Fishing with Grandpa

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my high school boyfriend, Greg.  Dredging up those memories took me on a journey to our garage where I unearthed a box that hasn’t been opened since 2000, the year my mother died.  Marilyn and I spent a week in Newark, Delaware boxing up Mother’s belongings, loading the containers into moving vans and sending half of them to Colorado and half to Chicago.

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This box relocated from Newark. It lived in the attic of my marital home until 2002 when I chose to move along.  I didn’t take much of our furniture, but I was sure to bring along the Jay Family slides and films package.

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The box then moved to my first home, lovingly referred to as “the little dump at the top of the stairs.” It was a sad run down second-floor apartment I rented above a real estate office in an old Barrington, IL house.  It was on a busy street corner.  All day and night huge semi trailers drove loudly past.

The steps were outside, very steep and led to my front door which opened onto a large room I decorated with a black desk and rolling chair found at a garage sale and my parent’s furniture from the early 1940s including two cricket chairs and a matching sofa, with no cushions.  My sister, Marilyn, came to visit and she helped me find foam and upholster it with a red matelasse throw.

When Richie and Ann came to visit he took one glance around and asked, “Where am I supposed to sit?  I ain’t sittin’ in those F’n baby chairs!”  They really were tiny.

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Sandy loaned me a twin bed for the guest room and in my “master bedroom”, a tiny frigid box, I set up my childhood canopy bed.  She also loaned me a dining table.

When my friends from the old neighborhood came to visit they shuddered.  In retrospect, I realize it was a miserable place, but to me at the time it represented freedom.

Later I chose to buy my own house, a 1920s Sears Bungalow, and the box moved to the basement of 221 Coolidge Avenue.  Happily, it survived living in a wet basement.  Ultimately I had a french drain dug around the basement to dry it out.

I loved my crooked vintage home.  It had a big front porch where I often slept on hot summer nights prior to adding air-conditioning.  The former owner left the porch furniture and I recovered it with cabbage rose print sheets from Target.  I painted a tiny garage sale table to match.  My home was decorated on my shoestring budget.

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Sleeping on the day bed was a lot like camp without the enema.  (See my Girl Scout camp post if you don’t understand this reference.)
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My girlfriends and I had a lot of laughs at that round table.

20170628_171742.jpgI couldn’t afford to remodel the first-floor bathroom so bought some Home Depot “oops” paint for the walls.  Painted the tiles black and white, sewed a valance for the tub shower and stapled fabric into existing shutters. I did put a new top on the vanity.  In winter I hung my towel over the radiator.  It was so roasty toasty following my shower.

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The overstuffed furniture I got wholesale at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.  Garage sale lamps, a table I painted.  Another wonderful radiator.

 

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The house had three bedrooms upstairs.  I chose to turn one into a large girlie Parisian bathroom.  I wish I had pictures of the other side of the room. There are two white vanities hung white vintage looking medicine cabinets.  I got the lamp at Target then decorated the shade with fringe and rosebuds.  The artwork on the wall is reverse painted glass I did and mounted on pink paper.  A garage sale table painted black. The pink and black hatbox holds a darling fedora I picked up when Jim took me to New Orleans.

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Glorious Master Suite.  That’s my old childhood bed sans canopy.  You can see it’s had better days.  The wacky lamp is from Sandy.  Those three holes in the wall are the air conditioning feed.  I have no memory of that side table.  

 

The box only had a short tenure in my Coolidge basement.  When Jim and I moved to our 1870s teeny front-porch-swing house on Grove Avenue it went to live in our cellar.

The cellar was accessed from outside.  A set of uneven steps led down to a stubborn sticky door.  To get in we had to slam that door with a hip.  The ceilings were low, the walls made of old rocks.  I rarely went down there because the place was full of spider webs and occasionally mice.  Jim had it well-organized and he could easily put his hands on whatever we needed.

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That small white gate next to the twisty tree led to our cellar.  Jim hated twisty tree because is was dirty.  I loved it for its charm.

The box has since moved with us to Florida.  For a while, it was in a storage unit while we hunted for a house.  Four years ago, when we moved into our current home, we parked the box on a shelf in our garage.

This afternoon I tore into it only to discover everything was covered in mouse poop.  I put on rubber gloves and wiped each item down with a damp rag.  Gross.

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I wouldn’t let the mouse droppings deter me.  I was determined to find photos taken the spring of 1967 when I was getting over the first of many big break-ups with Greg.  I finally got the box unpacked and found a live roach running around on the bottom.  Eek. Floridian critters are disgusting.

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Do you see the box marked Alice and Grandpa Jay?  That’s where the slides from spring of ’67 were.

