There are those within family groups who play major roles but don’t take major precedence. The fault doesn’t come from any absence of caring, but rather a lack of connection between two members of the group. One case in point was my maternal grandfather.
I never felt as if Grandfather St. Clair liked me. I honestly don’t know how that conviction arose, whether from a perceived coldness toward me or whether it was simply that he didn’t know how to relate to little girls. Whatever the cause, I had that impression.
He showed me only a reserved man who had much knowledge of natural history and personal experience. He knew and understood so many secrets of the deep woods, and he connected with my brother on that level. They were always great friends, who spent entire days together, hunting, fishing, and sharing.
I couldn’t get close to Grandfather. I couldn’t understand his sense of humor any more than I could guess at his feelings toward me. All I could do was watch helplessly as opportunities to connect eroded over the years.
Wonderment always flowed through me after I discovered the history between my grandmother and him. When she met him, she was a widow with three marriages behind her and four sons and a daughter to finish rearing. He was a friend of her eldest three sons.
One day, when she grew tired of his hanging around her house and eating food that she’d provided through a great deal of hard work, she told him that if he was going to continue to practically living there, he might as well marry her and help provide a few groceries for the table. Grandfather took her up on that proposal.
That reality has the power to stun a person on first hearing. A woman, with four nearly grown sons and a young daughter, and a nineteen-year-old husband is not usually something one considers commonplace during the 1920’s. Today she’d be called more than a cougar, I’m sure.
Back then, though, times were hard. Practicality ruled the lives of many. Necessity drove the bus to the future.
The newlyweds settled down. Within a year my mother was born. The year was 1930. My grandmother was 44 years old at the time, and the Depression was deepening.
Grandfather took a job in the stone quarry to supplement what their small farm’s production. Each day he rose before dawn and walked five miles across country to get to work. He labored there until nearly dark and then returned home through those same hollows, fields, roads, and forests. I never discovered whether he complained about this new lot into which he’d entered so casually.
When WWII arrived on the country’s doorstep, he and my mother’s four brothers entered the service and were shipped abroad. My grandmother was left holding down the responsibility for two young daughters and a farm, as well as the worry of perhaps losing all of her sons and her husband.
At war’s end all the menfolk returned. Grandfather had survived North Africa. Was that the cause of the brooding gazes that took control of his eyes sometimes? I have no way of knowing. Or, did he remember how Grandmother’s youngest son—my brother’s namesake–and his good friend, died at an unmarked railroad crossing along with two other young veterans shortly after returning from the war?
This was fresh family history when I came along as mother’s firstborn. I knew the man who could produce a fantastically productive garden and harvest from the wild much of the other necessities for my grandmother’s kitchen. I watched the man who held secrets close to his shirtfront and rarely laughed.
I don’t remember him at my grandmother’s funeral, but only afterward, due to circumstances that resonated into the months that followed.
This is my memory of my grandfather. I heard about his humor from others. It must have been too subtle for me to recognize as a child. By the time I reached adulthood, we were both different people who acknowledged each other, gave due respect, and found common ground in the family group.
I admit that these are only a few of the memories that I should have of the man and that time in my life. I also admit that, due to an accident, I remember only a small bit of those early years. I have images and impressions of some of my childhood and many of those triggered only because the recollections from other members of the family.
The thing that I found odd, now that I stop to ponder this man and my family, is that my grandmother was 74 when she died in 1960. He died in 1984, having barely attained the age of 75. They both had major strokes before death claimed them. Even apart, they came together.