My Grandpa was not a perfect man. He left my grandmother with a daughter to raise. He inconsistently kept up with his established family afterwards, and he was fiscally irresponsible. Despite all this, my grandfather remains one of my favorite people of memory. Maybe it was because of the mystique of his strong silent demeanor. As a child, even when I was sitting right next to him, I found myself wondering who he was, but never quite found the courage to ask. I knew the basics, he was a World War II vet, he’d received a purple heart for being injured in combat. This injury was evidenced by the pins and screws in his leg (an injury which I now, coincidentally, have in common with him). He never drank (at least not that I can remember). He had an affinity for baked goods, The Peanuts, photography (of the living and the dead) and Cadillacs. Oh, and he played the clarinet which he got to do with Benny Goodman one time, per my Nana.
Whenever he’d surface for one of his impromptu visits it was like the Red Sea of my normal existence had been parted and I’d been liberated to a land of endless McDonald’s and paint by numbers kits. Grandpa never seemed as entrenched by his existence as the other adults in my life. This alone made him a living wonder in my eyes. When he wasn’t around, I always pictured him cruising around in his latest Caddy listening to Stacy Lattisaw. This was the internal image of him that endured through my childhood. As I got older and sought out people to blame for my fuckupedness, my thoughts went back to my Grandpa and my questions became more complex.
Why did he leave? If he played the clarinet and loved photography, was he an artist? If he was an artist, why didn’t he chose to make that his life? Question after, question came until I stumbled upon a theory, contrived though it may be: My Grandpa was a suppressed artist. He was suppressed by himself and the world he lived in. I mean, picture it, The United States of America circa 1945-46. You’re a black WWII veteran coming home to a country that you’ve fought for believing that your service in war would equal greater peace at home. You find out not only is that a lie, but the divides within the country have grown deeper. You’re on the wrong side of a battle for civil rights that’s on the horizon while all that swims around in your head is the expanded view of the world you got to taste while you were living abroad. The disappointment is heartbreaking, but there is no time to stew in. Real life responsibilities; a wife, a child, and the pursuit of an American Dream that cannot be achieved are constantly beckoning with needs that keep you up at night.
Maybe my Grandpa felt there was no time or little opportunity to explore his creative side? Maybe he didn’t even know he was an artist. The questions always seem to lead to more questions, but in the pursuit of answers I find myself that much more closely bonded to who my Grandpa might have been. Please, don’t think I write this to provide excuses or make apologies for Grandpa’s behaviors but rather to try to get a better understanding of who he was that I might get a better understanding of who I am. And I am very much my Grandpa’s granddaughter. I struggle with many of the same issues plus some whole new shit of my own invention. The awareness and nurturing of my creative side is the slight advantage I have. I hold on to it for dear life and strive to be the artist that my Grandpa and all my other unannounced artist ancestors never got to be.
Happy Veteran’s Day Grandpa – ❤ Junebug