How odd it is because I had just started reading this over to see if it was too rambling and decided to add the part about Yoda. Suddenly, it struck me that in a way Grandpa resembled Yoda - in that he was small and compact, not more than 5 feet 5 inches, I think. Visits with him were never without a lesson of some sort. Unlike Yoda, he had a streak of Darth Vader . . . only it wasn’t technology that got the best of him. It was that he never realized he had the power to be Yoda. He fixed the soles of other people’s shoes and finding this demeaning, missed the opportunity to minister unto their souls.
I refer, for example, to the way he forced his children—my father, aunts, and uncles—to listen to opera or sit while he read to them from the 863-page book entitled Earth, Sea, and Sky. As it turns out, I am now in possession of this book, which I have opened at random for the purpose of this letter. My eyes fell upon this delicious passage:
“We will take a trip to the tropics, and get a view of one of its most curious and interesting animals—the giraffe. The giraffe—which has been humorously described as “an antelope run to seed”—is fond of a wooded country. The leaves of trees are its principal food, and especially a species of mimosa.”
Do you not love this!!! And you would also, I think, find fascinating the chapter on insects who live in trees and whose lifestyles are described as Typograpers and Stenographers, based on how they make their way into their arboreal habitats.
The copyright page lists the date of this book as 18 —the next two numbers are missing. The contents lists chapters such as Wild Tribes and their Curious Customs, Shipwrecks and Ocean Adventures, Extraordinary Turtles and Crustaceans, and The Marvels of the Heavens. The engravings and diagrams are exquisite.
Jesus famously noted that in his father’s house were many mansions. Similarly, within the World of Grandpa were many worlds. Sadly, however, he couldn’t find a way to share them. Or perhaps he was so lonely for a companion on his intellectual travels that he grabbed people by the mind instead of the heart.
16 Shetland was not a place for celebration. The house was cold and dark inside. You would walk up a few steps from the street, then along a short walk, and up several more steps to the porch. The door was on the far left side of the porch. You knocked, as if visiting neighbors, not family. The door would open. There was Grandpa in his brown hat and coat. You might think he was going out. But no, he was staying in where it was cold. If it happened to be warm in the spring, he wouldn’t be wearing his coat, in which case he had on brown or charcoal pants held up with suspenders over his long johns.
His face was round. He had a fringe of white hair and baby-smooth skin with rosy cheeks so that his face appeared like a little night light. He had a bristly mustache that was always a little yellowed from coffee and chicken soup.
It was expected that we kiss him. Which was something like kissing the Pope’s ring. Except the Pope’s ring didn’t have a bristly mustache. Like visiting the Pope, every visit was something of a ritual. We would follow him through the house to the kitchen were we sat around the very large kitchen table. We always brought him gifts of cigars and Old Spice. He gave us bank envelopes with $2.00. Our names were inscribed on the envelopes in the elegant script he learned from the monks who educated him.
At the table, Grandpa always had his newspaper spread out, along with his math books. During the visit, Grandpa offered his opinions. He was most concerned that Americans were falling behind in math. It was not a lecture. It was most definitely not a conversation. It was immersion in the World of Grandpa.
Perhaps there was something genetic in your father’s drive to pursue the subject of math.
How did Grandpa become so severe? Hard to say. But he was educated by the monks. I don’t know where I got the idea that his father was wealthy and stashed him away in a monastery to be educated while he, the father, ran off with a gypsy. I don’t believe this is what happened or how I got it into my head that this was true. All I can tell you is that Grandpa never went to church. At his funeral, a monk showed up in a brown robe and wanted to pray but no one knew the prayers. The poor monk prayed quickly, then left with his rosary rattling.
About Grandpa and his teaching style: