Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Fathers Day

I spent a lot of time thinking this week about what to write about on Father's Day. My own dad died when I was 12 years old and exists mostly in memory fragments and photos - though to be honest most of the photos I have of him were before I was born so in my mind he is much younger than he really was. 

When Dad died Mom and I had three years alone together.  However, a spare parent was crucial since my mom went back to work. So my Grandfather Elmer Brydon stepped in.  Grandpa was a wonderful parent.  He was retired and had lots of time and armed with the instructions to keep me out of trouble he found ways to keep me entertained during holidays and vacations when my mom had to work and I wasn't babysitting.  He would come get me around 9 am on those vacation days and off the two of us would go.  We went all over New Jersey, parts of New York and on one memorable trip - to Gettysburg PA.  We explored American history by visiting all the key spots (and by the way New Jersey is loaded with places critical to the American Revolution and is really quite beautiful). Since I was an animal lover he also took me to every zoo, aquarium and animal park we could find. 

When my mom remarried and I basically refused to have anything to do with her new husband, Grandpa became even more important. He took over the role of mother as well - taking me clothes shopping, on vacations to Disney in Florida and the Jersey Shore, and even taking me on all my college interviews.  We would go to libraries and book stores and he would take me swimming in his apartment complexes tiny pool.  And we would do errands - he was a master couponer and since he did both my mothers' and his grocery shopping we would do a circuit of the A&P, Kings, and the Pathmark (not Pathmark but the Pathmark).  He would come get me after school so I wouldn't have to walk home loaded down with books, and on the Saturdays I volunteered at the local hospital he would come get me after work and take me home with him for dinner and TV.  Our favorite restaurant was Friendly's and I learned a lot about his life - marrying so young, losing their first child to an influenza epidemic, his divorce and his remarriage.  We would visit his brother, my great Uncle Norman, and do household projects with him.We spent Saturday evenings with his wife Connie -the three of us would go to dinner and settle down to watch the horse races.  And we played Parcheesi.

My Grandfather was wonderful to me and taught me many crucial life lessons:

1.  Saving money is important - Grandpa delighted in being a banker but when he retired he really enjoyed a good bargain. He raised couponing to an art form. If he were alive today he'd be on one of those super couponer shows for sure.  My favorite story was the note he left one day for my mother apologizing for his failure to secure "People's brand Tuna". He had gone to 3 stores and engaged all three store managers in the search. He offered that he'd had a coupon and gotten us another brand for only pennies.  In fact Mom had wanted any brand of tuna - just not cat tuna since our cat infinitely preferred Tuna flavored cat food.

2.  Strive for perfection - when he was dying I was in the process of thinking about graduate school. I was in the 99th percentile on my GMATs and when I told him about it his response was - what about the other 1%.  I knew he was proud but he wasn't going to let me off the hook.  When I was in high school and college he paid me for my grades - an A earned you a dollar, a B got you nothing and a C meant you owed him a dollar. 

3.  Be proud of your work no matter what. After his retirement Grandpa served on the board of his church and on the board of their cemetery.  When their gardener quit Grandpa was tasked to find a new one. Instead he took the job himself and happily mowed the lawn each week.  He was paid $500 per year and he gave me the money to help pay for my college text books - for which I will be forever grateful.  He took great pride in his work and he selected his burial plot himself so he could keep an eye on the gardeners who came after him.

4.  Being a devil is not a bad thing - Grandpa loved to laugh and he loved to bedevil people. I hate to admit it but I loved it too. When we went on a tour of colleges we stayed at a very nice hotel in Amherst Mass.  After dinner he made a point of pulling out my chair and taking my hand and said, Darling, shall we be off to bed - absolutely scandalizing all the old ladies at the next table. 

5.  How you treat a customer is important - on my college tour Grandpa and I visited Smith, Amherst and my top choice Mount Holyoke in what I can only imagine was a monsoon.  It was pouring ridiculously the whole time. Amherst was dismissed because my Grandfather did not like the looks of the young man who gave us the tour.  Smith horrified him because when we arrived a few minutes early for our interview the woman who opened the door told us we were too early and instead of letting us wait and get dry inside the building she closed the door in our faces.  When they did let us in they were very nice but left my poor sodden grandfather in the waiting room with no offer of even a towel or tissue to dry off. When we got to MHC it was once again pouring.  We were shown to a nice waiting room immediately (even though we tested them by being 15 minutes early just like we had at Smith). They got him a towel, took his coat to hang near a heater so it would dry, took mine as well and someone brought him tea and cookies while he waited.  When we were done my fate (which had really been predetermined since I'd wanted to go there since I was a little kid) was sealed - Grandpa could not say enough nice things about MHC and told me to remember this is how you win over a customer.  Treat them as you would want to be treated.

6.  Speed is good, but beating your own record is better - my final lesson and one to this day that I'm not sure was the best.  Grandpa loved to drive and while my stepfather taught me the basics which helped me pass my drivers test, my grandfather taught me to speed.  Before every trip which was carefully mapped we would check the miles, synchronize our watches and we'd take off.  He drove from Florida to New Jersey once in less than two days (fairly easy since he basically never stopped except to sleep for 6 hours).  I drove from Rochester NY to Dallas TX the same way.  He also taught me a few choice expressions which did not endear him to my step Grandmother.  And for those who have driven with me - yes he taught me to use the horn. 

So many stories. When I started this blog I wasn't really sure what would come out but my Grandfather is who I think about when I think about the word father.  He's been gone 30 years but he still lives on in my memory and in many pictures.  Here are two of my favorites.

This is myself, Grandpa and my mom at a Mt Holyoke parents weekend.  He came to all of them.

This next photo is from one of his many vacations with my step grandmother. Did I mention he also taught me to be an enthusiastic explorer and tourist. 

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