I also discovered Daddy’s old slide viewer.  He loved labeling things. Happily, it still works.

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Finding these pictures was a thrill.  Grandpa Jay kept me company on the pier nearly all day every day.  He usually had a cigar in his mouth.  I was fifteen, just a little kid with a broken heart.

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I even sat outside and fished at night.  That’s when I finally landed my biggest catch.  I had to call loudly to get Grandpa running from house to pier.  He helped me net it.

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No idea why my ears were so weirdly white in this and the next photo. Look like albino Dr. Spock ears.

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He cleaned both fish in his workshop, a treasure trove of rifles, handmade fishing lures, rattles chopped off the rattlesnakes he killed with one of his many handguns, armadillo feet, and all sorts of fascinating ghastly darlings.  When we were growing up we would periodically get cigar boxes from Grandpa in the mail.  They were filled with random creepy crawly body parts.

Now, time to load the piles of slides and film into a new clean box where they will probably reside for another seventeen years.

To see the rotten awful High School sweetheart, here is the link if you’re interested.

 no good very bad boyfriend

My no-good-very-bad High School boyfriend.

Just got out of my chair.  Meditating. Inhaling, exhaling.  Trying not to think about anything.  The hamster-on-the-wheel between my ears didn’t want to sleep today.  She kept asking, “So, whatcha’ gonna’ write about? What’s fun to say? Who’s your audience?  Do you write for that wee teeny audience or for just us?”  Then she said, “What about Greg?  He occupied five years of your life.  Wanna’ write about him?”  I’ve no idea how she manages to chatter on and on when her cheeks are so stuffed with food.

Okay, Hammy, I’ll write about Greg.  He was my first boyfriend.  He was a dreadful boyfriend, never-the-less I kept him on board for a very long time.  So sure, let’s go dredge up memories of those five years.

First time I set eyes on Greg was outside the cafeteria.  Six feet five inches and skinny as a rail, he was lounging against the wall.  Curly hair, bedroom eyes, big nose, huge feet, not terribly attractive but for some reason he drew girls to him like bears to honey.  It was my Sophomore year.

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Our first date was on December 27th, 1967.  We went to the Newark Country Club Belle’s Ball.  I had been on the planning committee.  I wore a ruffled white blouse from Braunstein’s with a long black velvet skirt my mother made.  She also made me a wide gold silk belt. Greg brought me a corsage of gardenias.  The scent of gardenias still takes me back to that night at the Belle’s Ball, standing in the receiving line, with Greg’s hand on the small of my back.  It was cold walking to and from the car.  I wore a white bunny fur stole.

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Other dates I remember are going to the movies to see Romeo and Juliette.  And going to the drive-in theater.  I was forbidden to go the drive-in so every time we did I fibbed and said we were going to the Cinema Center to see “Thoroughly Modern Milly”.  I must have had my parents convinced I saw Milly about six times.  At the drive-in, we’d make out until the windows were too fogged to see though.

Our song was “La La Means I Love you” by the Delphonics.

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The first time Greg told me he loved me, he gave me his class ring.  I was forever wrapping different colors of yarn around it to make it fit.  Sometimes I wore it on a chain around my neck.

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Greg was a drummer in a band called “The Illusions of Soul”.  The band members wore silver tuxedo jackets, white ruffled shirts, and black tux pants.  The lead singer was a black guy named Larry.  I remember going to one venue after another to hear them play.  I hung around with another band members girlfriend.  One night she and I went to the ladies room and swapped clothes.

Greg’s father was a Marine Corps Colonel.  He kept his six kids on very short leashes.  Greg had to time phone calls with a small hourglass and do loads of chores. I never had a chore in my life. Later Greg rebelled, letting his hair grow into a huge afro, smoking cigarettes and pot, and driving around in a battered VW van covered in peace sign stickers.

I am five feet four inches.  Mother loathed my long drink of water boyfriend and was always recommending I hand him over to a tall girl.  She disliked him because he consistently hurt me.  He cheated on me constantly, breaking my heart over and over.

The first break-up was before Easter vacation.  Greg dumped me for Kathy.  In my high school yearbook, I drew horns and a beard on Kathy’s photo.  I’d share that picture but my yearbook died a horrible death when our sump pump sprung a leak.

That spring break my parents and I drove to visit my grandparents.  I curled up in the backseat of our silver Cadillac and cried all the way from Newark, Delaware to Tavares, Florida.  My paternal Grandfather, Grandpa Jay,  lived on a lake. He set me up with a  fishing pole, showed me how to bait the hook and left me to my own devices.  I sat on the pier and fished from morning until evening, day after day.  I got terribly sunburned, but the crying finally stopped.  Mother said she watched me heal with that fishing rod in my hand.  I caught an enormous fish. Grandpa Jay was impressed.

