Though it’s been a while, I’m still amazed with how much I miss you.
Going out in public with you was a risky endeavor. You’d holler and yell, rant and rave, and pity the waitress who didn’t keep your cup of coffee filled to the brim. In all the meals over the years I don’t ever remember there being a waitress who was up to your coffee standards.
I remember you picking me up early from school when I took ill. You revved the car, raced down the street, and slammed on the brakes at the stop sign. Each and every block had a stop sign. We had about four or five miles of blocks between school and home. If I’d been cream when you picked me up, I’d have been butter by the time we got home.
Your thumbs kept a constant stream of tap-tap-tapping on the steering wheel. I hated that tapping. I shudder thinking about it, and practically jump out of my seat when I find myself doing it.
Gramps, I asked you gently, kindly, softly, to please bring the swearing down a notch or two around your great-granddaughter. I wanted her to have a fighting chance of not cussing like a sailor before her fifth birthday, or spending her life fighting the curse of sailor-mouth as I have (and usually losing!) Your response was in rare form. You raged at least 20 minutes if not more. You brought out your usual favorites to which you added combinations I hadn’t heard before. I got your answer loud and clear, as I’m sure your neighbors did deaf — or hard-of-hearing as they were.
You were loud. You were stubborn. It took you more than three hours to get ready in the morning if you weren’t interrupted. However, you were often and regularly interrupted, as ours was (and is) a family of pishers.
You were a night owl who often ate breakfast at four or five in the afternoon.
You hollered and yelled at everyone, and you had an opinion about everything. That’s what the world saw, because that’s what you presented, which is probably why you didn’t have a lot of friends. You barked them away.
But Gramps, you were the one who wrote letters over the years to dad, telling him a simple act of kindness or gentleness would go a long way in his relationship with me. You’re the one who told him there was no shame in holding his daughter, loving his daughter, and a six- month-old was not manipulating him because she cried to be held. It was simply her way of communicating.
You again wrote that clueless man when his eight-year-old daughter was with you and Gram, when her mother (your daughter) was half way around the world, and he had her brother hundreds of miles away with his new family. You tried to explain the soggy pillow you found every morning. Nary a call nor letter. He never heard. After all, in his mind you had nothing worthwhile to say, you were a dreamer.
And for that my father didn’t respect you. You were a fool, a dreamer, a nobody with nothing. Where was your equity? Where was your house?
You and Gram had a house. You left it behind without a backward glance when the neighborhood tanked, and your only daughter (by marriage technically, but she was a part of your soul and spirit if not flesh and blood, and isn’t that what matters?) needed to be safe and attend a good public high school. So you moved, temporarily.
Forty years later you and Gram had to move from that apartment because the building was torn down to build condos.
You were a dreamer, Dad said, as if that were an awful thing. Yet I believe that’s what kept you alive so many years. Your dreams. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The dream to help your family when you struck it rich. All your projects, including your last one, the play about the Elvis no one knew.
Ah yes, another complaint from the sire … your fiscal irresponsibility.
Gramps, even though you drove many away, for your wife, daughter and granddaughter you were always there. Even if perhaps they didn’t want or appreciate it (because it was a package deal with your bluster), you were always there.
You bought me a fancy, billowy chiffon graduation dress. You cussed and argued with me the entire time about the clunky sandals I insisted was the rage and went much better with that dress than simple elegant sandals. You wanted me to feel pretty on my special day, even when I was huge and our options for pretty very limited. You even bought me a shawl to complete the outfit. The dress and shoes are long gone, but I still have the shawl. Every time I see or wear it, I think of you.
I remember worrying about the money you were spending on me. You hugged me close and said, “So I’ll be a millionaire a day later.”
That day never came.
But somehow, even though I don’t think a dress, shoes and shawl would have made a difference, if it turned out they had, you wouldn’t have foregone them. You wanted me to have a special and pretty even when I didn’t feel special or pretty.
You and Gram knew I’d break all the cookies in the cookie jar before eating them because everyone knows eating broken cookies doesn’t make you fat, especially if standing. Even if you eat the entire package in one standing.
And when I’d cry I was too fat you’d embrace me and say “Oh Baby, there’s simply more to love.” I’ve told countless people that story over the years. (Though of course now, no one believes I was ever fat.)
In later years you and Gram forgot I had to live with you. You forgot during those months, every morning you, my night owl Gramps, would drive me across town to the school, which was down the block from where mom and her husband lived. After it became unsafe (or unwise) for me to be with them, you and Gram took me in to give them their “space to work things out.”
On those mornings when you saw, despite my best efforts to hide it, I just couldn’t face the day at school, whether because of a particularly bad night, or who knows what, you’d turn the car around and bring me back to be with you and Gram.
Even when I moved back with Mom and hers, you were always a phone call away. Long before cell phones, when public pay phones were ubiquitous, you drilled into me having the dime (later quarter) so I could always call.
If a party I’d gone to got out of hand, or if I was any place I didn’t feel safe, and I called, even at two in the morning, you’d be there, picking me up. No questions asked. Except to make sure I was okay.
In a family of quantifiers and qualifiers, where everything was conditional and bartering flesh for soul a common practice, you were there for me. At the time I didn’t see it. Kind of hard to with your bluster and hollering and yelling, but you didn’t have it easy either.
Your mother died giving birth to your stillborn brother when you were three. Your father died when you were seven. Your aunt and uncle took you in and did what they could, but they too struggled.
Dropping out of high school to work, you later hitchhiked across the United States to California. Meeting a young widow, the sole breadwinner for her three-year-old daughter, her parents, and two siblings still in high school, you found a ready-made family to step into. A family of your own.
The War. You were stationed up North. Your wife joined you and the war effort up there. Your daughter had to stay behind. There were long drives from Northern California to Southern California to visit your daughter in boarding school. Highway One, back then the only route, took what? 17-18 hours one way? 11 or 12? You and Gram would drive all that way, spend an hour or two with your daughter and then back on the road. It never occurred to you NOT to make that trip every chance you got.
A self-taught man. You read and thought extensively. Every time I asked you how to spell a word or what a word meant you ordered me to the dictionary, so I’d learn. Mom said you did the same thing to her and it drove her crazy.
You took your G-E-D in your 40s. You became an actor–always the villain–something about the deep lines on your face.
Every time you had a windfall (which dad of course thought you should invest), something for your wife, daughter (and later granddaughter), seemed more pressing and important.
Sometimes legally your hands were tied. You had to stand to the side and come in after the fact to try to pick up the pieces. As a mother, I shudder to think the price you paid, and yet you did. You were there for me. Time and time again. Never any doubt or hesitation in your mind.
So by the standards of some, of those who think like dad, your life with small bank account, no stock portfolios, and no real estate, was a waste. After all, as has been said many times already, you were loud. You were blustery. You hollered. You yelled. Your emphysema was scary. Sometimes you were scary.
But you know what? Through it all, in your very special way, you were the only one whoever loved me unconditionally. No strings attached.
I don’t know if I ever would have evolved enough to be comfortable going out to a restaurant with you, but I am selfish enough to appreciate all the love you gave me, and how you acted on that love over the years.
Looking back, I now see I learned enough from you to love my daughter unconditionally. That, my dear Gramps, is priceless. And for that, I thank you with all my heart, and a whole bunch of my soul.
So my wish for you now Gramps is godspeed, and may you find the peace in the afterlife you never found in this life.
Herman Rudin, December 26, 1912 – December 12, 2000.
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