Monday, December 22, 2014

My 2014 Davemas letter to Gumpy

Dear Gumpy,

It has been five years since we've been able to talk on Davemas. While I think of you everyday, especially now that I'm a father, you're always in the forefront of my thoughts on my birthday because you insisted my birthday made you feel older than your birthday did.

My heart is a little heavier this year because it will be the first time I can't pick up the phone and call Ema. I miss my grandmother too, and I am grateful that The Kid and I could spend a day with her when we were in Tampa last year. In some ways, I think that was the first day Ema accepted that my little girl loved her Ema The Great and couldn't wait to see her. That time with Ema and The Kid gave me comfort the day we flew to Port Charlotte to be with Ema during her final moments before she died, and still reminds me that sometimes an inconvenient trip is the right trip to make.

I tried to keep up my end of our bargain when it came to Ema, but she was a tough customer, as you know. You wanted me to make sure my Mom didn't move back to the farm with her, which was easy because I think my Mom new it wouldn't work. You wanted me to make sure she didn't sit at home and mope. That was a little tougher given the distance that separated us, but it was fun trying to get her out of the house.

Your granddaughter-in-law was a saint with Ema. There was the time she agreed to spend a weekend with Ema and I as I attempted to uphold my end of our bargain. We drove up the east-coast of Michigan, exploring lighthouses from Tawas Point to Presque Isle. It was a rare trip where none of us had been on that side of the state, and I think we all enjoyed the adventure. It was also a chance to get the kind of time with Ema that I missed having with you, time where we could interact as adults, not as grandchild/grandparent.

We ended up having several of those moments, and I was able to appreciate them because you helped me understand her a little better. That isn't to say they were all fun, they certainly were not, but they were necessary for me to make peace with Ema's death. I was able to see more for myself what you had been telling me for years, she was proud of me even if she couldn't say it to me.

I want you to know that I took my final promises to you very seriously, which is why I couldn't agree to move back to the farm. I never wanted to disappoint you and I knew I would if I agreed to move back. Now that the farm has been sold, I know I will miss it but I am glad I stayed in Detroit. My life and heart are here. I hope you understand.

Gladys and I have been able to find a house in the city you would have appreciated because there is room for the entire family to come together during the holidays. You would have enjoyed our fireplace, and I think you would have agreed that your workbench is the perfect piece of furniture in my library. Maybe most importantly, we have room for my Mom to move in when she wants, which I know you would have appreciated because you always worried about her so.

My job working for the Mayor of Detroit would have thoroughly fascinated you too. You would have found the mechanics of my job tedious and boring, but the issues I work on and the people I work with would have provided endless entertainment for you. I miss talking politics with you, especially now that I am in the middle of so many issues you would have enjoyed learning about.

The biggest reason I'm glad I didn't move back is The Kid. I don't know that Gladys and I would have found her if we didn't live in the city. You would have loved her, just ask Ema. She's a little light for light work, but she tries like Hell to be a good kid. My current favorite is her insistence that she hands me firewood, mostly because she's a little too small to bring me the wood she wants but she won't stop trying. She is a determined, strong-willed kid.

I'm trying to teach her the right things in life, like how to give and receive a good ribcage massage or to appreciate the occasional Boxcar Willie ditty. I will wait to teach her some of my favorite phrases however, because I know Ema wouldn't approve. Mostly though, I'm trying to remember how you made sure your kids and grandkids knew you loved them so that I can emulate your example.

It's been five and a half years since you passed away. The need to hear your voice has faded, although I can still hear you clearly in my mind. I look at your wedding band and I'm reminded I need to laugh more. I look at your anniversary band and I'm reminded that I need to love my family more. I sit on the workbench and I'm reminded I need to nap more. I put on a suit and I'm reminded how privileged I was to have you as my grandfather, friend, father figure, best friend, and mentor. I look at my wife and I'm reminded of how you and Ema were indivisible. I look at my daughter and I'm reminded of the great responsibility it is to be a father and much you enjoyed that responsibility.

