Children are incapable of realizing to the full extent of how much their parents, grandparents, and other older relatives and friends of family really love them. Even when they are adults. They KNOW that they are loved but can never know fully. I suspect this is true even when people become parents. Parents know that they love their children so much that they could die for them but take it for granted that their parents (hopefully) feel the same way.
That said, I am 90% certain of how much my grandparents loved me. If you knew me in real life you would know that I talk about my mother’s father a lot but that’s only because I knew him growing up; he died when I was fifteen. My father’s father, seen above (with me, about age one), died when I was seven (in fact, he died on the same day as my best friend’s birthday).
His name was Robert. When I was seven, I participated in a sort of gymnastics / tumble group at the day care chain KinderCare. On Mother’s Day of 1989 we performed in front of our parents on stage, doing various work out routines and dances. This performance was shot on tape (and sold for an outrageous sum afterwards, like $30). At one point each girl got to go up on her own and perform something, like cartwheels or somersaults or headstands. I performed a headstand, even though I couldn’t do it very well.
We gave a copy of the tape to my grandparents. The story is that my Grandpa Robert used to watch it constantly, re-winding and fast-forwarding to my parts. That story has stuck with me my entire life. Just to clarify, I grew up in Las Vegas and almost my entire family lived in Iowa. So he only got to see me once, maybe twice a year.
He was born on February 8, 1925 in Dillon, Iowa; a small farming community outside of Marshalltown. He was the only child of Earl and Olive. Both of them were of almost exclusively Norwegian descent (Both Earl and Olive’s fathers were born in Stavanger, Norway).
During World War II he was a soldier in the Pacific theater. After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Robert was sent to occupied Hiroshima in October of 1945. Recently we received about four photos he took during his time there.
After the war he took up farming in the same town he grew up in. He grew crops and tended livestock. He married Mary and had three sons (my father is the oldest). He participated in his community and led a quiet life.
In the late 1970s my parents got married and had their honeymoon in Vegas. My grandfather and grandmother went with them, and thus began their love affair with the casinos of Vegas. Before that my grandfather was not one to travel. He began to travel to Vegas a lot when my parents moved there. And when I was born, it was an even better excuse to go.
Not that he didn’t want to see me. On the contrary, or else I wouldn’t have written this post. I was his first grandchild. His second, a grandson, was born two days after me — three other grandsons would follow, and one would be born after his death. I was born on his 57th birthday. This was a nice surprise because I was born premature and wasn’t expected until St. Patrick’s Day. Although he saw his grandsons a lot more, since they only lived a few minutes away, I think he was very happy when either I would come to visit or he and grandmother would fly to Las Vegas. His obsessive nature with my only taped performance is proof.
I have quite a lot of happy memories of him when I was very little. We would be on the closed porch at the farm house and play with toys my grandparents saved. The one I remember the best was a plastic helicopter you could put together and take apart with big plastic tools. He had a tape recorder and would record our conversations. I was a very shy little girl when meeting people I hadn’t seen in a long time and there were big silences on the tape when it was my turn to talk, or you could barely hear my voice when I did. In the mornings we would have Cheerios and donuts and would watch the news or the Today Show on the small TV in the kitchen. When he would visit us in Vegas, he would read to me from “Martha’s House”, the first book I was able to read on my own. Maybe in a way he taught me how to read.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s he developed emphysema from smoking. The DDT he worked with as a farmer, and probable radiation exposure during his time in Hiroshima didn’t help. At one point he was going to kill himself. He took his rifle down by the creek. I’m not sure on all the details but I don’t think he was going to do it. Either way, my uncle (his youngest son) went to retrieve him.
When I knew my grandpa Robert he was connected to oxygen tanks and was getting frailer by the year. My grandmother would always call to tell us he was in the hospital—again. It became commonplace. He died on October 8, 1989. He was sixty-four. I was seven. His youngest grandson was less than a year old. His mother, Olive, would outlive him by another nine years and three months.
He wasn’t a perfect man by any means. With his grandchildren he and my grandmother played favorites, and they didn’t hide it. As one of his favorites, I am filled with guilt because my cousins were wonderful boys growing up and are now wonderful men; they didn’t deserve the treatment they got.
There are a few other nuances. He didn’t like his food touching. He brushed his teeth with AquaFresh toothpaste. He preferred the casinos near Fremont Street. He didn’t understand how it could get darker in Las Vegas because Vegas is situated in a valley and the sun goes behind the mountains. He wasn’t a big drinker but could get mean when drinking whiskey. He preferred my mother’s mashed potatoes to his own wife’s and was dumb enough to comment on this out loud He didn’t like to travel and because of this my father and uncles didn’t get to go on a lot of family vacations. And we used to talk every year on our birthday.