Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Man of a Thousand Caps

When Ema started clearning the house of Gumpy's clothes after his memorial service, I had some mixed feelings.  I thought she was jumping into it a little early but that was more because I was not quite ready for the process.  She needed to do it to start the healing process, so after every visit to the farm the family undertook, we always left with some article of clothing.  We finally got down to his baseball caps.  That is when I realized just how extensive his collection had become.

There were caps from the Waldron Telephone Company.  Four of them to be exact.  There were Detroit Tigers caps, Texas Rangers caps, several Centennial Acres caps and one lone Bryden Canyon cap.  Some had funny illustrations while others were fairly plain.  Instead of count, I just stood admiring the vast collection before selecting a few that would leave me with the best memories of Gumpy.

As I put them in my car, I remembered the seminal moment of Gumpy's cap collection.  At least I like to think I was present for the beginning of this impressive collection!

It was a fairly cloudy mid-summer day about 22 years ago.  Ema had gone up town for something, leaving Gumpy and I to fend for ourselves.  Meaning that we needed to play some golf before we grabbed lunch.  Since it was cloudy, Gumpy decided to leave the cap at home because he certainly would not need it to shade his eyes.  My job was to load the golf clubs in the truck, which I did with great care.  Then when Gumpy started walking to out to the truck, he felt a raindrop land on his head.

At least he thought it was a raindrop.  He asked me if I felt the rain, which I did not.  He reached up to the top of his head and felt where he thought the raindrop had landed.  Except it was bird poop.  A nice big chuck of it right on his bald spot he tried hiding with his signature comb over.

I howled with laughter as he cussed a blue streak on his way into the house.  He washed his hair, put on a cap and we finally left for a few holes of cow pasture pool.  The cap fixation was officially on!  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Buckeye Bob

Gumpy had a number of colorful friends over the years.  He had a knack for making friends quickly that he  honed as a kid.  It was an ability that never left him, although sometimes the choices in friends did cause some consternation within the family.  His mother always seemed to be particularly concerned, although he never hung out with a dangerous crowd.  Gumpy's friends just tended to be mischievous.

One such friend was Buckeye Bob.  They met when my grandparents decided to start spending winters in Port Charlotte, FL after retirement.  The park Ema and Gumpy found was a little isolated, sandwiched between  Port Charlotte to the east and Englewood to the west.  It reminded them a little of Vermontville with little traffic, a relatively short drive to shopping and at least a two hour drive to a major metropolitan center.  It was also filled with Midwesterners.

Bob and Gumpy hit it off immediately because they had Toledo in common.  Bob lived in the Toledo suburb of Sylvania for most of his life.  Gumpy's home town of Waldron was only an hour away, so they both had many memories of Toledo to share.  They were also both consumate bullshitters.

After Ema and Gumpy's first few winters in Port Charlotte, Buckeye Bob's wife passed away.  After what he felt was an appropriate time, he started dating again.  Which brings me to my favorite Buckeye Bob story, one that will make Ema blanch with embarrassment when she realizes I've told the story.

Every few years my grandparents would pay for me to come visit them for a week in Port Charlotte, which is how I came to know many of their friends.  As was our custom, Gumpy and I would get out for at least one round of golf at a local links when I visited.  We usually ended up with a few foursomes of friends in tow, all eager to have someone's grandson in town to have a beer or two with.  On the way back from playing at a local par 3, Buckeye Bob began spinning tales.

It seems that Buckeye Bob got a little sweet on a clerk at the 7-11 store back in Toledo and decided to finally ask her out on a date.  To his delight, she accepted.  He picked her up, took her out to dinner and they had a fantastic time.  This is the part in my humble story where I would like to point out that Buckeye Bob was quite unhealthy himself.  He was quite undertall for his weight, loved to drink, ate whatever he could and had a bad ticker.  His wife normally kept those things in check but left to his own devises, Buckeye Bob's health became a little more tenuous.  

Now this date of Buckeye Bob's was a pretty young thing, at least in her mid-60's.  Dinner went swimmingly.  Both of them unattached and they ended up  doing the unthinkable.  They went back to Buckeye Bob's for a nightcap.  Things progressed well when they got back to his house, so well that Buckeye Bob excused himself to the bathroom for a little self pep talk.

In the pre-Viagra world, your options for making sure you would be up for the job of impressing your newfound girlfriend were limited to either still having the ability to do so or prayer.  Buckeye Bob decided a threat to himself might work a little better.

"So I got in the bathroom, opened up my shorts and said, 'Look.  You had better work or I'll shoot you.'  Needless to say, I pee a little funny now!" Buckeye Bob exclaimed.  

Buckeye Bob passed away soon after that visit.  Even in death, he managed to regularly entertain Gumpy and I.  We both missed him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My First Suit

I realized my junior year of college that I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated.  As a Political Science major, your career choices are usually fairly limited.  Most Poli Sci majors go to law school, become professors or work on political campaigns for very little money.  I was looking forward to graduating and struggling with what a future career might be.  One thing I did know, I needed a suit.

