Striped Toe Socks
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I was around eight when I found out he used to beat my Dad on a regular basis. I saw the scars on his back, and thinking they were some kind of back wrinkle "old" people got I laughed. My Mom explained that they were from a belt and that Grandpa had done it. I remember being embarrassed to have laughed, sad and shocked. I got the story in bits and pieces as the years went on. That my grandparents had a difficult marriage, that my grandfather drank, that my grandmother left her boys alone with him so she could get away. My grandmother had severe depression, she was treated with electroshock therapy that wiped out the memory of my Dad and his brothers. It would be very easy to blame one or the other of them for what happened or how they reacted to it, but of course they shared the blame in all of that mess that created five sons. As an adult my Dad confronted his father about the abuse. My grandfather claimed no memory of it, said he was sorry if that was what happened. I don't think he ever said anything to his mother. I do now the grief he felt when his father died was not comparable to the matter of fact way he dealt with losing his mother.
My grandfather was in WWII and he always described that time as the best years of his life. As and adult my Dad would talk on the phone with grandpa and he would tell him stories of the War. It was until after he died that we found his metals, a purple heart and silver star. He had shrapnel blown into his chest during one battle, but refused to ever have it removed, he just kept going. He was in the second wave at Normandy, he heard General Patton's speech to the troops.
When I try to add all these things up in my mind I come up with a whole man. Painfully, horribly flawed, but those years were not the whole of what defined him. I don't have a lot of memories of him, but I do picture him smiling when I think of him. My Dad shared this story at his funeral. When his Dad would come from work, when all the boys were little, they would run to the kitchen and encircle him for hugs. He would always laugh and tell them they had steamed up his classes. It's such a small thing, and sad to think that is the only really good memory to share, but it's something. Something to cling to and know he wasn't all bad.