Saturday, September 7, 2013

Grandpa Chuck

Grandpa Chuck was a mountain of a man, at least, in my 11-year-old eyes he was. He had a pot belly which, rather than making him look fat, only emphasized his status as an imposing yet gentle authority figure. He was my grandmother's second husband and the primary grandfather figure in my life.

Grandpa Chuck was brave. He had nicked his hand with a knife in the kitchen, once, and there was quite a bit of blood. I was awed and impressed as I watched him pour salt from a round, blue canister into his other hand before pressing it directly into the open wound.

I regret to say that I don't know or remember where Grandpa Chuck was from, originally. But I think he was from the Midwest, maybe. He seemed Midwestern because he was typical of traditional grandfathers from an older generation. He sprinkled salt on his watermelon, which I thought was weird. He took my brother and me fishing, showing us how to impale an earthworm on a hook.

Grandpa Chuck had an amazing tool collection on one side of his garage where he helped me to imprint designs on a leather belt, a craft needed for a Webelos badge. He grew zucchini and other vegetables in the backyard. Near the vegetables were the elevated cages where he raised rabbits. He had only one male rabbit which he gave to me for the asking when our sixth grade wanted to have a class mascot.

He also raised chinchillas for a while, which makes me a little sad to think about now that I know why he was raising them. But as a blissfully unaware 11-year-old I loved going to the middle part of the garage to look at the cute rodents in their stacked cages under the fluorescent lights.

I was surprised to see Grandpa Chuck be vulnerable. I watched this mountain of a man crumble in tears when my grandmother died of a heart attack. This strong, brave, traditional man stood between the dining room table and Grandma's organ and unexpectedly started crying in front of us, the whole family, as a church friend comforted him with hugs.

I haven't seen Grandpa Chuck in over thirty years. After my grandmother died he remarried. Our family get-togethers with him dwindled, being that there were no longer any blood ties. But he remains in my memory as a male role model. Like many "typical men" of his generation, he didn't talk much. But I'll always remember the example he was of a strong man - strong enough to be weak.