Today marks fifty years since the day my grandfather died of a heart attack.
He was my mother’s father, and we called him “Bumper”, because one of my older cousins had trouble pronouncing the word “Grandpa”. I have some fragmentary memories of him, blurred by time. I suspect my Aunt Sandy’s sons remember him slightly better than I do; I’m not sure if my sister Nancy does; the rest of my siblings and my Uncle Kip’s family were all too young to know him.
I remember he had a very slow, deliberate, way of speaking. Probably my strongest memory of him was the time I got a good report card; I called him up (or my mother did), and I told him about the report card, and him saying, in that deliberate way of his, “You deserve a buck.” Sure enough, the next time he came over, he gave me one.
I remember the foreign cars, first, the big Mercedes, with the big grille on the front, and then the tiny, funny looking Citroën.
I’d like to say I remember seeing him at Christmas, always Christmas Night, but my memories could simply be the result of seeing the pictures of them.
I remember seeing him in his Cape house in Sunset Village, working in his garden, and visiting him once or twice in the duplex in Milton he shared with his second wife.
I’d just turned 8 when he died. I don’t remember them, but my mother likes to tell a couple of stories about my reaction. I went to Catholic school, and the school was next to the church where his funeral Mass was held. Apparently, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Carolan, told my mother that when the bells began to toll, I went over the windows to look out at the church, and told her that the bells were for my grandfather. My mother also says she found a note I’d written afterwards, saying something like “Bumper’s dead, boo hoo”.
I don’t remember those things myself. What I do remember is the night of the funeral, Dad was putting away the flag that had been draped over the coffin — Bumper had been an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, and worked his way up to Colonel — and he made a point of telling me how much he had liked and respected his father-in-law.
I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the tone. I think he made the point that a lot of guys don’t get along with their fathers-in-law, but that Bumper was special, and that he really respected him and enjoyed being around him. I’m not sure what his motivation was; he may have been responding to my upset; it may have simply been something he needed to say to me, but he felt lucky Bumper has been his father-in-law, and hoped that I would be as lucky has he had been.