Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Papa was a big man

My grandmother was married twice. Her first marriage ended in a divorce, scandalous at the time and not her choice. The men in our family have a propensity to abandon us and move to Florida. One of the first things I asked Bill when we met was : "Do you like Florida?" When he said "no" I felt safer.

Gram married her second husband before I was born. He was a doctor. He gave my grandmother a fancy life. Fancy houses. Fancy Intercontinental excursions. Fancy high society living.

He had four grown children of his own, but I think he loved my mother in his own way. She frustrated him. He was intolerant and she was strange. He didn't much care for my father. My father left us, why would he like him? I'm pretty sure he cared for his kids. I'm almost positive he cared for their children (my step cousins). But I KNOW he cared for me. I know he loved me.

It was the oddest thing, in retrospect, our relationship. Papa was a big man. Huge. He had a bald head that I liked to rub. He taught me my multiplication tables. He taught me how to tie my shoes. He picked me up and swung me around high in the sky like a daddy is supposed to do.

He let me quietly sit on his lap and watch TV. I snuggled down deep. You can really snuggle a big man when you're a wisp of a little girl. You can snuggle yourself away.

He peeled apples and pears at the dinner table, their skins curling down in spirals and never breaking. Then he'd cut them into slices with a knife. Magic.

My papa loved me best. (And if he didn't? I don't want to know.)

He died when I was ten years old. The very same year my dad took off for his longest absence. The same year I started my period (Too frighteningly soon).

I wore a green dress with black polka dots to his funeral. I remember thinking that my dad would surely come walking over the green carpet of the cemetery and rescue me. I remember looking for him. Looking......

Later, when I was grown, I learned things I didn't want to learn about this man. That he was a bigot and a racist and a bully. It made me wonder if he would have continued to love me as I grew older, less adorable, and more damaged.

And then I realized... perhaps, if he'd stayed alive, the damage wouldn't have been so severe.

Who knows.

Good night Papa, and Happy Fathers day. I don't give a damn who you were to others, or how you were perceived. You gave me love. Real and true. Because you saw me, and I saw you.


  1. This hits hard and deep. We know how deeply we were/are loved, and how deeply we were/are damaged. We all know; and remembering any one incident, that hug you speak of, makes us relive those pains, those joys.

    Poignant, evocative, brilliant.

  2. XOXO. I learned my garndpa was other things that I had not imagined eihter, some of those things you mentioned. I still love him anyway, flaws and all.

  3. Touching. I loved my papa too. I recently found out he used to beat my grandma, though. This post hit home for me.

  4. My grandpa died two years ago at the ripe old age of 93. He emailed me almost every day. I miss him terribly.

  5. Happy birthday!

    And I just love your posts. So inspiring. *hugs*

  6. Guys! Thanks. Your support when I write this way makes me happy.

    Elana, it's not my birthday for another month. Don't rush me girl! ;) but I can see how it read that way! Hugs.


  7. I love that you wore a green polka-dotted dress to his funeral.
    It's hard to grow up and learn that people we knew are essentially just people. All people err. All people have their dark sides, the not-so-lovely sides, the shameful ones.
    And yet...I truly believe there's good in all people. We find those bits of brightness and love them. My grandfather is much this same way. There's a lot NOT to admire. And still I love him for who he is to us in those good moments.
    Beautifully written, Suzanne. Beautiful.

  8. Suze, you always make me cry.

    I wrote a post about my dad today, and how there are parts of him I don't want to know, but I know I was lucky to have him in my life.


  9. That's sweet. And for him to love you like that makes up for some of the non-loving things that others say he did.

  10. You are one of the bravest writers I know. I don't want to say anything else. The piece stands powerfully on its own.

  11. This was touching.
    Funny how discovering the vices of our adult influences is sometimes tragic.
    Thank you.

  12. I loved my grandpa too. I wasn't his favorite, but I loved him. He died in September. I wrote his obituary. I also wrote some of his biography. When I tried to dig a little deeper everyone clammed up. I still wonder what people didn't want me to know. He was a good man though - with some faults. We all have them.
    Beautiful post with so much emotion.

  13. It's a terrible thing to grow older and realize that your parents and grandparents - your childhood gods - are just people too. My dad's parents used to look down on my mom because she was from a poor family, and they treated her horribly. These were the people who prized me and worshiped me and gave me everything I looked at. It was a slap in the face when I grew older and found out about that, yet I still love them... Thank you for sharing your story!

  14. That's the worst part about growing up - the world seems smaller and the people more human. I am so glad you got to know the good things about your grandpa first, because they're just as real and important as the less-good.
    And I think he would still have loved you - damaged and all.

    P.S. Is today really your birthday?? If it is, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! If, carry on. Nothing to see here.

  15. Guys. You are all toooooo nice to me. This was a good post for me to write today. He was good to me. The little girl in me misses him often. You honor him with these comments!

    And NO. It is NOT my birthday. My birthday is December 23rd and I LOVE my birthday. You will all see quite a post on that day. A very "It's all about me!" post. Vain... I am so vain... It really is sickening.

  16. Memories like this should never leave us.

  17. Suzanne... wow. Those words are tears and love. And of course I believe you about your grandpa. Amazing that both the most important men in our young lives should be taken on the same day. Ever get the feeling that we were just supposed to meet? (virtually speaking :)

    I don't know why I am dragging my feet sending you my memoir. Bear with me? You will get it :)

  18. What a beautiful story. I think he would have protected you because you were so obviously a delight to him.

  19. Such a beautifully written post. And such a perfect way to make permanent this memory.

  20. Suzyhaze, this is fabulous writing. Your description of snuggling into your "Papa" is crystal clear. My 3 love to snuggle into my hubbie in this way, even still (well, an odd time!), as I do too! There definitely is something about snuggling into someone big, makes me think teddy bear.
    You know, if Papa had lived longer, I think he might have been able to shed those prejudices, especially with you around him. And that's a pity.

  21. People are complex and layered. Sometimes they're contradictory. That's what makes them fascinating.

    Thank you for sharing the story with us.

  22. Great tribute and beautiful story! Love your posts! :)