Friday, November 2, 2018

An All Souls Day roll call

This is All Souls Day.  For the Catholic side of us, primarily my oldest, this is the time to remember those who have gone before.  A sort of Memorial Day for Christians.  In honor of that, I thought I would list family members of mine who have passed and gone before:

My Dad's father - I knew little of him.  Nicknamed 'Oak', he was an alcoholic and abusive, causing the early death of my grandmother.  He and my Dad were quite estranged, and when he died of cancer, my Dad did not attend the funeral.  I know he served in WWI, in the navy I think, and taught my Dad how to garden.  That is about it.

My Dad's mother - She died when my Dad was serving in the army.  None of us kids knew her.  She was unhealthy, and the abuse escalated her downward spiral.  When my Dad returned from maneuvers, he was met by his company sergeant.  The sergeant told him to report to the company commander.  The sergeant offered to take his rifle and gear, and that's when Dad said he knew something horrible had happened.  When he got to the company commander's office, my Mom was there already.  That's when he heard. I don't think he ever quite got over it.  I think they were quite close.

My Mom's father - I knew him vaguely.  He died when I was five.  They lived in Akron, a couple hours away.  We visited a few times a year.  So there was little there to build a lasting relationship at that young age.  I remember his leg was amputated owing to diabetes.  Back then, not much was known of that disease.  He eventually died from it.  Except for one time when he caused a panic by walking me around the neighborhood without telling anyone, I don't know that we did much together.  I don't remember that, I just know they said that walking around with youngsters was unusual for him.  Except for him working at Firestone and being a WWI vet (serving at Belleau Wood), and being a die-hard Ed Sullivan and Cleveland Browns fan, I know little of him.

My Mom's mother - the only grandparent I actually knew.  There's too much to tell here.  I used to look forward to her and my aunt Dorth coming down to visit.  Likewise, I enjoyed going up to her house. When we did, Mom's whole family would come over and the streets would be lined with cars.  It was one of those magical, albeit fleeting, times one remembers.  She was not a doting grandmother, at least to me.  I came along about eight or nine years after the rest of my cousins, and always felt nobody knew what to do with me.  I was usually relegated to my uncle Walt, who never left home and lived with my grandparents his whole life.  But they did have a lot of fun when they got together, and enough of it rubbed off that I dearly missed her when she finally passed.  It's worth noting that, apart from my own Mom and Dad, she was the only real connection to Christianity that I had.  A firm believer, she also believed in faith healing and, by golly, she went when I was young and was healed of a tumor that the doctors said would never be healed but by surgery.  That left a mark on this little agnostic's mind that has never quite gone away. 

My Aunt Betty - she was the Phyllis Diller of the family, the wild and crazy one (Phyllis Diller was, in fact, her handle during the big CB craze).  A redhead unlike the rest, she had a rough life, abused by her husband and dirt poor, she dealt with her troubles through humor and hijinks. There simply wasn't anything she wouldn't say or do for a laugh.  Her family moved to Florida when I was younger, but she would come up to visit, often coinciding when we would come to visit Grandma.  She brought much humor to a family that often struggled under economic and other troubles.

My Aunt Babe (Kathleen) - she was the sister who my Mom was least close to.  Truth be told, she had  distant air about her.  Her and her husband were about business, and they tended to it well.  They left their children a crap ton of money and property when they passed.  Despite her coldness, she was very giving.  When my Mom couldn't take care of my Grandma (who had dementia) because of my sister's second divorce, my aunt Babe stepped in and watched her until the end.

My Uncle Walt - he was my playmate.  Having only one lung, he was the only male of that generation who didn't serve in WWII.  He was, understandably, the one who spoke most about WWII.  He never left home, and I suppose never held a steady job.  Health seemed to be the issue.  But because he was a bit out of the loop with the others (no spouse, no family), he would play with me and take care of me since most of my cousins and my sister were so much older and didn't want me hanging around. When he passed away when I was in seventh grade, it was the first time I ever cried for someone who died. 

My Uncle Cot (Carlton) - a Goodrich man all the way, he never missed a home Cleveland Browns game, and often went with my Grandpa.  The man never wore jeans.  Even at impromptu family gatherings, he was dressed immaculately.  He was also generous to a fault, and often gave money to his sisters and others who were struggling, without strings attached.  He had a temper, and was stubborn as a mule.  He served in the South Pacific in WWII, and was part of the group that included Thomas Lamphier (the man once credited with shooting down Yamamato, but later found not to have a claim).  When my uncle Walt passed away, he stepped in and tried to fill the gap.  It wasn't his natural way, but his efforts were admirable, and appreciated.

My Uncle Gene - the bona fide war hero of the family.  In WWII, the government looked for anything to award and celebrate for the sake of propaganda and morale.  So my uncle, a radio-gunner on a B17, managed to shoot down - single handedly - a Ju88 that became entangled with their bomb group during one of their missions over Europe.  What a Ju88 was doing there was never determined, but he became the first (perhaps only) gunner to single handedly shoot down a German bomber, and that was enough for bond tours, bond drives, interviews and pep rallies around the country.  It fit him.  With his wavy bond hair, his dapper bomber's crew jacket and cap (always tilted), and his tall, imposing figure, he looked like the type of person Hollywood would pick to play the part.  I always felt my Dad was a bit jealous of him.  Meanwhile, Gene ate it up, but did mellow over the years.  Early on, it was all glorious war stories.  But in the later years, he would reflect on some of what he saw, including being in a V-2 air raid and wondering what it was like for those on the ground when his group was flying overhead.

