GRANDPARENTS

January 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

MEMOIR

GRANDPARENTS

My father’s mother and father lived only a few miles from us in Hillside, New Jersey. But driving from Newark to their house was like entering a different world.
They came to this country from Czechoslovakia, although my father’s birth certificate listed his parent’s home country as Hungary. The boarders of European countries frequently changed in the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to World War I. They brought with them one daughter and first settled in Newark and then moved to Hillside, which was where my father was raised.
Hillside is a quiet community composed of one and two family houses giving it a less dense population than my area of Newark. It had some industry, Bristol Myers had a plant located along the main street of this small community, but for the most part it was a quiet place to live. And even though my grandparent’s street ran perpendicular to the Bristol Myers location, there was very little through traffic. It was a quiet street and to me a place of refuge.
My grandparents owned a double lot with a small house on one side and a garden and lawn on the other. My grandmother loved flowers, especially roses. I recall two long rows of flowers with space between for tending and weeding. The garden area facing the street was where the rose bushes grew. She had a large assortment of types and whenever we visited we usually came away with a bouquet of roses.
We would visit on summer evenings after we were finished with supper. After driving for ten or fifteen minutes, we would be parked in front of their house. Now, in reality, we would be visiting only my grandmother for my grandfather would be fast asleep. Every day of the year, for as long as I could remember, he would be in bed by five o’clock. He would have an early dinner then go into the cellar for his one cigarette and his one bottle of beer for the day, then off to bed. When we arrived, we would pull out the chairs stored under the back stairs and talk with my grandmother, watching the evening approach and looking out at the lightning bugs.
Life was slow-paced there. You didn’t feel the underlying tenseness that you felt many times while walking Newark’s streets. Even as a young boy I could feel the relaxation coming on as we entered Hillside.
When I was perhaps ten years old, I started going to my grandparents for summer vacations. I was the only child in my family to do this. I would pack my things and spend a week in Hillside, an oasis to me, a change of pace from the city life in Newark.
There were a few boys my age that lived on my grandparent’s street. My first few summers there I spent in the garden catching butterflies by day and lightning bugs at night. During the summer, even in Newark, the bathroom window would be crammed with jars full of various insects and spiders – all for the study of a pre teenage boy. But after a couple of years catching insects in my grandparent’s yard, I ventured out onto their street and made friends with a couple of the other kids in the neighborhood. Then one summer I spent most of my week on the other kid’s front porches, just hanging out, talking and spitting. For some reason they all spit a lot and I acquired the habit.
Another favorite pastime of my vacations in Hillside was walks with my grandfather. We would set out for long walks in the neighborhood or sometimes we would walk to Weequahic Park, more than a mile away, so this was a real adventure. He must have been in his 70’s by then. He always seemed to be rather formally dressed for walks with dark pants and dress shirts, no shorts and tee shirts for grandpa. And he always wore high-topped shoes that would crunch small stones on the sidewalk, for some reason that crunching sound has stayed with me all these years, the confident step of an elderly man who knew the way, and allowed me to follow. His eyesight was poor, the result of his profession, an engraver. He also had this way of clearing his throat whenever he was about to say something
On our long walks we would talk, but I never got to know my grandfather, not really know him, he never talked about himself. This was long before men were supposed to bear their souls, beat drums and hug. The same was true of my father, never really talked much about what was important to him in his own life, and to some extent the same is true with me. Many times, when there is something really important to me I tend not to discuss it; although I’m sure my children would agree that I can beat a subject to death over dinner. But sometimes the overwhelming daily grind and my personality get in the way of really communicating. So looking back on those walks and my life with my father, I am truly their grandson and son.

A POEM FOR MY GRANDMOTHER

ROSES

Roses were her love,

Great flowing rainbows of pink, red and white.

Her children, their children would come

And each take home

A fist full of gaily-colored affection.

Roses were her love,

And when rest had finally come from roses

Roses were hers,

Elegant creations of empty colors

Looking out on empty eyes.

Roses were her love,

And now her small garden

Has yet to discover

A rose.

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