Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Gramps

Originally I was going to tie this in to a movie. South Pacific was my choice because of my grandfathers tour there during WWII. I have decided that at least for this post to forgo the movie. I may still post on South Pacific. To date it remains one of the few musical theater shows that I've ever liked. I loved the sailors in the movie, the deck hands, the regular guys. They always reminded me of my Gramps. Enjoy the blog...

My Gramps was quite a character. I was about 17 when he died of cancer. He went out with a whimper not a bang; and I always thought that was sad.

My Grandmother met him at a dance at the Ali Baba Ballroom, in Oakland. He was her second husband and my mother’s stepfather. He grew up in Sutter’s Mill, raised by his Grandmother and had a brother named Hugh. During World War II, he served in the Sea Bee's Seabee and was stationed somewhere in the South Pacific. His history is very incomplete except for a few wartime photos and family pictures. I had portrait photos of his mother and grandmother but they’ve gotten lost over the years. I only knew him as my grandfather and I thought he was the best.

Loud, cantankerous, stingy, stubborn, abrasive, tactless, smart, cocky, proud. All true - but he was always there if family needed him. He was patient (at least with me) and kindhearted and as they used to say “the salt of the earth”. He was vibrant. I called him Gramps or Papa Cedge when I was feeling sleepy and sweet.

Cecil George Davey had no internal monologue. If he thought a thing, he said it. Over the years there were fewer and fewer people who would put up with the tactless remarks and I know that it used to make my Grandmother feel bad. Most people just didn’t understand her Davey. There was always family though, and we were completely immune to his yelling and brash comments and funny stories and horrid violin playing.

I should mention that he yelled, all the time, mostly not in anger but because he was very, very deaf and I don’t ever remember him using hearing aids. My sister used to say that when I got home from staying with them that I would be yelling for about a week. You get tired of having to repeat yourself and eventually, you give up and you yell, all of the time. It’s just polite.

After his military service, Gramps worked as an accountant. I remember visiting him at work one day shortly before his retirement. He always wore the same kind of outfit to work. White dress shirt, long sleeves in winter, short in the summer, one pocket, black tie, black slacks, black shoes and socks and suit coat or Mr. Roger’s sweater, strange little pork pie hat for driving and black horn rim glasses. I thought the “fancy” attire was neat. I always liked the way he looked so important and official.

I clearly remember working in the terraced garden with Gramps. I was really young, pre-school (we called it kiddie college back then) I think. We were sifting dirt. He had rigged up a little wire screen contraption that we were pushing the dirt through, picking out the little rocks and then pushing the dirt through again. It seemed like a lot of work but I loved it. No project was too dirty, too tough or too tedious for Gramps. He worked so hard at whatever he did and got so much pleasure out of his accomplishments.

Sometimes his accomplishments led to more projects. Upon returning from even the shortest trip to the grocery store, my Grandmother would find that Davey had again been fixing things in her absence. His fingerprints would be on whatever he touched. Paintings, mirrors, windows, glasses, walls, pictures. Everything breakable or fixable got the Gramps treatment. My grandmother was a calm, gracious and fastidious woman. It must have been maddening.

Gramps always said he had “people to see, places to go, things to do”. Shortly after he retired they sold the cabin he built with his own hands, sold their house in Castro Valley and bought a mobile home in Fremont. Gramps was very conscious of cutting expenses once he no longer had his paycheck coming in. He also had heart trouble and I think the big house and the cabin became too much for my grandmother and him to take care of. They seemed happy in the smaller space. He had the best vegetable garden there and my grandmother had her pretty flowers too. Gramps had a little tool shed for his “projects” and my grandmother was still canning fruit and cooking up a storm. My grandmother took up painting, my grandfather took up needlepoint of all things, and they bought a truck and trailer to take on the open road.
One of the strangest and sweetest times in my life was the road trip I took with them to Canada the summer my dad died. Gramps had researched Canadian dentistry and found that he and Nana could get high quality “choppers” for a fraction of the cost they would have to pay in California.

That road trip was an incredible adventure and Gramps and I ate rocky road candy bars as many times as we could sneak them past the watchful eyes of my Grandmother.

We drove on the wrong side of the freeway somewhere in Canada, avoiding capture and accident. It was very exciting and I thought my Grandmother was going to have a heart attack. My Grandfather was pretty nonchalant about it but complained that the Canadian road signs were really defective. Actually I think he may have said something like, “God damn signs aren’t worth a good God damn, how the hell is any person supposed to read that? Stupid idiot sign makers”.

The dentures were molded, fitted and purchased. I guess they went one at a time for the procedures but I hardly remember that part at all. Dentures were of little interest to me.

At some point during the trip, we decided to stay for a few days and do some blackberry picking. We picked a lot! My grandmother had brought all of her canning equipment and was going to put up blackberry jam. Sounds strange, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable to the three of us. I was mainly interested in the eating of the blackberries, so whatever my grandparents wanted to do with the rest was fine with me.

The trailer seemed huge to a kid, it was probably good sized with a queen bed, a little sleeping area for me that doubled during the day as the dining nook, a miniscule kitchen complete with working stove and fridge and an even smaller bathroom. The idea of my grandmother using the little 4 foot by 2 foot kitchen to stage a blackberry canning session now seems a little nuts.

