Thursday, February 15, 2007

Agnes & Thomas

Before she died, I did sit down with my grandmother to write down her story and memories. I also videotaped her and this past Christmas, my brother saved the video to dvd for all of us. It has become a treasure.
I can't remember how my grandmother met my grandfather. He died when I was 11 years old and for the past couple of days I have been trying to remember him. I can't remember his voice, but I sure do remember his smile. He was "Tom" to my grandmother. And he was a good man. He took very good care of my grandmother. He was also of Polish descent. He was an American veteran of WWI. When the Great Depression hit, my grandparents found themselves struggling, like much of the rest of the country. They didn't have money for food. But the grocer let them keep a tab because he knew that Tom was a good man and would pay back every penny. They didn't have money to pay their mortgage, but their landlord respected Tom and told him that he would rather have Tom continue to live in the house because he knew Tom would take good care of it. And he knew Tom would make the back payments as soon as he was able. And Tom did. My mother was born in that very house and 10 grandchildren played in the magical nooks and crannies that house held.
Tom was a quiet man. And while I can't remember his voice, I do remember that he always had grand kids crawling up in his lap. He wore sleeveless t-shirts. He retired from Cadillac Motors. He had snow white hair. He smoked a pipe. He loved to build things. He built chairs, and tool boxes, and trinket boxes for every grand kid. He had a huge work bench set up in the basement and we spent hours making things out of the scrap wood he kept or just playing around with his tools. He would put out a huge galvanized tub in the summers and that would be our pool. We would clamor to go with him when he was going out because we loved walking beside him as he stopped to have a word here and there with neighbor. When he dropped in at the beer garden around the corner, we knew that meant a root beer for us. And peanuts in the shell.
Tom was a quiet man. He was a man that was deeply loved by his family. He was Daddy to my mother, long after she was grown with her own children. My aunt was 6 years older than my mom. When she married, my grandfather turned the upstairs into an upper flat. She and my uncle lived there for several years. When my parents married, they occupied the upper flat. Both son-in-laws deeply respected my grandfather. They loved him like he was their own father.
Tom loved to feed the birds and the squirrels. Every morning, he would go out and put birdseed out. There were always tons of birds that flocked to the feast in my grandparents' backyard. My mom told me that he once had a bird that would come and sit on his shoulder to be hand fed.
My grandparents shared what they had. Besides feeding the birds, they fed hobos during the Depression. Anyone coming to the door got a plate...whatever they had on hand. For years and years, they sent money to relatives in Poland who had been left without work or homes after WWII. Friends frequented their house. My grandfather and his cronies, which included my paternal grandfather, used to sit and play cards...a lot. So much so, that years later, we used to love to peek under the table cloth on the kitchen table to see the wear marks they left, two spots on each side of the table, where they rested their arms while holding their cards.
I don't ever remember my grandparents fighting. Or hugging and kissing for that matter. People weren't open about such things back then. But I do know they had an easy, loving, and respectful marriage. My brother and I had spent the night at my grandparents house the night my grandfather died. He had had several heart attacks over a few years. I remember waking up and hearing whispering voices. I passed my grandfather's room and saw him lying in bed and I remember the sunlight streaming through the window. My grandmother was talking to a man in a dark suit. When I went into the kitchen, I found my aunt and my mom. It was then I learned that my grandfather had died. Everything felt quiet and peaceful. Just like my grandfather. Quiet and peaceful.
Years later, as a newly married woman, I was talking to my grandmother about my grandfather. Woman to woman, she shared how dark the days after his passing were for her. It was only then that I learned the depth of her love and passion for my grandfather. When she recalled their early days, her eyes lit up. When she talked of his death, she grew somber. Her love and grief were quiet. It wasn't either of their ways to be over-emotional...just steady and calm. My grandmother told me that she didn't want to eat, or sleep...she just kind of existed after Tom died. Then one morning, she heard a tapping at the back porch window. It was one of the birds that Tom used to feed. The robin was looking into the window and then tapping. She figured she might as well continue feeding "his" birds. When she went outside to put the seed in the feeders, she said the sun broke through some clouds. She said she knew then that somehow, the sun would shine in her heart again someday, and she would be alright.
Pictures taken by my daughter. These are hanging up in my mom's house. More of the story to follow.


Sara said...

oh kathy, how i love these posts. you're making me cry with memories of my own and gratitude for those memories and friends to share them with. keep writing.

Pat said...

I was waiting for today's installment - I love each word you write. I would love to be the kind of grandparent that was so loved by her grandchildren.
Her wedding gown looks so much like my own grandmothers - I wish I knew what became of it.
This is so beautiful - thank you for sharing.

Live, Love, Laugh said...

wow what a sweet sweet story.

Margie said...

I read this, hanging on every word. Thanks for sharing.

Jada's Gigi said...

I love this story! Reminds me of my own grandfather though he was much sterner than it seems your was... still I have good memories of him...thank you.

Peta said...

I love your stories, too!! Keep tellin more, I can't wait! :)

Richard said...

I sometimes think it rude to read without commenting, but sometimes, it seems impolite to comment. I was waiting for the conclusion. There is one coming? Right?

Thank you for sharing.

I have known a number of immigrants whose family names where changed by indifferent customs officers, or other official name recorders (priests, judges, etc).

Live, Love, Laugh said...

just stopped in to visit