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I was born on the island where they run the ponies, on the eastern shore of Virginia. My father was a young Naval Lieutenant who had just completed duty in the Pacific on board a destroyer in 1943. My mom like most war brides followed my dad from duty station to the next duty station. It was an anxious time with the threat of war and the paranoia of the enemy overtaking our shores, but my parents knew how to survive and have fun with their naval buddies. There was bridge, cribbage, parties at the Officer's Club, bowling, boating, fishing, and drinking. Officers convened at four-thirty p.m. at the club for thirty-five cent-drinks and it didn't take much to get a buzz. My father enjoyed the navy, having grown up in a strict Methodist family and graduating from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
His grandparents were cotton farmers who emigrated from Czechoslovakia. My father's dad was a veteran of WWI and never did seem the same since the war and suffered from what we know as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). He took a job in an ice-cream store and it was a real treat to follow him on his rounds and to check out the "coolers" where the dairy products were kept at forty degrees.
I remember walks to eighteenth street back in the fifties with my grandpa as he treated me to ice cream. He pontificated about life and stressed looking nice and being a good speaker. He was meticulous with his shaving and his appearance was impeccable. He retired to his recliner where he had an assortment of magazines and newspapers and was well read on world events. The farmer's almanac was on the kitchen wall. The calendar predicted weather for his vegetable garden in the backyard that he took great pride in cultivating--I guess a continuance of his agrarian heritage.
My dad's mom was very stoic, but warm and gentle. I do not remember her kissing me as she placed her hand to shake the hand of a young boy. This was my first introduction to boundaries and how to respect privacy and distance. The emotion was subtle. One felt loved and valued but it was understood that to show emotion might distract us from the task of accomplishments. They were a hearty couple who lived into their seventies. I never saw them kiss each other or hold hands but at least they shared a double bed that surprised me. Later they would move to another bedroom in which there were twin beds. They cared for each other and were always gracious in opening their home to us.
Later in my late teens I remember giving my grandmother ulcers with my late night escapades as I was introduced to booze and dancing. There were no drugs back then and to have a beer was to really experiment on the edge. My next memory is of their funerals. Time expands exponentially when you are away. I served as a pallbearer at 30 yrs. of age for my grandfather's funeral and I can remember looking down in the earth, wherein six feet looked like sixty feet to me. I do not remember my father crying. Stoicism was the order of the day.
My grandmother was a different story--she deteriorated with Alzheimer's and she became increasingly paranoid and kept the front door locked. Her world began to shrink as she moved from the bedroom to the couch in the living room. She literally ate and slept in the living room by the front door, cautious to intercept any burglar who might try to gain unlawful entry. One afternoon after a visit to Waco from college I knocked on the door and she didn't recognize me. It was disheartening to me but I thought that the distance between us was insurmountable and surreal as if we had never met. I was later asked to review and select a nursing home, because my father was too devastated to do so.
I remember the smell of feces and urine, cold floors, overburdened staff, grieving families, and well-meaning administrators as we placed my grandmother in a nursing home. She was never abused or neglected there and her memory actually returned somewhat over the next two years but she eventually died there, oblivious to any family connection. She was buried along side her husband as they returned to the fields they so dutifully cultivated when they were more spirited and eager to provide for themselves and their family.
My lasting impression of my paternal grandparents is that they worked hard. They never complained or criticized others and accepted what each day brought them with dignity and stoicism. There was no crying or bitterness. However, I later learned that my grandfather Barton spent months in the VA hospital for treatment of depression periodically. My family heritage had begun. I later found myself with the same melancholy disposition.