what I needed to do &, trust me, there was a price.

Amazing what one can do with more than 50 words, eh, Virginia? Rhank you for giving me my daily writing practice.

Hugsssssss Judy -- I understand that more than you know. I shed some tears when I wrote it.

Grandparents are so special, aren't they?

My own beloved grandfather - the only one I ever really knew at all - died when I was 16. I still have birthday cards he sent me from different railroad depots on his stops as a motorcar man for the Santa Fe railroad, places like Coleman or Sweetwater, Texas.

Great story, Kay.

Beautiful story, Kay, and a lovely tribute to your grandpa.

Lovely story about your Grandpa Kay. I hope my husband and I are creating some good memories for our 6 grands.

Your story quickens my heart. I never had a grandpa to fish with or fly kites with; no memories. I do have a turn to be grandpa now though. I have a granddaughter who melts my heart and she knows it. I think she's teaching her sisters how it's done. I'm all the more sparked to give them lasting memories such as you have. I appreciate your story as much as I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed your story very much, Kay. I hope you'll continue with these memory pieces. Though I couldn't tell you why, exactly, I find mine to be so cathartic. And don't worry that you think you don't sing well enough to do out loud. Wherever you find yourself, sing as if no one can hear.

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