VALLEY AND RED, DRINKING MEN


Valentine Limpic and Arther Neet were my maternal and paternal grandfathers, who I’m remembering today in this slightly revised version of a piece I’d written for Father’s Day. Though there’s a Grandparents Day, I choose to remember mine either on this day or on their respective birthdays. Without grandparents, after all, we wouldn’t have had our parents to then bring us into this world.

Let me introduce Red, as he was known in his youth for his red hair. Red was tall with a gruff voice and bullish demeanor. He and my grandmother, Elsie, shared a small but comfortable home in an older neighborhood, one where all the lawns were overseen by 60-ish men who all had served in WWII, as had my grandfather. Despite seeming so intimidating to me when I was a kid, he was enthralling, too. Especially when he told stories. During family gatherings, the menfolk – my grandfather, my dad, his brother Joe and my other uncle – would convene to the kitchen after dinner to drink from Old Granddad Whiskey.

I would try to hang close to my dad, but he’d eventually shoo me back to the aunts and other kids where the conversation was not nearly as interesting.

Not until I was 13, did I even learn about Valley. He and my maternal grandmother had separated, though never divorced, when my mom was a kid. Someone somewhere found where he was living and that he had cancer. From listening to my mom’s conversation with her sister, I tried to glean details of the grandfather I’d not even known still lived. It was almost Thanksgiving; my mom, after making a call to Valley, got him to accept an invitation to meet the granddaughters he hadn’t met.

He gave directions to his little house via all the area liquor stores and bars. It was a hovel. No place for a man to die. My dad argued with my mom that we had no room to house Valley. Having me and my sister share a room to free up a bedroom, my mom’s suggestion, was vetoed by my dad, as well. An authoritarian figure just like his dad, he argued that a dying man needed to around-the-clock care, something not available if Valley were under our roof.

Valley ended up spending his last months with my aunt. We would visit. He had a huge bottle of pennies, so he always seemed to be rolling pennies, which he would give us. I don’t remember anything else except that he said I was a pretty girl.

After Valley died, my mom told us stories about when she was a kid. Of sitting in bars with him and watching him and her mom get gussied up to go honky-tonking. That was hard to believe of my born-again grandmother, who refused to see Valley. It seems, now in my adult view, a particularly unchristian behavior toward a dying man. She must have had her reasons. But looking at her now, so frail, I would never ask her.

Red died a few years after my parents had divorced and things were unsettled. I didn’t get to visit him at the hospital where he was sent after his heart attack and where he pinched the asses of the nurses who came to give him his medication. It pains me that I didn’t attend his funeral, or that of my grandmother, Elsie, with whom I’d failed to stay close. It was difficult to stay in touch with them, mainly because my father became a complete stranger after he and my mother’s marriage was over.

I hate to remember them with regret, but that’s how things end sometimes. Their lives had fullness, though, and they gave their children and grandchildren life and memories.

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