Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I was thinking about my grandfather the other day.

That's my father's father - the only one of my grandparents I knew very well at all; the other three died before I was seven.

He was Grandfather with a rolled "r" and and emphasis on the GRAND. I seriously envied my friends who had a grandpa, but he was introduced to me as GRANDfather and GRANDfather he remained.

He was the dean of an episcopal cathedral which meant he got to wear really impressive robes, and all of our birthday cards came with a return address to "The Very Reverend." That certainly added to the grand impression, and when I wasn't around him it was easy to think of him as terribly stern and very, very holy.

He tended to destroy that image in person since he liked to wear plaid golfing caps with little bobbles on the top and started out every visit by announcing "You grew just enough this year - your legs are just long enough to reach the ground!" I used to get a wonderful image of myself the next year solemnly wading around in several inches of earth.

His wife, my grandmother, died when I was six and I have no real memories of her. We went to visit when she was very ill and I vaguely recall being frightened because the room was dim and she was so terribly frail. I wish I had known her because she sounds like an amazing woman. She went to a very posh college where she majored in chemistry and (according to my probably twisted memory) also acquired the skill of eating a banana with a knife and fork. She also single-handedly got my grandfather through divinity college by writing all of his papers for him.

He remarried fairly quickly - a member of the cathedral who spent the rest of her life calling him "the dean." We weren't to call her GRANDmother or even Grandma - she was Mimi (meye-meye). She took wonderful care of him, keeping his house meticulously tidy and cooking enormous meals. She loved to take us shopping and my grandfather was the chauffeur. She would keep up a constant stream of comment "I think that was the turn... are you sure this is the exit we need? Now, you're not going by the railroad are you??" and he would serenely smile as he drove just the way he wanted. We realized that he had been discretely turning off his hearing aid just before he got in the car and literally turning a deaf ear.

We toured his cathedral several times - I covered myself with glory once by successfully identifying Judas in a stained glass window (he was the grumpy one with the huge bag of money). I remember attending Midnight Mass one magical Christmas (I got to stay up! As a child! On Christmas Eve!) and not recognizing the purple-stoled man with the deep voice. My parents were what my mother calls "heathen" when I was a small child, and then converted to a non-episcopalian religion to my step-grandmother's chagrin. When we stayed with them my sister and I were often asked to say grace before dinner. Our prayers were fairly short, casual embarrassed affairs including rote phrases from our own church ("keepusfromharmoraccident," "blessthisfoodthatitmaynourishandstrengthenourbodies") and just as we were rushing for the end Mimi would shoot out an iron hand, grasp our wrists and say firmly "Aaaaaaand..." adding in all the things we had missed out and closing with "andmakeusevermindfuloftheneedsofothers [breath] throughChristourLord [significant pause] Ahmen."

When Kirk and I were married in my parent's living room - a five minute service by a very nervous Mormon bishop who had never performed a marriage before - Mimi stood up at the end and announced that my grandfather would give us a wedding prayer. Kirk, who had just been feeling terribly relieved that his endless ordeal (in front of at LEAST 12 people) was over, swallowed hard and agreed. I don't remember what he said, just that he smiled sweetly at us at the end and told us we should kiss again (which we did very awkwardly). "There," Mimi said with relief, "he doesn't tie many slip knots!"

He didn't.

No comments: