It’s father’s day! I got pretty lucky in the father department, which is good since I totally take after him. We look alike (though I am a *bit* more girly), we act alike, and he taught me a lot of what I know. I also had pretty amazing grandfathers. My dad’s father passed away when I was pretty young after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. While a lot of my time that was spent with him was in nursing homes and hospitals, I do have several happy memories of him. My mom’s dad lived a long life, making it pretty close to 100 years on earth! He saw so many things, and shared so many wonderful things with me. I also have a very sweet father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law that are both fathers and probably a lot like what regular brothers would be like.
My dad’s father was born in Minnesota to two Belgian immigrants. My sister set the tone for what we called our grandparents, so our grandfathers were each “Grampy.” Since my father’s parents lived across the street (well, dirt road) from us, he was across-the-street Grampy to clarify which grandfather we were talking about. He was a farmer, and had his own farm in Michigan. By the time I was born, there was little left of the farm as he was retired. The chicken/rabbit coop was still there, and I have memories of walking down the path with him, surrounded by tall grass to feed the animals there. I remember sitting in the cab of his old green Ford pick-up. Like most lower peninsula Michiganders, he worked for one of the big three. In his case, Ford Motor Company. When I was wee, he would bounce me on his knee singing in Flemish. In the hindsight department, I wish I could or would have learned those rhymes. I was still pretty young when the Alzheimer’s set in. At first, he was able to stay in his home, and we hired nurses to spend the days with him while my parents worked. When I wasn’t at school, I was there with him and one of the nurses (there were a few, three I think, and they each worked a few days a week). I really enjoyed being there. He lived in this cool old farmhouse, a far cry from my folk’s modern ranch style home. I was always finding cool, old objects to play with and admire. For instance, the set of metal measuring cups that looked like tiny pots and pans. Just perfect for me to make pretend soup in. (Said soup consisted of hot water from the tap and an assortment of herbs and spices.) I would chat with the nurses, some of whom became close friends with my family. The disease progressed, and we had to move him to a nursing home. After they were out of work and I was out of school for the day, I would go to visit with my parents. I made friends with many of the elderly people who also lived there. I would watch MTV in between volunteering to help feed the folks that needed assistance with dinner. I would practice my baton twirling and dance routines to entertain the masses.
As time went on and he deteriorated with the disease, more time was spent in hospitals and a more skilled care nursing home. Admittedly, those are more painful memories. However, I am so happy to have some happy memories. He passed away when I was in the fourth grade. It was sad, but also kind of a blessing because it meant he didn’t have to suffer anymore. I feel a strong connection to that chunk of the family, that came from Belgium. I’ve visited his hometown, and am planning to visit the city his parents came from. I can solidly thank Across-the-street Grampy for my love of all things vintage, and my search for just the right vintage furniture for my home.
My other grandfather’s family came from France, to Canada, to Massachusetts, and eventually to Detroit. He was Detroit Grampy to us. He had a really great bungalow on the East side of Detroit where my mother and her brother were raised. Like my other grandparents’ home, I have some great memories of the house. The visible chimes for the doorbell, the cut glass doorknobs, and the cool attic room with dormers. I so wished for an attic bedroom with dormers, so it was a chance to have them, albeit temporarily. There was an adorable den/office with a French door to the backyard. My cousins and I would bang on his old manual typewriter in that room, playing office. I remember finding the old rotary mower in his garage and pushing it around the yard. Thanks to an old Donald Duck cartoon, I longed for one of those. My dad had a tractor to mow our large yard, which I couldn’t use, so it was a special treat to mow the lawn, even a small part of it. Yeah, I was a weird kid. When G and I got married, we even registered for a rotary mower which I loved using, and even had neighbors inquire about it and purchase their own. Sadly, he had to leave that cool house in the city. After some break-ins, his car being stolen, and getting car-jacked in his driveway (before it was even called “car-jacking”), it was decided it would be safer for him to move to the suburbs, so he got an apartment in a town between the ones that my mom and my uncle lived in. We still made some great memories in that apartment, but it wasn’t quite the same as the amazing bungalow.
Detroit Grampy was born in 1910, and was the second youngest in a large family. He remembered prohibition and his father making wine to drink with dinner. He went to the University of Michigan for a year, but left when the depression hit. He became a draftsman for Chrysler. Yup, I am from a mixed Big Three family! Ford and Chrysler! (Now you know why I think GM is the devil. Besides that they are the devil.) Friday, my department at work went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see an exhibit on Finnish design. (We are the design department for a Scandinavian company so it was totally relevant.) After the exhibit, we were encouraged to tool around the museum and get inspired. One of my coworkers, who is also a pretty great friend, and I set off to explore. I had a flood of memories just walking around. When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me to Detroit to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA spoiled me for all other museums. It’s huge, and has some of the most renowned pieces of art in the world. Van Gogh’s self portrait, a Diego Rivera mural which was painted right in the room, and one of the original castings of “The Thinker.” My grandfather favored traditional art styles, and would grumble at some of the modern pieces saying, “That’s not art.” As a kid, I wanted to be like the adults I admired, so I would agree. As I learned more about art, I was able to appreciate everything, even the things he would not consider art. At the MIA, there was a wee room set up like a vintage office, to highlight all the design elements of the 1920s-1940s. The desk, chair, and typewriter were just like Grampy’s. My friend and I marveled over all the details. She pointed out the ashtrays, and I said that those weren’t part of this grandfather’s lifestyle. (My other grandfather, however, was quite a smoker. One of the fortunate effects of Alzheimer’s is that he forgot that he smoked.) We walked through a photography exhibit, that had lots of cool pieces. Like any Detroiter, I really appreciated pieces that were from or of the city. I came across one that was a shot of many draftsmen working for one of the Big Three. It didn’t say which one of the companies, but it reminded me of a shot of my grandfather. He’s in his crisp white shirt and narrow tie, standing at his drafting table. The men in the photograph at the museum looked just like that. I carefully studied the photo just in case my grandfather was in the shot. He wasn’t, but so many memories came back. I told my friend about them. About the DIA, about his life. About how we would eat together at Big Boy on our way home from the DIA. How distinctly I remember going to the Main branch of the Detroit Public Library. It was so, so cool to me. I was usually only able to go to our small town library, so it was amazing to get to go to a real city library like I read about in books. I was especially excited to see the little ballpoint pen vending machines. Again, something I previously encountered only in books. My grandfather gave me the necessary coins to purchase one. I was so thrilled!
