March 12, 2006

Photo Sunday: Descent Into Respectability?

These two shots both show my maternal grandparents. The first either during courtship or early in marriage. Note the painted background, the phallic lighthouse, the risqué bathing attire (for 100 years ago), and the somewhat randy and possessive phiz of my grandfather.

The second was taken from a time in my childhood, perhaps 40 or 50 years later. They went on a bus trip across the country, that included, I believe, the Grand Canyon, where I think this photo was taken. Note the attire, ultra-formal in our time, but informal in theirs (light-colored suit) chosen for the touristy occasion, for which a Hawaiian shirt might be too formal today.

My grandfather spent some time in England, after leaving what is today Poland at 14, with his 12-year-old brother in tow. He apprenticed as a barber, spent some time in Minneapolis, but ended up in New York City in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. My grandfather went to night school and became a C.P.A. They raised two daughters, one of whom was my mother.

In his early eighties, my grandfather took a daily constitutional, complete with fedora, coat, tie, and cane. As a child, I didn't enjoy visiting them very much. My grandmother was very fearful, there wasn't much for a kid to do in their apartment, other than crack walnuts and mess with the treadle on the old sewing machine, and their food was very bland. I remember eating boiled hens, and getting the hard-boiled, unlaid egg as a sort of prize, like sheep's eyes at an Arab feast.

My father used to say that when he announced his intention to marry my mother, my grandfather proved to them that they could not possibly survive on my father's salary.

In his old age, however, I came to appreciate my grandfather, including his penchant for argument as recreation.

I remember my last serious conversation with him.

"You know," he said, "I've known people in my life who lived for God. Others lived for their families, for the love of women, for the revolution." He paused. "In the end," he said, "it doesn't matter." Although I think the remark was insightful and challenging, like many things he would say just to get a debate going, I hope he was wrong.

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