Thanks, Old Boy, for being in my corner for so long. I am truly blessed to have such strong memories of our time on Earth together, if only they help me become the man you knew I could be.

Much love and many thanks,

Best Buddy and Number One Farmhand, Vice President and General Manager of Outside Affairs

Friday, November 28, 2014

A new home for Gumpy's workbench

Gumpy and I working on The Workbench.
My grandfather loved his click clack couch. While it was never intended to be a focal point of any decor, especially not after it was reupholstered in a hideous golden mustard fabric, it ended up being the focal point of the front room of my grandparents' farmhouse. During my lifetime, it never moved out of that room, or from its usual position against the west wall of the room unless we were vacuuming underneath it.

I remember Gumpy telling me on a few occasions that he named that sofa The Workbench because that is where he did his best work. And he considered his daily nap some of his best work.

Gumpy worked hard at all three jobs he held down, and certainly deserved to nap. When he would conk out, nothing would wake him up. My Uncle Jim helped my sister and I prove that by helping us tie Gumpy's chest hairs into knots one afternoon. When he woke up and stretched, the painful howl caused by the chest hairs ripping out could be heard throughout the house.

When he wasn't napping, The Workbench was in the middle of all the action. It was positioned so you could lay down and still watch the television. It was across the room from a Ben Franklin stove that Gumpy loved stoking with wood until the stove itself seemed to glow. If I was spending the night with Ema and Gumpy, I loved to sit under the hanging lamp that was positioned just above it, reading until Ema told me to turn off the light.

The farm was sold a few weeks before Gladys and I closed on our new house. A lot of the furniture we inherited works well in our 1926 Colonial, especially the dining room table my great-grandparents had received as a gift when they were married.

But the one piece of furniture that feels like it's right at home is The Workbench. The library in our house is lined with a light wood panelling that just needs a few more coats of lemon oil to really stand out. The beautiful wood doesn't make The Workbench look any better, but it feels like it belongs in a room like this. With books lining one wall, it makes a great place to curl up and read for a few hours, or to type out another blog post.

I claimed the library as my room. I don't need a man cave, I just need a place with my books and a desk to feel like I can get things done. The Workbench is a perfect compliment, even in its golden mustard glory, for as hideous as it looks, it will always remind me of my grandparents. I just hope I get the chance to do some of my best work on it for as long as Gumpy did.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The press conference that reminded me of Gumpy

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Detroit yesterday, announcing a grant of $25.9m that will go toward purchasing 50 buses for the City of Detroit. The announcement itself is great news for the city, but Foxx told a story of his grandfather that reminded me immediately of Gumpy.

Here is Foxx, talking about his grandfather at roughly 17:34 of the video:

His story immediately reminded me of the story Ema told about Gumpy at his memorial service.

When Gumpy was in the Telegraphers Union, the railroad he worked for was merging with another railroad, and there were a few men who were going to be laid off as a result. Gumpy calculated how much those men would make, and volunteered to be laid off instead so a few of those men could keep their jobs. He went in to work at the right intervals to keep his leadership role with the union, and eventually went back to work full time at Grand Trunk.

It was a story he never told, and Ema would only tell once. I asked her about it a few times afterward, and she would only tell me that it was no big deal, that he didn't do anything really special. They had her income and the farm income, so they could make ends meet. My mom and her siblings were pretty young at the time and had no recollection of the story either.

That story, even if I don't have all the details, is still emblematic of who my grandfather was. He believed in the brotherhood of the union, and fought fiercely to make sure everyone in his union received a fair shake. He never bragged about his accomplishments either. To him, it was just a part of putting food on the table for his family. His favorite stories were about the people he loved and the fun he had with them.

While the events of the day were momentous for the City of Detroit, that is not why I was wiping away tears during the Secretary's speech. He reminded me a a generation of men that did what they thought was best for their families and communities without the need to boast or brag. That memory was worth the tears.