After having my heart-broken wouldn’t you think I’d be done with that foolish boy? Nope. A glutton for punishment I returned to Newark, drove to McDonald’s where all the kids hung out, and circled the parking lot.  Yay!  There was Greg!  Yay! We hooked up again.

Until the next girl.  Debbie, who was and probably still is an awesome dancer and loads of fun.  Then there was Ann.  Followed by Susan.   Those two had been my friends.

One year several girls went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a week of sun and fun.  My friend Gina’s mother, Mrs. J, was our chaperone.  Greg made the two-hour drive to visit me.  Mrs. J allowed Greg to sleep on the sofa.  The next morning she came after me, screaming and insisting she had seen me having sex with Greg in the middle of the night.  Never happened.  It was year’s before I put it together and realized the person with him must have been Susan.  She had “peanut butter and jelly legs”–easy to spread and very sweet.

They went through a long period of Susan climbing out of her bedroom window and hooking up with him in the middle of the night.  I consistently refused to play around.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned most of the other women had long since given up their virginity.

Then there was Bryn.  She and I swapped boyfriends for a short amount of time.  She took Greg, I hooked up with her guy, Bob.  Then we swapped them back again.

For Senior Prom I wore white lace.  We doubled with my close friend Nora.  Her date was Greg’s buddy John.  Greg’s mother really would have preferred Greg date Nora.  She considered me spoiled.  She was right. I was spoiled rotten.

By the time of Senior Prom, he and I had broken up many times.  Shortly before the Prom Greg severed his Achille’s tendon. He had to wear a cast that stretched from his toes to halfway up his thigh.  He had kissed another girl the day his tendon got injured.  He was clearly looking to dump me again and tried to squirm out of that date using the cast as his excuse.  Probably he wanted to go to the dance with the tendon-day-kissee.  Mother said, “Tell him it will be fun to go and have everyone sign the cast”.  We went together, but it wasn’t much fun.

I broke up with Greg again before my sophomore year of college.  I forget what girl it was about.  To spite me he decided to join the army.  Great move, eh?  This was during the Viet Nam war.  Naturally, as I always did I forgave him.

Before leaving for Viet Nam Greg was stationed in El Paso, Texas.  He invited me to visit.  My parents refused to allow it.  Daddy and I had a terrible screaming match in the family room while Mother sat in a rocking chair crying and praying.

Ultimately they relented.  That burning hot visit to El Paso, playing housewife while my man went off to work all day, cured me of wanting to get married anytime soon.  I spent my afternoons with the young army wives, watching them chase their kids and do their laundry.  No way I was giving up the fun of college for this.  I suspect Greg was sleeping with one of those women, a petite long-haired brunette.  We all went bowling one night.  Sparks were flying between those two in spite of her husband being present.

While in Viet Nam Greg wrote to me, and regularly sent me a percentage of his income to save for when we were married.  I remember spending the money on fudge, shoes, a cute plaid jacket from Lady Bug, and a trip to Florida with roommates.  Not a penny got saved.

He somehow acquired Steve McQueen’s calling card number.  He would phone, long distance from Viet Nam, using that number.  He racked up hundreds of dollars in illegal charges.  The calls came in the wee small hours of the morning. Roommate Tina would wake me, I’d stumble to the phone, mumble into the mouthpiece, sleepily listen to his Viet Nam experiences.  I never remembered a word of our conversations in the morning. He should have saved Steve McQueen the money.

Having a boyfriend in Viet Nam was convenient.  When no one was asking me on dates I could tell myself, “Well, I don’t want to date.  I have a boyfriend.”  I’d take his framed photo out of my dorm room desk drawer and display it during those dry spells.  But if anyone did come sniffing around Greg was readily dropped back into his drawer.

When he returned from Viet Nam I ended the relationship for good.  I had begun dating the man I married in 1974.  The last time I saw Greg was at his friend John’s wedding in Rittenhouse Park.  We were by the river where I had played as a child.  I was wearing a green silk dress.  No memory of his outfit.  He kept giving me long sad looks.

Fast forward about twenty years and I got a call from my mother.  She said,”Greg called me. I recognized his voice immediately. He said he wanted my recipe for chicken and dumplings, but I suspect what he really wanted was your phone number.”

Sure enough, he called.  I was sitting in a parking lot when the phone rang.  He hoped to reconnect.  I was married.  He was married.  Naturally,  I blew him off.