Saturday, March 11, 2006

John Walter Paige: 1899-1981

I did think I would get back here before now, especially since last Saturday was an important day to mark, the repose of both my grandfather and an important family friend. Blood is thicker than water, so I'll start with Grandpa.

If I have just one regret in life, and of course I have many, but if I could have just one, it would be that I never really got to know my grandfather. It wasn't till I was grown that I understood why my mother and aunt had gone to such pains to keep their kids from him: Evidently, when they were small, he was one of these very harsh fathers who would beat them for the slightest infraction, and they didn't want their kids to come under his disapproval. When I knew him, though, he had mellowed considerably, and I always liked him.

It helps to know that he was widowed with six young children when he was just 33 years old, and that the only reason he got to keep his kids was that his mother-in-law lived in the house -- otherwise, the family would have been broken up, and all the kids sent to orphanages, as was common in the 1930s. It also helps to know that when he was 10, his mother died, and his father fell apart completely, so that his family actually was broken up, and he was the only one left to live with his father -- who fell to drink, got behind on the rent, and was evicted, so that the two of them ended up sleeping on park benches. All this I learned from my mother only in the last few years of her life, and it explained so much to me about why my grandfather was so disciplined in himself -- that was his key to keeping his life from ever falling apart like that again. And then, with the death of his wife, it almost did, anyway.

By the time I really got to know him, he was living in a very nice apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He never learned to drive, so every day he walked a mile to his parish church for daily Mass; and when he wanted to visit his daughters, either my aunt or my stepfather had to drive to Bay Ridge to pick him up and take him back home. We never minded, we enjoyed the ride, and we enjoyed Grandpa, too.

When I was a teenager, he began to let me borrow his records. He had a very eclectic collection, but what stands out in my mind now was how much of it was classical, and I wish, now, that I had grasped how much he and I had in common. I bet he would have loved to go to concerts with me, and I could have learned so much about the music he enjoyed from talking to him. He even suggested to my mother, often, that I take the train into Brooklyn to have dinner with him. But that would have been like travelling to a foreign country for me! I could handle the train into Brooklyn all right, but how I would get home from there, was a complete mystery to me (I've always been a little slow on the uptake). So I never went, and that's my biggest regret of all.

When I did actually go to a foreign country, it turned out that my grandfather, who never called anybody that I was aware of, called me for my birthday, and my mother had to tell him that I was in Germany. "GERMANY!" he exploded. "What's she doing in Germany?!" (It must be remembered that he fought in World War I!) When my mother explained that I was visiting my boyfriend, whom I hoped to marry -- we got engaged that Christmas -- he responded, "Well, that's what I always liked about her, she's got a mind of her own!" And even then -- it just didn't occur to me how very much we had in common.

Not making that connection is my single biggest regret.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

I know so many gruff men who mellowed as they aged.

May his Memory be Eternal.