We always played Chinese checkers and Scrabble together. He was very supportive of my love of creating. He would always load me up with art supplies on birthdays and at Christmas. He would say that while he would normally not advocate it, I was born to be on the stage. It meant a lot that he believed in my and my performing and art, since he was a pretty conservative guy, including his view of traditional gender roles.
My dad is a pretty cool guy. If you ever wonder where any of my personality traits came from, he’s the answer. My sense of humor, my weird habit of singing songs about random things in odd voices, and my trickstery tendencies. I love hearing the stories of his antics in high school and at work. He was such a character! Well, he is still such a character! Because of how alike we are, we would often butt heads. Neither of us would be willing to back down, even in my youngest days. We would do lots of great things together. We would go to KMart together, where he would often let me pick out one thing to get, usually a Matchbox car. On the way out, he would treat me to a frozen Coke, usually in a plastic collector’s cup. When my grandfather was in better health, we would pile into his work van to go get Christmas trees (one for our family, one for my grandpa). His van was orange, and came with only a driver’s seat, so he added one passenger seat. Thus, one seat was black and one white, and I would ride in the empty back. Probably wouldn’t get to do that nowadays!
My dad worked in construction for many years. He did commercial and industrial HVAC systems, working with sheet metal. He was able to point out buildings he worked on all over Southeastern Michigan, including the Renaissance Center and The Detroit Opera House. He is full of stories about all of his jobs. Helicopter lifts, accidents, pranks, you name it. He was fortunate to be in a union, which was probably the start of my political leanings. Thanks to the union, our family was okay even during some rough economic times. In my early school days, my dad was the one who would get me ready and get me to school. In the Reagan years, construction jobs were lean, so he was at home with me while my mom was at work. He taught me how to properly brush my hair, and explained why I should part my hair on the side instead of the center. In the spring, I helped him plant the vegetable garden and flowers in the front of our house. He taught me all about how to plant things and take care of them, and when the right time to plant was. He taught me how to do things around the house, use tools, repair things, especially how to figure out making parts or making things work when there aren’t ready-made solutions available. When I moved out on my own, he put together a five-gallon bucket full of all the tools I would need, put together from his tool collection. A cordless drill motor, screwdrivers, hammers, a hacksaw. He showed me how to use steel wool and car wax to polish the chrome trim around my bathroom mirror in my apartment. He gave me suggestions for upgrading some of the furniture I picked up from alleys and next to the dumpster.
As I grew up, he taught me about why I should work and pay for my own things. Why I should only buy things I can pay cash for and when I had to use a credit card, that I should pay it in full every month. That no matter what else I have to sacrifice, I should never, ever, ever go without health insurance. That it was okay to like what I liked, whether it was a Tonka dump truck or a Cabbage Patch doll. He built the swingset I grew up playing on, and the sandbox I played in as a kid. He salvaged a metal playground slide for me, got it into shape, and made it so I could play on it off of our deck. When I realized I wanted to go to school for theater and design, he, um, encouraged me to explore all my options first. However, when I insisted that it was theater all the way, he was super supportive. Whenever we talk on the phone, he tells me what’s going on back home in the film and theater world, or what cool thing he saw about costuming or fashion design. When I got married, the week before was pretty crazy. I had to make my niece’s dress, because she was not sized like the patterns or anything I needed to have her there to fit the dress, and needed help with last minute things. One night, when my sister fell asleep instead of making the pew bows, my dad asked me what they should look like and set to work making them on my ironing board. It was a small thing, but it made my wedding extra special to have this great story.
Recently, I was on the phone with my dad, and he told me about how he was watching the Ellen Degeneres show. Lady Gaga was the guest, and he told me all about the interview, because he knows how much I like her. He detailed her outfit, and how eloquent she is. He told me about how she said that she would never buy a house, because that would mean she was “grown-up,” and she would never grow up. He didn’t say the words, but I got the impression that he appreciated that because it was just like me.
I often take it for granted all the things my dad and grandfathers taught me. Not that I take it for granted for myself, but that I assume that everyone got such a great education from their fathers and grandfathers. I am always surprised when a fellow adult doesn’t know how to use a drill, or install something around the house. That they weren’t sent off with a tool kit to start their adult life. When kids are encouraged to only play with things or act like their gender. It makes me realize how lucky I am to have had these really great people in my life to both shape who I am, and to support all my life decisions, no matter how wacky. So, thanks to my dad, and to my grandfathers for being especially awesome. Happy father’s day to them, and to all the fathers in my life, and those who take on fatherly roles, whether they be men or women. Also, happy father’s day to the hubs, the best kitty daddy, and ratter daddy, and hamster daddy there ever was.
Now, for the squirrel! No, I’m not trying to tell you something with this baby tee. However, it is super cute, and while it’s too late to get it for this father’s day, maybe an idea for next?
As always, Happy Sunday Friends!! xoxox