My Uncle Dana - the flip side of Gene, he was my Dad's other older brother.  He served with Patton in Europe, and was part of the Battle of the Bulge.  He was a medic, since he didn't want to hurt anyone.  What he saw or what he experienced he never said, because he wouldn't speak of his experiences.  The ultimate bull-head, he was known as a gentle soul unless riled, and then heaven help you.  The family often told of a time during Christmas, in downtown Chicago, when a bus driver cut him off.  He swerved his car around, pulled in front of the bus, put the car in park, took out the keys, and sat there.  Traffic was backed up ten miles in minutes.  I didn't know him as well as Gene, but we did visit some.  He was closest to my Dad I think.  Once, when my wife's parents lived in Chicago for a year, we decided to go by and visit Dana, but they weren't home.  We left a message, and they said later they were saddened that they missed us.  Unfortunately, he died of cancer before we could return.  I've always regretted that.  Shortly before he died, he received a belated accommodation for his actions in the Ardennes Offensive.  He called my Dad and asked him what that was about.  Dad explained it was the Battle of the Bulge.  In typical Dana fashion, he said he didn't know what it was called. He just remembered it was bitter cold and they kept shooting at him.  That was probably the most he ever said.

My Uncle Fred - I never knew my uncle Fred that well.  He was younger than my Dad.  It was him joining the army during the Korean war that prompted my Dad to join.  Dad didn't want to be the one Griffey boy who didn't serve.  So they joined together.  They did basic at Fort Knox, albeit in different companies.  My Dad had the tough as nails commander who insisted on double time to everywhere, and midnight marches for fun (up two hills called, appropriately enough, Agony and Misery).  According to my uncles, Fred got to travel in trucks and had it relatively easy by comparison.  He moved out to Denver long before I came along.  That was after Dana moved to Chicago and more or less broke up "the Four Boys."  He got married then divorced, but in the meantime had a slew of kids.  We visited a few times.  I remember how casual they were about being near towering cliffs in the Rockies.  They came to our house a couple times as well. It was their kids, isolated from firearms per Fred's wife, who went bonkers when they saw my Dad's guns.  My parents usually left the guns out because we had been shown what to do with guns; that they weren't toys, and were to be respected.  But because Fred's kids had no knowledge of them, the guns had to be put away while they visited.

My Uncle Mike - if I knew little of uncle Fred, I knew less of uncle Mike.  He was fourteen years younger than my Dad, born well beyond the others. He had it tough, because he was the one who found their Mother dead.  He was then raised by the different older brothers, because of the inability of my Granddad to care for him.  He had a rough life, but enlisted in, and fought in, Vietnam.  Nonetheless, he had it rough, and I think I only met him once my whole life.  Years later, he did contact my Dad by phone and I talked to him, but that's all I remember.  He passed away from cancer some years ago.

My Brother-in-law Nelson - My sister married Nelson after her second failed marriage.  He was almost a dozen years older than her.  Since she is almost nine years older than me, that meant he was well out of my social peers.  But my sister never married a man who got along with me, and Nelson was no different.  A successful businessman, I never asked him for anything, though I did work for him for a bit in college (I did pretty well, making over 7,000.00 in one summer, in mid 1980s dollars).  Nonetheless, he was what he was.  He lost everything shortly before he died, because of a crooked business partner named Gene.  That left my sister needing help from us who could barely scrape two pennies together. Shortly after that Nelson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away the following January. 

My 'Grandma' Gillespie - she was my Aunt Babe's mother-in-law.  Apparently not a popular individual, she nonetheless would babysit me when the rest of the family was engaged in things, such as my Grandpa's funeral.  I remember she made bacon that was barely cooked. Yuck.  But I remember her doing well by me, even though she passed away fairly early on, by the time I was in about high school I believe.

My Uncle Tom - Tom, or 'Big Tom' (as opposed to their son 'Little Tom') was Babe's husband.  He was a businessman's businessman who put business and finances above all things.  He was also known to tip the scales a little in his commercial dealings.  But he did well by his kids, that's for sure.  Of all the 'in-law uncles', he is the one I remember the most.  He served in WWII, in a Stuart tank in N. Africa and Sicily/Italy.  It was he who told of the time that a German motorcyclist crashed into their tank column one night.  Rather than do anything, everyone had a good laugh and let him go. 

