"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A little late to the Father's Day party

I got up this morning thinking I would do a Father's Day post, then decided I wouldn't, and now that it's almost over, decided I would.

My dad and mom were together the entire time I was growing up, which meant my dad was always living with us, but I can't say that I ever knew him. He worked several jobs and odd hours and was usually sleeping when I was at home. I tried to get to know him as an adult and found, to my disappointment, that he was a closet alcoholic.

Good thing I had my grandpa, Hansel Wetherholt. He was a stoic, stubborn, literal guy, but he was crazy about his grandkids. I feel like I was his favorite, but I'm thinking that all of the grandkids thought that. Here are a few of the things that made him so unique:

1. He was raised in a very rural area of southern Illinois in the 1920's, didn't wear shoes until he was six, started smoking cigarettes at eight, and had his tonsils removed without anesthesia. Yeah, he was a Kiddy BadAss.

2. His favorite way to spend a weekend afternoon was to sit at the patio table, smoking and listening to the Cubs games on his transistor radio. They pissed him off constantly, but he never abandoned them for the Cardinals, which is odd since he was raised closer to St. Louis than Chicago. (P.S. No one was a White Sox fan. Ever.)

3. He was super-proud of being an electrician at A.E. Staley Manufacturing and worked there for almost 50 years, but he took early retirement so he could travel with Grandma more, go fishing, and just chill.

4. When he was 63, he decided he wasn't going to smoke anymore, so after a 2-3 pack a day habit, he quit. Cold turkey. Like I said, badass.

5. When I was little, he used to take me for car rides and we always came back with a new pet. They never lasted long, because my mother (his daughter) didn't really want animals around so she'd find them a new home. Okay, I'm hoping they went to a new home. My favorite story of this is when he took me to get a kitten. Country-boy Hansel had never seen Siamese kittens before. They are skinny and look rather weak, as opposed to your average barn cat. So he bought me two, in case one died. Of course, they both thrived and swung from the curtains and drove my mom to madness.

6. When he was 65, his long history of eating high-fat foods and smoking caught up with him and he died of a heart attack. I had been to see him a couple of days previously and felt particularly good about some conversation we had shared. It was still incredibly hard.

His death changed me in a number of ways. Shortly after, I got a job offer to move from Illinois to California. I hated being in Illinois and wanted to move, but making my family sad was holding me back. It suddenly dawned on me that the natural order of life was that my parents and grandparents would die before I did - they were going to leave me stuck in this town. Unless I made the choice to get out.

Happy Father's Day, Grandpa, and thanks for everything.

1 comment:

Tameri Etherton said...

Your grandpa sounds like an awesome kind of guy, and a total badass. I'm so glad you ditched Illinois! If you'd stayed there then who knows if we'd have met. I suppose we have your grandpa to thank for your move west. In an odd way, he prodded you in that direction, maybe?

In any case, I'm glad you made it out here and that you had your grandpa to give you sweet childhood memories.

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