Friday, August 27, 2010

Someone Who Believed In Me

I really miss Gumpy.  Life sometimes throat punches me, and he was always great at helping me pick myself up off the mat.  While my family and friends love me, their words of comfort are different.  I appreciate them, I welcome them, I need them but they are not from Gumpy.  It is not that their efforts are good or bad, its just that it isn't Gumpy saying it.

He really had a gift for saying the right thing to comfort me at the right time.  He could always separate me from my actions, letting me know that I was valuable as a person even if he hated what I had just done.  I know my grandfather always loved me and would do whatever he could to protect me.  

I lost my compass the day he died.  I have figured out how to handle the day to day without him, now its the big things that trip me up.  Gumpy isn't here to tell me I will be fine.  He isn't here to tell me a bad joke to take my mind off my problems.  He isn't here to tell me that he loves me and that he knows I am a strong enough man to make it through.  I know that for myself now, I didn't for a long time.  It's his voice I miss now.

He use to be a phone call or a drive away.  Now I rely on my memories and hope he's still proud of me. 

(By the way, everything will be fine.  Today not being able to talk with him really stung.)  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Quick Exit from the Car

Ema had been staying with Mom the past week after Mom's successful surgery to clear up a bone spur in her toe.  Her recovery has gone more smoothly than planned, so I am sure Ema felt like her visit was a waste of time in some respects.  Her patient was too healthy to help much!

One advantage to having Ema downstairs for a week was hearing some of the stories again.  Each time Ema starts with a story, I learn something new about her childhood or about Gumpy.  Last night, she filled me in on a few details about the time Gumpy walked out of Leonard Lester Peck's car.

Gumpy and Leonard were on their way home from something.  While Gumpy wasn't a drunk, this was during a time he enjoyed a few barley pops with his evening activities, so while Leonard was driving, my grandfather fell fast asleep in the passenger seat.  In the middle of a dream, he thought he heard his mother calling, so he opened the door and started to walk out to see what she wanted.  

You read that correctly, he opened the car door and proceeded to try walking to his mother's voice.  Mind you, Leonard was driving down a country road at about 50 miles per hour at the time.  How Gumpy didn't die that evening is a mystery.  Leonard slammed on the breaks, turned around and found Gumpy dazed and confused on the side of the road.

I was aware that he felt pretty beat up for a few days.  His right shoulder was never the same and a chunk of his scalp never grew back properly, which is part of the reason he loved his comb-over haircut so much.  It covered a big red scar.  

What I didn't know was that he had trouble lifting his right arm above his shoulder after everything had healed.  The doctor said that he could help fix his arm, but that it might require a costly surgery.  In those days, private insurance was non-existent.  While my great-grandfather had a decent job with Hillsdale County, his income helped support his family, a few nephew's whose parents couldn't afford to care for them and a few neighbor kids whose folks were in the same boat.  Raising all of these kids was my great-grandmother's full time job.  Gumpy knew his parents could not afford his surgery.

So he did the next best thing.  He went out to the clothesline, grabbed it with both hands and kicked his feet out from under him.  I guess you could hear him screaming in pain across Waldron but he regained full motion in his shoulder.

That's how my grandfather was, resourceful and never at a loss for an idea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning the Well House

When Ema was a kid, the farm did not have an electric pump to pull the water out of the well.  Instead, water was drawn from the well using a windmill.  Soon after electricity came to their part of Eaton County, the actual windmill was torn down and the well house was converted to a storage shed.  While the building itself was not large, it was full.    

Gumpy kept his tools, electrical cords, garden hoses, garden tools, chainsaw, chainsaw parts, nails, screws, oil, caulk, hedge trimmer and a feed shovel in the well house.  After digging through to the back one day, we found luggage chests, old Coca-Cola bottles, framed pictures, an incubator from the 1950's and a few assorted weights from my Uncle Jim's workout set.  

Organization of the well house was a subject often discussed without implementation.  For a few years in college, I would begin helping Gumpy empty out the well house.  The task always began with carrying of his equipment out and him deciding he needed to keep it all.  We would then begin to take things out that he felt were Ema's.  This would be working for a few minutes until she caught wind of what we were doing.  Rather than part with anything, she insisted that it all could be sold in a yard sale so we needed to keep it.  Minor bickering would ensue and I would restock the well house with the same items I had just removed.

This seemed to always be part of a pattern that they both enjoyed and frustrated me to no end.  Things changed a little bit the year Gumpy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I was allowed to remove the chests and store them in another barn that was better protected from the elements.  That was it.  Understandably, he wanted things left in place so he could feel a bit of normalcy during the chaos his life was becoming.

It seemed odd last week when I went to the farm and the well house was organized.  Someone from church helped Ema get it tidied up.  It seemed to be more spacious than I remember.  It was a welcomed change, a needed change.  I just hope they had as much fun dragging everything out as I use to.        

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Afternoon Naps

Gumpy loved naps.  He seemed to always have time for a bit of shut-eye every day, which I think was a habit formed while he was a boomer on the railroad.  Long shifts without breaks at remote locations have a funny way of forcing you to sleep at odd hours.

His favorite place to take a nap was on a gold couch that had adjustable sides rather than arms.  Picture a long beach lounge chair and you're pretty close to what still sits at the farm.  He called it his workbench because he said it was always where he did his best work.

There are two family traits passed down from several generations of Carpenters, the ability to fall asleep on command (which seems to have skipped me) and a mischievous streak.  On the first trip to Lake Michigan that I remember well, the entire family shared a house in Ludington, MI.  It was one of the trips I remember my Uncle Jim taking with us before he moved to California.

The mischievous streak did not skip Jim.  Stories of his deeds abound in family conversations about my Mom's childhood.  Like the time they were camping and Jim decided to build a bonfire in a heatwave.  Or the night he woke up and mistook Ema's wig for a raccoon, which he beat to death.  But that is a blog best left to Mary and Mom to write.

One thing Jim taught me on that trip was that Gumpy was a sound sleeper.  As Gumpy laid down on the couch for his afternoon nap with his shirt off, Jim taught me how to knot Gumpy's chest hair.  This might seem unremarkable, except we knotted a lot of chest hair.  Enough that when the old boy sat up from his nap, he let out a mighty yell as hairs started ripping out of his skin.  

Even in retirement, naps were a daily occurrence.  He woke up early everyday, in sickness and in health because his body was programmed to do so after years of working the farm and at least one full-time job.  The naps were typically not long, just enough to be recharged for our next round of cow pasture pool or the next task on the farm.

I don't share his ability to fall asleep anywhere at anytime, which should explain to you why I blog in the wee hours of the morning.  I do share his appreciation for a good, refreshing nap.  I hope you do too.