My post yesterday apparently resonated with lots of people. Thank you to those who let me know. I’m glad, because that post was my love letter to my grandparents-all three of them.
I spoke with Dad shortly after the post was published. It brought his feelings to the surface as well. If I were to poll his siblings: David, Terry (who is deceased), John, Patti and Kathy, I’m sure there would be strong feelings as well. (Kathy has since confirmed she felt gypped as well! Misery loves company!) My family abroad missed all of us stateside as much as we missed them. At the very least, I grew up knowing all my aunts and uncles. I love each of them dearly. In fact, my two living uncles-David and John-were my favorite babysitters.
Dad wasn’t happy about being the “left-behind” kid. My entire childhood he would joke that “most people leave home, but my home left me”. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized 1) he wasn’t joking; and 2) he resented it. That may or may not be a story for another day. He loved his family, and they never returned home to live. It was hard on him. After all, he drove Grandmom to the hospital when she was in labor with Kathy. Kathy’s young years were filled with fond memories of “her Joe-Joe”. I’m glad I wasn’t alive when they left for Bogota.
I also wasn’t exaggerating when I mentioned that I was heartbroken when we took people to the airport. Dad reminded me that I was “prone to waterworks”, and it was not enjoyable to witness the histrionics that followed. I grew up hating airports. Why? Airports inevitably took those I loved away from me.
Evidence of my crying ways: The day I left Sydney in 1985, we made a quick detour to the beach before heading to the airport so I could take some photos and say goodbye to a place I came to love. My dear cousin, Daniel, was in kindergarten and my biggest fan at the age of 5; he accompanied me to the water’s edge and ultimately to the airport. After two months of rehearsing our roles as Danny and Sandy in Grease (I always had to be Danny BTW), I came to adore that kid. I stood on the shore and started to sob. Daniel sobbed after watching me break down; both of us bawling our eyes out as we approached my aunt’s van, Daniel asked, “Grandma, why is Bitsy crying?” I have a photo of us with swollen, red faces as evidence of my sadness that day.
Back to airports. I’m 100% sure that my parents were sick and tired of my caterwauling after family left. Mom reminded me that airports actually brought the people I loved TO me first. I refused to see the glass as half full until I was an adult. Okay, maybe middle aged adulthood. Now airports make me happy. People that matter to me make a point of coming to see me and I get to do the same. How awesome is that?
One of the stories my grandfather told me in 1985 was one I forced him to repeat more than twice. Personally, I think it’s a great idea to find out how your parents met. Sheesh, I knew that. My mom and her roommate had a peeping Tom and called the police. My dad and his partner responded to the call. Their love affair followed quickly. But because I didn’t grow up around my grandparents, I never got to hear how *they* met. I would definitely go back in time to ask my Grandma Creech to tell me her story if I could. I really didn’t think to ask my grandparents. Instead, Granddad surprised me one evening as he pulled a photo out of one of the boxes. And naturally, he reminisced with a twinkle in his eye, an apertif in hand, and my grandmother standing between the dining room and living room grinning from ear to ear as he told me “their story”. My grandmother’s memoir provided her version of their story, which is sweet and ladylike. This is his, as I remember. And now I’ll tell you.
It all started when he pulled out a portrait of my grandmother as a beautiful young woman, wearing a velvet dress. She was lovely. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how he felt about her as he lovingly gazed at her portrait which exuded her youthful attractiveness. He sighed deeply and commented, “God, Voodie, you were gorgeous.” The man was clearly smitten with his bride of almost 50 years. I was touched. I had never considered my grandparents as a couple in love. Who does? As he ran his fingers across that portrait of my grandmother, he asked me if he had ever told me about how they met. I said no. He grinned.
Granddad had sowed his oats. During the great depression, he left college at Indiana University to help his dad run their grain business, and was none too happy about that. He had been studying accounting in the hopes of having a successful career as an accountant. He had also joined the Merchant Marines to fulfill his dream of getting his seaman’s certification. He had traveled the world during his service. He returned home to Indiana and got a job with the federal government. His job eventually required a lengthy business trip to Washington with a few other fellows.
Grandmom was a DC native and had a job in the typing pool, also working for the federal government. She was called in to work one Saturday and was busy at work when 3 young men appeared at the door looking for some desks. She liked what she saw, but this isn’t her story. As the men gazed upon the loveliness in front of them, one of Granddad’s colleagues leaned over to whisper, “See that one in the back? You should ask her out. She’s a lush and a little loose.” As Granddad headed to the back in my grandmother’s direction, his friend shouted, “Not her!” Granddad turned around with a smile and told him, “I don’t care!”
Grandmom was obviously as interested in him as he was in her. She had a car and offered to drive him back to his boarding house. They dated all summer and figured out before he headed back to Indiana that they were serious about each other. Shortly after his return, my love-struck grandfather bailed on the job that had him moving to Omaha and opted to make long term plans with my grandmother while looking for a better job. My grandmother decided to take a trip to meet his family at their vacation house in Pretty Lake, Indiana, dropping a colleague off on the way. Granddad met her at the Indiana border with a ring and a proposal. His parents and siblings were aware of his plan, and apparently co-conspirators in keeping the secret.
They married in Arlington in the spring of 1936. Her father refused to attend, thinking my grandfather was a player, too worldly, handsome and slick, and figured he would eventually leave his daughter disappointed and heartbroken. Before long, Granddad won his father-in-law over with a bottle of scotch whiskey. Dad was born the following spring, with six more children following over the next 19 years. And as Grandmom said with humor, all of them unreasonable facsimiles of their father.
Their whimsical post-honeymoon period wouldn’t last. His father died two years later and his mother had to later sell their house at Pretty Lake. His mother (known as Ema to my dad and his siblings) would alternate living with them and his sister’s family in Griffith, Indiana. After they lost a child while living in Puerto Rico, they grew up quickly. It was right before World War II, and my grandmother never returned to see Richard’s grave. They spent most of Dad’s childhood in Falls Church and later Vienna, with stints in Puerto Rico, Chicago and Massachusetts in between. Dad was close to his siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and his grandparents. Things rarely go the way we want, but it works out in the end. All in all, we are all blessed to have a family we love and who love us in return.