As I’ve said before, my commitment to helping parricides is not rooted in some glaring deficiency in my own childhood. It was as near to ideal as most people’s, but it was by no means a perfect childhood.
My paternal grandfather died in 1956, when I was nearing eight years old. To tell you the truth, I didn’t much care about his absence because I was afraid of him. He was a stern man who didn’t show much affection.
Aside from time spent in his home on magical Christmas Eves (blue lights on the tree and a visiting Santa Claus which I took to be the most natural thing in the world), I have no positive memories of him except one. One summer day I was left in his care. We were doing yard work including the removal of tree seedlings from his garden. We took a break, and he introduced me for the first time to root-beer floats. I remember that as the only time that we ever had fun together.
After his death, my grandmother’s gradually became a Mrs. Haversham’s house in which “Daddy Jack” (our family’s name for him) became a memory frozen at the time of his death. We visited his grave at the mausoleum thereafter, and many stories were told about him including the fact that he had been a “good provider” all through the Great Depression. There were tales told about how the family drove Pearce-Arrows and other repossessed luxury cars while the rest of the country suffered (Daddy Jack was in the finance business). Even though it was forbidden, my father kept a convertible garaged near campus while he was an undergraduate at a private college.
These stories only served to make Daddy Jack a colder, more remote presence for me. I liked him less the more I learned.
Years later, long after my grandmother and father had died, I was doing genealogical research through which I discovered the existence of cousins in Illinois. It was through these cousins that I learned for the first time that my grandfather had a sister named Lydia and that she, too, was a stern and cold person. They told me why Lydia and her brother were so difficult to get close to.
When both were young children, their father was killed in a railroad yard accident. He was horribly mutilated by a rolling freight car, and he took a long time to die. Thereafter, life was very hard for the family he left behind.
I understood for the first time the reason why he had been so cold. He knew no other way. I know now he had a very different way of showing his love, but love us he did. I just wish I had known then so I would not have been afraid. I wish I had known then so I could have been more of a comfort to him.
Groove of the Day