My Uncle Carlos - Carlos was our family villain.  He was my aunt Betty's husband.  He drank.  They were poor.  He beat Betty at times and beat the kids at others.  He seemed to have no problem being violent in those days.  Once, it was told, he got mad and threatened to throw Betty out the door.  So angry, he actually brought their furniture over and put it in Grandma and Grandpa's front yard (they lived only a few houses down the street).  According to legend, Grandma was fit to be tied, but Grandpa merely shrugged and said when he settled down, he'd need to take it back himself.  And so he did.  They had the largest family, most of whom were in trouble except their one daughter and one of their sons.  One son was killed in a hit and run when he was a teenager.  There was one set of twins.  Overall we knew little of them because Mom and Dad - I think - felt they were a bit on the wrong side of the tracks.  In hindsight, they probably were right.  But because of this, I think my Mom loved Betty all the more and admired her strength and perseverance.  Eventually, when I was in college, their youngest son came home - himself a fellow who was often in trouble - and found that Carlos had aimed a shotgun at his own stomach and pulled the trigger.  He was still alive, but barely.  He died before the paramedics arrived. Carlos always kept me aware of the fact that if my parents were of a gentle kind, it was not always the case with others, and to always remember what others might be going through.

My Wife's grandmother - my Wife's maternal grandmother, Ol'Mimmy was the closest to my wife.  She was married to a man after whom the Indiana Baptist state mission offering is named.  They were, in Southern Baptist life, veritable giants.  Her husband, CE Wiley, was a firebrand from the old school.  There were two paths in his life: the path to Heaven, and the path to Hell for everyone who wasn't Southern Baptist (that's Southern Baptist, other Baptists didn't count).  He had passed away some years before I met my Wife.  Mimmy was the first of my wife's family to warm up to me.  My wife and I would often visit her when we were dating.  Our first year of marriage, we met up with everyone in Atlanta for Thanksgiving.  When I saw her, I knew she wasn't healthy.  In just six months, she looked like something was wrong.  Then on our first Christmas morning, my wife and I woke up and plunged into the presents like children.  We woke up so early, we then went back and took that late morning nap so common on Christmas mornings.  Then the phone rang.  It was her family.  Mimmy had died that morning.  Their pastor was at the hospital before they arrived.  By the time they got there, she was gone.  That was our first Christmas memory as a married couple.  That week Kentucky was hit with a particularly brutal snowstorm (in preparation for the 1994 blizzard).  My Dad decided to drive down and take us to the funeral in Lexington so we wouldn't have to worry about driving.  So he drove from northern Ohio in snowstorm conditions to make sure we were taken care of when it came to being at the funeral (see Dad below).  It was tough on my wife, but it was my Dad who said for a Christian woman like her, when better to go than on the Lord's birthday. 

My Wife's grandfather - another staple in the Southern Baptist Convention, he oversaw many of the camps for the Indiana Baptist Convention (you can tell us becoming Catholic was a big hit back in the day).  He was my Wife's paternal grandfather.  He was one of those 'fascinating people' types.  Oddly, my Wife's family was never as close to her as they were to her Mom's side.  Sometimes I think that has to do with the personalities involved.  But we made sure to visit them when we could.  They were in Indianapolis and we lived in Louisville and Southern Indiana.  He had done a little of everything in his life, though didn't dwell too much on the past.  He preferred talking about church and faith and current events.  He was the conversationalist that kept me busy whenever we visited.  As it was, his health was already failing even when I first met my wife.  Over the years it continued to decline until  a couple years ago he finally passed away.  It was one of those funerals where you know you should be sad, but you can't help but be glad for someone who contributed so much to so many.

My Dad - last but certainly not least, my Dad.  A veteran and a railroad engineer.  There's too much about my Dad to list here.  Suffice it to say, he was a great Dad.  Perhaps a better Dad than a father, as he was never overly concerned about teaching me what to do in life.  He mainly led by example, and told me what to avoid.  His basic lesson was never screw up your whole life for a moment, and always stand on your principles.  He also demonstrated a big heart and a willingness to do anything for the kids, and for anyone who needed help for that matter.  He didn't have to tell me to work hard, he showed me.  Obviously, he had a tough childhood.  Abject poverty and an alcoholic, abusive father.  Oddly, not one of the five brothers was ever abusive.  By all accounts, the four who had children were good Dads and husbands who never raised a hand to their families.  When I was about three, Dad bought an old, rundown home outside of a small farming town that would be my childhood haunt.  It was literally like the house from Green Acres.  He worked at a railroad switching yard almost an hour away.  He would go to work, work a twelve hour shift, come back, and work on the house by himself.  For almost a year he did that while we lived in a small set of rooms behind a coworker of his.  At least once my Mom walked with me the several miles down the old, gravel road to where Dad was working on the house.  Shortly after my sister started fifth grade, we moved in.  It still needed work, but Dad did everything himself - except the wiring.  That he left to a professional.  I always felt that was Dad's way to truly make a life for his family that he never had.  While it would be easy to focus on where Dad didn't do great - he had no patience for teaching me how to do everything he could do, and he had an almost addiction to moving from place to place, making it impossible to have long-term friendships - I always knew he meant the best and did things for the best of reasons.  His desire was to give us what he never had, and to be the type of Dad he never knew.  For that reason, as much as anything, he remains someone I still look to and try to emulate as a fabulous Dad. 

All of these, and perhaps others who didn't come to mind, are in my prayers and thoughts this day.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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