After the appropriate amount of blackberries had been picked my grandmother told my grandfather to take me and the dog for a walk and she was going to get started with the canning process. We set off on our little walk and were gone for what seemed like hours and ended up with playing on the play ground that was provided for the trailer park guests.

I was swinging when gramps took the dog back to the trailer to see what was “cooking”. He tipped over the pot that was simmering with blackberries and pectin. It’s a lucky thing no one was burned.

The playground was probably 100 feet from the trailer and I could tell from the yelling and banging around that it would be a good idea for me to stay away. Out stomped Gramps and the Suzy the poodle declaring that they would go on ANOTHER walk. I stayed right where I was and waited for some kind of signal that all was well. Maybe 5 minutes later, my grandmother walked over to the playground and she definitely did look mad. “You just stay right where you are and don’t come near the trailer. Davey knocked the pot over and there’s blackberry juice everywhere. I’ll let you know when you can come back”. So I waited and pretty soon Gramps came back with Suzy and the three of us waited some more.

Eventually we thought the coast might be clear. Gramps went ahead to check the lay of the land. As a peace offering, he went and bought burgers and fries and shakes for us all. It would have been a bad thing if my Grandmother been asked to fix dinner that night.

Luckily there was a laundry facility at the campground because EVERYTHING need to be washed. Little rugs, curtains, blankets, towels, sheets. Some of the things came back from the wash a lovely lavender. I liked that color.

The next day they started over again, Gramps went and picked more blackberries, I played on the swings, Nana put up the jam, just like everything was the way it was supposed to be. That’s how they were. They’d go through the rough patch, get mad, make up and move on.
My grandmother had been a beautician and because of this, she was in charge of all family haircuts except my mothers. I didn’t mind the French braids and the cutting of the bangs when I was little and my grandfather would just be tickled pink thinking of all the money he was saving since she always cut what there was of his hair. She had all of her special beauty shop tools and I loved seeing her setting out the implements on a white towel and getting him covered in the haircutting cape. Then she’d cut his hair and shave his neck and fix his sideburns. When she was done she’d whisk the stray hairs with the little barber brush she had and place the glasses on his nose and give him a little kiss on the cheek. I always liked these times with them, it must have been calming to watch her do this little kindness for him and see them quiet and comfortable together.

For all of his swagger, he was not a disciplinarian. Oh you could tell when he was irritated. It always ended with, “Here, you go sit at that desk and make some drawings, I’m going to take a nap“. That was the death knell to my fun but also let me know in the gentlest of ways that Papa had had enough of me.

Gramps’ radio broadcasted baseball games were a source of enjoyment for me. This little ritual required a seemingly unending supply of mixed nuts, cheese and crackers, grapes and ice cream. Sublime. I don’t like baseball but I still love to hear the announcers even though I don’t know what’s going on in the game. It was just one of those peaceful, lazy times with him. He’d sit in his chair and I’d sit by his knee on a little footstool and try to nab peanuts.

Looking back with adult eyes, some of the activities I took part in with gramps weren’t all that safe. There were a lot of screwdrivers, hammers, rusty nails, engine oil, gopher traps, electrician’s tape, baling wire and I had full access to all of it. Sometimes you’ve just got to be allowed to get dirty, do dangerous stuff and make messes. Gramps was perfect for all of these things. I was never hurt once while in his care and I think it had to do with the confidence he instilled in me to just tackle a project - NO MATTER WHAT. I wish I had taken a little more of that confidence with me as I grew up, it was powerful stuff.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the wonderful and irritating things I could write about my Grandpa Cedge. I think that he and my Grandmother were just the perfect Grandparents for a kid like me. He taught me to appreciate the multitude of simple pleasures that life offers if you pay attention. He was sweet in his own way, sometimes you just had to search for it.

Lastly, here are a few little quips and deeds from my Gramps:

“if you want to get anything done, do it yourself”
“what do you think I am, stupid or something?”
“what’s wrong with your hair, it looks like you’ve got the Filly Loo Bird in it”
“Chicken’s chicken, just eat it.” words of wisdom for me because I didn’t like the tendons and the veins, and I still don’t.
“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. He was a big proponent of cleaning your plate.
“I pruned your fuscias for you”. Completely ruined my mom’s beautiful fuscias in our backyard. Didn’t go over well.
“I fixed the back gate for you”. Never closed right again.
“Honey I fixed the stove”. Which then had to be held shut with bailing wire. It was less than two years old.


  1. Awww. How have I not heard these fabulous stories before? What a wonderful person to have in your life. I want more. Tell me more!

  2. So very, very sweet, and such a wonderful tribute. I bet it was so fun to write, and I'm so glad you did it. How lucky you were to have such great grandparents in your life... and how lucky we are you shared them with us.


  3. Thank you Ticia and Karen. Hoping no glaring errors. Let me know if there are and I will fix. I was anxious to get this posted before I chickened out. It was incredibly fun to write. For a cranky old guy he never hurt me and always made me feel good about myself. Thank you for reading!

  4. A lovely remembrance, Amy. He sounds like a guy I would have liked to know.