Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When fragments make a whole

My Grandpa.
Gerhard Rudolph Johnson.
You were the son of Swedish immigrants,
born in the "U.P.", gifted carpenter, high school shop teacher, and storyteller.

You would meet a beautiful young woman named Merle Dix (front and center),
from the Stout Institute,
where you both pursued occupations based on sensible, useful skills,
like woodworking, and home economics,
and you would marry her,
and in love create my mother
your one and only.

 You bought this modest vacation cottage on Houghton Lake with your hard earned savings,
and you had a heart attack digging a basement for it.
You loved this place so much you built a home across the street.
Do you know that mom and I just refinished the loveseat you built for it?
It looks beautiful, and your hands were there,
in our hands
as we worked and shared memories of you.

I am searching for this place right now with mom,
because I need to connect with these blurry images in my mind.
We have no address,
only a couple of faded polaroids and these memories,
intuition fueled by Google maps,
and the address for the county records building.

I looked forward to spending summers there with you,
eating sweet cherries until I burst,
raking seaweed up from the beach in the mornings,
wading out as far as I dared into the clear, shallow lake,
worried that some unseen creature would bite my feet.

Did you know I used to sneak over to the RV sales lot nearby,
to peek into the open models
and imagine what it would be like to travel to exotic places in them
everything stored neatly in its own perfect place.

I begged you and Grandma to take me to the touristy Indian gift shop,
where I could eat the fried bread,
and covet the trinkets, and all of the colorful little beads,
who knew?
Do you know I still have the tiny little blown glass deer,
a doe and two fawns that
I bought with my allowance
despite your sound advice that
"A fool and his money are soon parted".

I loved wading out to the neighbor's pontoon boat
to sunbathe and dream...
it seemed so peaceful, and far away.
Did you know I had my first kiss there?

I remember the after dinner drives
in the countryside
to look for deer
so elusive, so special to see.

I let you call me Patrick
just for fun.

The winters likely proved too hard for you there
and you sold both places to move back to Wisconsin,
near Grandma's family, and we visited many times
but it wasn't as fun as being on the big lake.

We cooked bratwurst in beer and onions on a burner in the garage,
watched you turn wood into thousands of ribbons on your lathe,
and helped you get large things done,
and your supply of off color jokes was never ending.
We laughed often, and heartily.

You took us fishing at the trout farm,
where the catching was easy,
and children never bored.

You told us stories of the disrespectful boys you taught in shop class.
You were a tireless practical joker.
You pretended you lost a finger at the table saw,
and when my dad first courted my mom,
you chilled his drink with the resin ice cube with the fly in it,
and gave him the dribble glass.
You distracted me and stole uneaten food from my plate.
Now I know that cows don't come to the window,
and I won't be fooled by that one again.

I spent time with Grandma in the basement at her sewing table,
standing nervously still while straight pins
were used to fit my plaid jumpers for school.
Do you know I still have her table,
with the same contact paper on top?

I slept in the breezeway in the summer,
on a roll away bed,
and listened to the birds in the morning
wondering if the "other" lake would finally clear of algae so we could swim.
It never did.

Do you remember giving me this tool?
You carried it on your key chain, always, just in case.
I keep it close, for the same reason.

I helped Grandma divide her irises
and pick raspberries,
and helped you dig potatoes.
You and Grandma were there for my mom, and for us,
when Dad passed away,
so young, 
and you never knew that
I would name my one and only child after you.

You might smile to know that Patrick built a workbench
all by herself
and dug potatoes
and picked blackberries
and yelled at the deer to get the hell out of her garden
and thought of you.

11 comments:

Cyndie Smith Designs said...

This is a beautiful homage to your grandfather. Makes me wish I had had a chance to know mine. Unfortunately, he died before I was born. You were very lucky!

Therese's Treasures said...

What a wonderful tribute to your Grandpa.
Therese

Izzy said...

What a wonderfully written story. Next time, however, a "kleenex warning" would be nice. =)

Sally Anderson said...

I'm with Izzy. Crying. So lovely. I never knew either of my grandfathers. They died so young. What beautiful memories you have to cherish. I hope our two grandgirls feel this way about their Papa! Thanks, Patty.

Snowcatcher said...

What a beautiful treasure! How many people go through life and don't record those precious memories, and loved ones are lost because they never took the time to write about those special moments. Thanks for bringing a smile (and some Patrick tears!) to my day!

rosebud101 said...

Great story, Patty! Such history!

kate mckinnon said...

you moved me to tears.
beautiful, patty.

mairedodd said...

does it really get any better than to be able to carry the connections with you throughout your life? to have people who you loved dearly continue to impact the small details and the big picture? did you find the cabin? were there any resin ice cubes with flies in the freezer? :0)

Right Turn ArtWerks said...

Patty, Did you find the cottage? I asked my husband if he remembered seeing one like that but he said there were so many and it looks so similar to the ones his parent's had at the resort. It is a beautiful tribute and you are so very right...there is nothing like a lazy day at the lake. If you didn't find it then send me the possible address and I will go searching. : - )

Patty said...

Epilogue: we found it. Their home is where I recalled it to be (confirmed by the county deeds office), and likely still in the family that bought it from my grandparents. The cottage was torn down sometime in the last decade to make room for a bigger dwelling. We also went to Zubler's and attended an Indian pow- wow, just like I used to. :-)

Sharon Driscoll said...

I wish I could of chucked everything here and caught p with at Zubler's. I didn't catch you're note until late. So glad you found the right spot - I've been dying to go back to my Grandmother's in Detroit too. You wouldn't believe I used to ride the bus to town and get off at the pawn shop and back on at Hot Sam's after my "big city" treks. HAHAHA

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