3/7/07

Of Dead Cadillacs and Golden Engines

Lately I've been thinking about my great-grandfather. He was the father of my paternal grandmother. He passed away in 1999, I think. At the ripe old age of 98 - give or take a year. It was quite possible he was born in 1899, but we think most likely, 1900-01.

What's somewhat interesting is that he sort of took the place of my grandfather. My dad's dad died when my dad was 9. So, in essence, he was the only "grandfather" I've ever known on that side of the family.

When I was 10, my great-grandfather came to live with my grandmother on The Farm. He became very sick from pneumonia and given his age and other "circumstances" it was best for him to live with her.

The "circumstances" are the things I've been thinking about.
My great-grandfather - or Grandpop Donovan as we all called him - was a character. I remember being a little girl, driving south to the beaches my fair state boasts of, and we would stop to "visit" Grandpop Donovan. He lived in this old, falling-down house that was right on the main highway that cuts down to the beaches. It had no electricity, no running water, no heat - nothing.
And we were never allowed inside.
In all the years we stopped by to see Grandpop, I had never set foot inside of his home.
But from what I saw of the front yard, which served as the living room on our visits, I was not all that interested in going in.
The only glimpse I got of the house was the front porch. Which was piled from floor to ceiling with newspapers, trash and what-not.
Yes, he was one of those people.

His yard was easy to spot.
It was littered. And I mean littered with the sad, sad rusting out, abandoned carcasses of once driven and loved Cadillacs.
Old, big, land yacht Cadillacs.
These were his babies.
It was as if he were tending to a garden of Cadillacs.
A garden destined to never live, or thrive, but it would inevitably grow. It would grow by him adding another deceased vehicle to the collection over the years.
He was so proud of these relics.

I remember my Dad sharing goofy stories about Grandpop Donovan (because as I've said, he was a character). And one in particular is monumental.
Dad told me on one of their trips to the beach as young boys, my dad, uncle and grandmother were traveling to the beach and da da da daaaa, they stopped in to see Grandpop.
He had recently purchased a near-death Cadillac.
However, he decided it needed some TLC.
And he was proud to show off his work to my pre-pubescent Dad and my 17 year old Uncle.
He was practically jumping out of his baby blue polyester pants to show them this car.
He says to them with his hand shaking, eyes welling up with tears (which they often did) "Looky here. This is what I did of a mornin'. Look inside that car. It has a TV in it!"
My dad & uncle peer inside.
And my dad says it was all he could do not to fall to the ground in fits of laughter.
There on the back seat was plopped and old 13" TV set....rabbit ears and all.
And as if that were not enough, he says "Looky here. I bet you'll never see an engine like this!" He pops the hood and again fits of stifled laughter ensue.
Under that hood was a shiny (spray painted gold) engine.
All my dad and uncle could muster up was Yeah, we've never seen anything quite like that, Grandpop!!!

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to poke fun at the deceased. I loved my Grandpop Donovan very much. And he was a character. There are so many of these wacky, crazy stories that I could share. But that one just always comes to mind when I need a little chuckle. To me, it is endearing.
My Grandpop Donovan saw things in his long lifetime that I could only read about now. But listening to him talk, when he was around, was an experience. Granted that I would have to glean the truth out of the whoppers.
He was such a healthy man up until his death. He worked around The Farm almost up until the end. He loved caring for his garden, flower beds, and the yard.
He always ate well, kept up with current events, and shared his stories.
He could be a handful. What my poor grandmother had to put up with caring for her father. Oy.
He couldn't hear very well. And he would talk on and on and on. It was hard to break away from him when he trapped you during a story-telling session.

I wish sometimes that I had taken better advantage of the times when he was here. To find out what he thought about certain politicians, certain historic events that took place during his lifetime. I'm certain that his memory contained things that would've blown me away.

I grew up wanting so much to meet my "real" grandfather. And there will always be that void for all of us left behind. I can't imagine my dad & uncle losing their father. My grandmother for losing her husband and her best friend. Leaving her behind to raise 2 boys, look after and pay for The Farm, as well as, the business he had started. Leaving behind, eventually, grandchildren to make up a mythical grandfather to fill the empty spaces.

But in his place - which is a huge space to fill - I had this alternative grandfather. Grandpop Donovan. Who was wacky and quite frankly, maybe a little crazy. But he was full of so much history, so many stories and laughter that I can draw on now.

2 ripples in the pond:

deb said...

I think my husband will be the same as your Grandpop Donovan. He sounded like a sweetheart.

jen said...

tab,
you have fascinating men in your family. you really do.

i wonder what influence all of that has had on your soul. it's quite lovely.