For a Christmas and birthday (hereafter known as Davemas) gift, I asked my grandparents for a suit.  I knew Gumpy had some expertise in this area and I looked forward to having a good suit for potential job interviews.  What I did not realize was just how much knowledge he had about suits.  In his time with the Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks; he learned to select his own suits.  When you are sitting at the bargaining table hammering out national agreements for union members in the United States and Canada, you need to look your best.  He was great at looking his best.

Mind you, Gumpy was not a vain person.  He merely thought that God gave you a body to take care of while you were on Earth, and that included keeping up a sharp appearance.

I was not sure what to expect when we walked into the Men's Wearhouse in Novi.  What I remember most was Gumpy talking with the salesman for a few minutes and gently coaching HIM on what to look for in a suit.  Between the salesman (who was great at color) and Gumpy (who was great with fabrics and fit), I walked out with a full suit, several shirts, shoes, suspenders and an overcoat.  All lasted several interviews, weddings and other special events.  I was a little sad when pieces of the wardrobe started wearing out eight years after purchase because I had a great time that day.

Things that I learned that day.
1.  Worsted wool suits are very versital and should be what you focus on if you only wear suits occasionally.
2.  If the suit puckers between your shoulders, have the tailor let it out a little more.  That puckering is unaccepatble.
3.  Gumpy was the most fashionable man in Vermontville.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Going to Church

Gumpy was a religous guy.  He had a strong belief in God and right up to the day of his death, his belief remained steadfast.  Ema told us about him commenting that he knew his mom, dad, sister and brother were waiting for him in heaven.  He was a believer who concentrated on living his life correctly, rather than meddling in the faith of others.  Sunday morning services were pretty important to him and some of my habits in church came from watching him.

Four generations of Hallenbeck's (Ema's side of the family) have been married at the Vermontville Untied Methodist Church with various degrees of success.  While my sister and I are the last of our line to be raised in the church, the imprint of our lives in the church will have an indelable effect on our family for at least a few more generations to come.  At this church, until Ema and Gumpy retired, Sunday morning services often brought us together despite Gumpy's horrific singing.

He loved sitting in the second pew from the front, sitting on the south side of the santuary.  Ema would play the organ or piano for most services, so it allowed them to sit somewhat close during the sermon.  More importantly, the minister had a clear view of the old boy so he or she could see him clearly when he tapped his watch.  Tapping his watch was his signal for the minister that their sermon had gone just a little too long.  I know each minister was privy to Gumpy's firmly held belief that no church service should ever go over an hour and fifteen minutes.

One fortunate consequence of his insistance on sitting toward the front of the church was that most people were not subjected to his singing.  I'm sure if the hymns had a bit more of a Bluegrass bent, his ability to sing them might have improved.  He hit notes and maintained tempos in a way I have only experienced listening to Bluegrass with him.  

I think his insistence on the service length was fueled by his desire to get to coffee hour.  Gumpy was a social creature and you can't talk much during a small-town Mid-Michigan United Methodist Church sermon.  This meant that he had not been able to socialize for over an hour, nor drink coffee.  And he really loved the people in that church.  Many of his good friends in town went to church there, so he enjoyed chatting for at least 45 minutes after the service.  If you needed to find Gumpy, you just had to poke your head into the kitchen where he and his friends were holding court.

Another thing I will never forget is that Gumpy always dressed up for chruch.  He worked hard throughout the week on the farm, at the railroad or for the Union.  He looked forward to dressing up a bit each Sunday.  Rarely would you find him in anything other than a suit.  Gumpy became pretty comfortable in suits, which you could tell by the little extra bounce he had in his step when he wore one.  Even in retirement, you would find him in his nicest polo shirt and golf shorts.  Nothing but his best clothes would do on Sundays.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Man Worthy of Adoration

When Gumpy decided I needed his help, I think his intention was to help me learn how to enjoy life again. As a toddler, I was the type of kid who would walk up to strangers at the Big Boy Resturant and tell them I was shy before asking if I could have a bite to eat. This mortified my mother because I was quick and effective with this little trick. So while I was busy becoming a sullen teenager, Gumpy was busy trying to help me remember how to enjoy life again.

He didn't have a plan. Few things were taught with specific intent. Lessons were learned mostly through my observation. Becoming a distracting backseat driver is the perfect example. So is becoming a man worthy of the adoration of his wife and family.

I recently realized just how much I learned from Gumpy in this part of my life. I was slow to realize his influence on me as a husband for a number of reasons. Part of it was my grandparent's penchant for bickering. They both loved it, regardless of their denial. We use to joke that you could make a killing sell tickets to the Dot and Elb show. What I did not realize for years is that they always made up. Always. And the plain truth is that I was not ready to become this type of husband until I met Gladys.

