My grandfather was born on this day- August 29, 1918- 100 years ago today. He was never my grandfather or grandpa or grandpap he was always Whitey-everyone called him Whitey and that is what he wanted to be called even by his grandchildren.
A week ago my mom and I were talking and somehow Whitey came up. My mom said “You were always his favorite person and I don’t think anyone knew him better or was closer to him than you were.” She was probably right. I know he always made me feel like I was his favorite person, the center of his universe.. I was the oldest grandchild by a number of years and there was many benefits from being the oldest- I don’t know how many vacations and trips I took with Whitey and Grandma over the years. Countless. My love for history I trace back to their taking me to Washington, D.C. when I was in first grade. Around that time also he bought me my first grown up type book- a history book on the Wars of America- that I still have. So three of my passions in life I can trace to him- history- travel and books. Growing up I got to see the country with them. One summer -the day after school ended- they picked me up at the bottom of the hill where I lived at 3am. I got in the car and he just said “Where do you want to go?” I replied well where do you and grandma want to go?” He said “Wherever you want?” I thought for a moment and said ‘How about out west” The next three weeks we went out west- The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, The Great Salt Lake, The Grand Canyon, even to a rodeo in Oklahoma etc.
Those trips sparked not only my love for history but my love for traveling. Whitey loved to travel for travelings sake. I am the same way. His style of vacation rubbed off on me too. You don’t go to one place and stay for a week or two- you are constantly going – from one place to another. The only time I ever did the ‘you go to one spot and stay’ vacation is with my parents in my later teens at the ocean. I like being on the move.
Growing up I spent probably half my weekends with them. On a Friday evening when I got home from school if he was off- I’d get a call- “Get your things ready I will be out to pick you up.” There was never any question- of course that is what I wanted to do. On Saturday’s in the morning we would do something- maybe fishing- or going the mall- one of the first in the country- but he always had to be back by early afternoon to watch Roller Derby on television. Some weekends we would go ‘down the river’ to where they were from and visit family- their brothers and sisters and his parents.
One of the things about Whitey was- and at a fairly early age I realized this- he was a flawed person. I know we all are flawed to some degree. He didn’t have a very good relationship with his son- my father. I really don’t know what the problem was between them. I could see a change in my dad when they were together. I never heard a bad word pass between them though it was just I noticed dad seemed a little different- almost impatient. All I know is what my mother has told me- that my grandfather wasn’t as good of a father as he was a grandfather. I do know this- no matter what disagreements they had- my dad never said a bad word in front of me about Whitey- and Whitey never said a bad thing about my dad in front of me. My dad never seemed to resent the time I spent- or the relationship I had with Whitey.
Whitey and grandma were exact opposites. He was “live for today” I have never been around anyone who seemed to have fun more than he did and– she was a champion worrier. My grandma was a saint.Never had a bad word to say about anyone. Her family was her world. He didn’t treat her very well but they stayed together until death. I have often wondered if they loved each other. I do remember his grief when she died. I have often wondered how they ever ended up together. I am glad they did obviously!
Whitey was a man of many flaws but I always overlooked them. He was gold as far as it went to me. I can’t recall him ever letting me down or hurting my feelings. If he said we will do this or that- we did it. After he died several people in the coming months, older people – came up to me and said they were sorry to hear about my dad. I told them it was my grandfather. Their responses were you two were together all the time I thought it was your dad. He was always full of surprises. He was a major influence on my life. He died young- in 1982 at the age of 64. His funeral was on my birthday. That was 36 years ago- I don’t think a day has went by since that I haven’t thought of him. Needless to say, I still miss him.