Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell Grumpy Jack

My grandfather was a quiet man who was not much on words. I remember meeting him when I was a kid and thinking he was about the scariest thing I ever laid eyes on, but then again, the Cameron family has a knack for rendering ‘the evil eye’ and I guess my Pop learned how to give us the look from having been raised in a house ruled by Grumpy Jack. He passed away Monday night after a short illness. I guess the person I am most worried about is my grandmother, married to him for more than 65 years, who possessed the only set of keys to him, who now has to carry on without him.

Grumpy Jack, or the “Old Man” was a first generation Scottish immigrant tradesman, a World War II Army Air Force combat veteran (Purple Heart) and father of seven children. If you count my cousin, Cameron, he raised eight kids. He leaves behind a plethora of grand kids and great grand kids scattered around the U.S., and if you were to give him a pop quiz on all their names, I am sure he would give you the evil eye.

My memories of him thinly span 40 years and the memories can be best categorized as intermittent and few (there goes my nursing cap). Several things stand out. Grumpy Jack liked to work outside with his hands and so did my Pop. Since he taught my dad all there was to know about auto body restoration, I guess you could say he was an artisan of sorts. He ran his own auto body business. In his middle years, post retirement, he was a vocational teacher. I say I was scared of him, but there were times I challenged myself to talk to him, cracking a hard shell where inside was a soft nut . He loved to show us around his tropical backyard when we were young. He raised and bred orchids and loved living in the hot humid climate of south Florida. During the Category five hurricanes, he hunkered down and refused to leave his homestead. No one could tell him what to do.

My memories of conversations with him are vague. Being a man of few words, we would usually be on the receiving end of his declarative short statement about something we said or did; or a question he wanted you to answer. I always felt that I had the wrong answer but sometimes he would throw you off with a grin that had you believing he actually liked you.

Grumpy was stalwart in maintaining his personal space and protecting my grandmother. I suppose he was reluctant to trust, something characteristic of having survived the depression years, a World War, fighting Communists and raising children in uncertain economic times.

The finest thing Grumpy ever did for me was to get on airplane (something he absolutely abhorred) to fly out for my wedding twenty years ago. It felt like a singular privilege, given that he was not one for flying anywhere to see anyone. I pray that he knows he was loved and that somewhere in heaven for him, is a nice patch of beach, a few of his orchids, a cold glass of beer, and a warm breeze, like home.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com

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