Ema and Gumpy also spoke with one voice with big family issues. We all knew that Gumpy was the softy, but when the chips were down my grandparents responded together. Sometimes this became annoying, like when Ema would say, "We love you." I just wanted to hear she say that she loved me but they both took the commitment to speak with one voice seriously.

My grandparents were also really affectionate toward each other. Gumpy regularly chased Ema around the house until his heart was too weak to continue. He had his pet names for her. He enjoyed teasing her and she enjoyed being teased. He enjoyed buying her gifts and surprising her. When he knew his cancer would take his life, he focused all of his strength on making sure Ema would be well cared for.

Gumpy prized loyalty and it started with my grandmother. In private conversations, there were occationally complaints although I really cannot point to one in particular. If anything, he was concerned that she was not taking care of herself and wanted his little Chickadee to be a happy, healthy person.

Was Gumpy a perfect person?  No.  He had his foibles and I picked up a few of them.  Was he perfect for me when I needed him to be?  Absolutely.  He was loving, caring, patient, truthful and trusting.  A guy could not ask for a more loyal friend.  He was one of my role models while struggling through college.  He is one of my role models as a married man.  I know he will continue to be a role model when I'm a dad too. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gumpy's Nice Butt

During Gumpy's fight with pancreatic cancer, I got pretty use to a phone call from Ema or my mom telling me that the old boy was back in the hospital. Many times, we ended up at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI. The hospital has changed a lot in the 36 years since I was born there and I became quite familiar with the newest addition to the facility.

Our last trip there was a pretty tramatic evening. My mom, my Aunt Mary, Ema, Gladys and I were all there with him as he slipped in and out of consciousness. The hospital staff stabilized his condition and began the process of admitting him at least over night. As a family that night, we decided that there would be no more extreme measures to keep Gumpy alive. It was the evening we raised the white flag on his valient effort.

By the time he was stabilized and the hospital could find a room for him upstairs, it was after 2am. Mary had driven Ema home while the rest of us stayed to make sure he was admitted properly. All of us had been at work or school all day, so we were pretty exhausted.

His nurse that evening was a very sweet women in her mid 30's. She was very polite when asking questions about Gumpy's medical condition. Part of her routine was to check for bed sores, so she had him roll on his side. Then she exclaimed, "You have a really nice butt!"

I thought we would die of laugher. This poor woman was mortified because she was really just surprised not to see bed sores. She didn't expect uproarious laughter from the peanut gallery.

She stepped out of the room and I began to explain to Gumpy why we were laughing so hard. When his nurse came back to ask questions, he asked her to come closer to him. He reached up, gave her a peck on the cheek and thanked her. Our howls started again. I thought she would die of embarrassment. But that was Gumpy. Always appreciating a little harmless flirting!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Knocking Down the Shed

My grandparents had 80 acres of the original farm when I was a kid and we lived on the back 40. Tucked away in the woods was our little trailer that we called home for years. Having no basement or garage for storage, we kept a steel shed along the fence row that was used to keep the horses on the property.

After my dad left, mom decided to do a few things to improve the look of our home. The summer I was 14, she bought a new aluminum shed, complete with a roof that did not leak. Our task was to cut apart the steel shed so it could be easily hauled off. Hacksaw in hand, I began to slowly reduce our shed to easily disposable pieces.

This usually was an activity I undertook when I was bored. I guess the matter was not urgent at all but was probably more of a make work project devised by my mom to keep me from getting in more trouble. Whatever it's origins, one Saturday left me with a scar on my knee still visible 30 years later.

I was cutting apart one of the support beams for the roof. I am afraid this sounds more impressive than it really it, the shed itself was maybe 20' by 20' with a roof that was 6' high. As I cut throughout the final piece of steel, the beam gave way and the sharp edge I had just exposed slashed down my knee, leaving a nasty looking gash. Luckily, the cut was not deep and was fairly clean. A little self-administered first aid was in order because I had a golf game scheduled with Gumpy.

As soon as Gumpy pulled up, he saw my leg and I knew I had made a mistake. I should have worn jeans even though it was pretty hot out. He took one look at the gauze wrapped around my knee and panicked. I learned a few things about my Grandfather that day. One is that he would move heaven and earth to help me if he could. The other is that he was horrible in an emergency.

Immediately his panic set in. My mother went to a shower for the daughter of one of her friends. Ema's whereabouts was unknown. In this land before cell phones, we were unable to reach anyone by phone. This began the frantic run to the neighboring town of Nashville where I thought the shower was. When we could not find Mom, we made the mad dash back to the farm where we waited for Ema to come home. Meanwhile, all I wanted to do was go play golf. I felt fine.

When Ema and my mom finally came home, they determined that my wound was just a flesh wound that did not need urgent medical attention. It was only then, a few hours after he saw my knee for the first time, that Gumpy could relax. I think he really could have used a methignal!