Grandfather’s virility

Art and Jean Hough
I like this picture of my grandfather. He passed away this summer and my sister and I looked through old family albums to choose a few photographs that might tell of his life.

Neither of us knew much about Grandpa’s youth, even about his character as my mom’s father. We’d only ever seen him as granddad to endless bursts of grandkids. He made his famous pancakes on sundays. His voice seemed always intoned with a cautionary chiding. “Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that.”

I remember riding with Grandpa in his old Nash Rambler with carpet samples in the back, running errands about town. He might have talked about the furniture store he once had, I don’t remember. His kindness was unwavering. It never occurred to me that a grandparent could be otherwise.

So in preparation for the funeral my sister and I were let to fashion a remembrance of our grandfather from photographic whole cloth. My sister is an art director who is very adept at manipulating a mood. We’d be enlarging originals, many of our relatives had never seen, or seen clearly, into prints which could recreate fiction. From hundreds of pictures we could mold an arresting romantic figure which we hoped they’d recognize.

Indeed we found a shot of Grandpa and his young fiancée posed on the front fender of a touring car, pointed toward the barren hills of Bonnie and Clyde, a sunny day, the two smiling, perhaps self-consciously at each other.

There’s another of Grandpa alone, wearing an apron, standing over the kitchen sink. Doing the dishes we presumed, but the dark shadows and soft sunlight coming through the lace lent the scene the suggestion that Grandpa could turn around any second with an engagement ring.

There’s a picture of the two of them sitting in a modest living room, he on the armrest actually, leaning back and against his wife, both of them glowing with happiness. Above them hangs a picture of an angel, which a cousin noted, had always hung above one of the later bedrooms.

These were the standouts to me, in thinking about which might be my favorite, but I chose another. I have no idea whether it catches an authentic side of Grandpa or not.

Someone mentioned that Grandpa and Grandma were once featured in a magazine article about a typical young family or some such sort. Grandpa worked for Montgomery Wards and they moved each year, Grandma giving birth at each relocation. It was thought that this picture might have come from that photo shoot. The composition is unusual I think, a kitchen chair on the sidewalk in front of your home. But this picture reflects something I can imagine having been in Grandpa’s character. He was a dandy.

There’s his wife, looking uncomfortably like a sidekick, and Grandpa seated in her presence; not merely unchivalrous, but self-satisfied and unguarded. I accidentally cropped his shoes when I scanned the pictures in the hasty late hours before the showing, but I assure you the body language was consistent, a nattily dressed first fiddle, head of household, master of the manor. I think it’s very evident in his pose, and I wonder if he knew it wasn’t true.

My grandfather on my father’s side, a fiery nordic who died when I was younger, cut a formidable figure around the house. You had to be quiet when you got too near Gudfar, unless he was laughing, and it seemed that activities were scheduled around his nap schedule. In any case, I didn’t find out until much later in life that he didn’t wear the pants in that family.

Oh, he was the oppressive dominant male, certainly the decider, but the guidance was Gudmor. She brought wisdom to the table, and certainly the emotional wisdom. Gudmor was always quick to cry when family visits ran short, something I could not conceive my stern grandfather would ever do. Gudmor was also the person to whom everything mattered, and so the not-uncommon better half. This was nothing that I saw in my youth, it had to be told to me later. Sure enough I see my own personailty reflect that heritage.

So I wonder, about Grandpa Hough, if I mightn’t have gotten something of a similar predisposition from him? It would make sense, wouldn’t it, that my parent’s attraction might be based on the similarity of their expectations for each other?

I’m sure that my grandfather, the snappy dresser, was also the beneficiary of having a very strong wife. And suddenly I can see that in all the pictures. My memories of my grandparents, even their eulogies, recount the two as inseparable, indistinguishable after so many years, from one another, but it seems to me that Grandma was the action-taker. She made the rules and prompted the activity. I have plenty of memories of Grandma. I think what Grandma wanted mattered most. I’m not sure Grandpa had an opinion most of the time. I think it was his wife, the more engaging, more communicative, clear-headed, stronger half.

So here’s a picture of my grandfather, fingering his hat like it’s a nobleman’s cane, like it’s lighter than air in the hands of someone made to feel at the top of his game. Let to feel, most certainly.

Both my grandfathers survived their spouses. But by only a couple years. Grandpa Hough moved in with his son, regained his health for a short time, but never did come into his own. I wonder if he ever had.

2 thoughts on “Grandfather’s virility

  1. Interesting challenge. Who comes into his/her own? When? And how does one even know?

    If the phrase “to come into your own” means to follow the direction that your head/heart-life dictates, I guess my father did come into his own. He gave love, nutured the products of his love the ways that were open to him, enjoyed many years of reunions surrounded by healthy, happy progeny and enjoyed the company of his beloved of over 60 years.

    Even when my mother was evidencing stages of dementia, although she passed peacefully still recognizing her family members, Dad took on the role of care taker, spokes person, wardrobe manager, time keeper, events coordinater and social director – role reversal from the earlier years of their marriage. Was that coming into his own or simply balancing, maybe catching up on Mom’s active life?

    No matter, his last two years of life, after most of his friends and relatives had died, were spent as the recipient of much love, caring and peace from his family. Who wouldn’t want that ending for their own?

    My guess is all my parent’s many prayers were answered. They were smart enough to realize when it was up to the next generation to take on from where they left off – to live life with loftier goals, maybe, but also having the inherited ability to give back to the world what is needed for the times.

    Service to others in thanksgiving for gifts given to them was a goal of my parents.

    They knew they had been given much, considering a healthy famiy more precious than any monetary gain. At the time this photo was taken by Semore Goldberg, the soldier from Brooklyn who was stationed at the airbase in Sioux Falls, my guess is Mom and Dad were humoring him by obeying his artistic direction for his “shot” of a young couple in the “boondocks” heading up the ladder of success even if we were in the middle of WWII!

  2. I remember my grandmother’s funeral. My grandmother. The nice old lady who loved rock collecting. Cacti. Ham with raisin sauce. Bourbon and water.

    I didn’t feel much grief until the wake. Grandma came from a small town in Texas, and the pastor had known her since she was a young woman.

    She was born in a dugout in Dimmit, Texas. She had fiery red hair (like my two siblings). She married Bub, my grandfather, when she was 18. She had two children. Milton, my father. Myrna, my aunt. Myrna, likely named after Myrna Loy, was a beautiful precocious blue-eyed dark-haired toddler. When she was two, she contracted an unknown illness, had a high fever for several days, and was rendered deaf, blind, and profoundly retarded. My grandparents took care of her night and day until she was 56 years old. She slept in a crib. Was spoon fed. Had to have her diapers changed. Had her period like any other girl.

    What an amazing sacrifice my grandparents made. Inconceivable heartache. No wonder their eyes sparkled so when they saw us, their six grandchildren, several times a year.

    I attended the service as both an insider, by blood, but an outsider when it came to knowing. My husband sobbed throughout the funeral, although he’d only met her once or twice.

    We all have a history. We’ve all experienced joy and heartbreak. My experience at Grandma’s funeral led me to live in Colorado Springs. Where my parents are. Where Dave’s parents are. I don’t wish grief upon my children, at the passing of their grandparents. But mostly I don’t want them to wish they’d known them…understood the influence they’ve had on their children and, thus, on them. I want their pain to be more than a wishful pang.

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