Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Granddaddy

Granddaddy and I share a birthday--March 5th. He is 50 years my senior, and I was named after his mother, Carrie Elizabeth. I love these connections I have to him. When I was little, he used to take me on special birthday dates. One year we got all dressed up and went to see Swan Lake, which was my first ballet to attend. Eight years old, I wore a lavender and white dress with matching barrettes and ribbons in my hair. Granddaddy, dressed all in gray, gave me a corsage to wear, which made me feel so grown up. We have a picture of him helping me put on my coat. It was a very big night for me.

On other birthdays, he would take me out to eat and sometimes shopping for a gift. Once he bought me a set of those really big headphones that had a radio built right into them (you know, the kind that make you look like an air traffic controller). This gift ran a close second in my favorite-ness to the Kodak Disc camera he bought me one year. Oh, how cool was I then?! A third grader with her very own camera! Right after we bought it, we went to McDonald's and sat across from each other and took pictures of one another.

As we've gotten older, and I've moved away from Memphis, we haven't spent very many birthdays together. Now we just send cards to each other and sometimes call when March 5th rolls around. That doesn't make it any less special to me, though. I write both of our birthdays together on my wall calendar, and I think about him all day long. This man is so special to me.

I have yet to encounter anyone who has stories like Granddaddy does. At 85 years old, he can still remember and retell stories of his growing up in Zion, Illinois and in the Bronx (I've always said he's the first Yankee I ever met.). Baseball was a big part of his life. In fact, he pitched in the Minor League for a while. Apparently he was incredibly accurate. When he was in the Army, he worked as some sort of clerk and got to help assign men to different posts. Given this role, he took it upon himself to assign all the good baseball players to the same post--his--so that they could all be on the same team when the troops played against each other.

Although baseball was a big part of Granddaddy's life, music was even bigger. It still is. He has played the clarinet, saxophone, and lots of other instruments during his lifetime and has spent years and years directing various bands and orchestras. I don't know how many times he has retired from conducting, only to be coaxed back into it shortly after. It didn't take much. He's as bad as Brett Favre.

I took after Granddaddy for a couple of years in middle school, when I played the clarinet. Unfortunately, I didn't stick with it. I always felt like this disappointed him. After I gave up the clarinet, I took cello lessons for a year, which he paid for. Again, I didn't stick with it. Again, I felt like this disappointed him. Of course, now--just as he and my mother predicted--I regret not sticking with an instrument. I didn't even stick with piano. I can play a mean egg-shaker, though. And I'm decent on Guitar Hero. Yeah, disappointing.

When I was little, Granddaddy had a head full of hair. What I didn't know was that most of it was removable. I'll never forget the first time I realized this. We had just gotten to his house, and I hadn't seen him yet, because he was in the backyard cutting the grass. I went into the bathroom, and there I saw a styrofoam head that was sporting my grandfather's hair! Yeah, it freaked me out a bit. I'm not sure how I hadn't known about this earlier. I guess it just looked really natural to me, so I didn't question it. Several years later, he stopped wearing the toupee.

Various food items--Freshen-Up gum, black licorice, Cobb salad, chili, and root beer--will always make me think of Granddaddy. The Chicago Cubs, Bob Evans Restaurant, Charles Dickens, four-part harmony, and gray clothing are also things that I will forever associate with him. And copy machines. Why? Because this man loves his copier. You see, he has taken it upon himself to be the Petreman family historian. He has a room in his apartment designated for this purpose, and he has stacks of letters, pictures, diaries, and such from various members of the family. And what does he do with these? He makes copies of them. At least three of each. Then he compiles the copies into three-ring binders, which will be passed down to my mother, my uncle, and myself. Why me? Because I shall inherit the role of family historian one day. I'm pretty excited about this, because I think it's all so fascinating. Also, Granddaddy has already done all the hard work; I just have to fill in the blanks when children are born and such from here on out. I guess I'll have to invest in a copier, too.

Wesley Roy "Pete" Petreman--a man with firm convictions; a man who tells it like it is and does not believe in sugar-coating anything; a man who would drive across town just to judge his granddaughters' doll show or buy something from their lemonade stand; a man who is proud of his Swedish heritage; a man who can turn any group of people into a choir or a small orchestra; a man who played "Fox and Geese" with his grandchildren in the snow; a man who is generous and helpful and kind, yet stern; a man with whom I share a birthday, a lineage, and a love for writing. You are a grand man, and I am so glad to know you.

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