Remembering Grandpa by Creating Him

We stood in the basement of my grandma’s old house, the place I visited every Sunday afternoon as a child. I was now an adult. While I knew she had passed away years ago, as had the man with me, the moment felt so real.

The security of his arms around me, the steady rise and fall of his chest, his breath warm in my ear as he whispered, “I know you never knew me, but I wanted to tell you I love you.”

He wasn’t much taller than me, if at all. His voice was kind, gentle…grandfatherly.

I woke in awe, a tear in my eye. I never knew my grandfather, yet he had spoken to me through a dream.

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My grandfather in 1903

I have seen many pictures of my grandfather. He passed away four years before I was born. Being nearly 11 years older than my grandmother, he would have been well into his seventies by the time I came along. My grandparents were older than most in that generation, she at 28 and he at 39 when they married in 1942. My uncle was born in ‘46 and my mom in ‘49, so my grandfather was 46 when my mom came into this world. With my grandparents being older, especially my grandfather, I don’t suppose chances were favorable that even if he had lived longer, I would have remembered him much or known him long… But I digress. It’s a sad reality, but true, and I cannot undo the past.

So, that dream held and holds significance for me, seeing as my grandfather was just a man I knew from pictures and from my grandma and mom’s memories of him. He was among the tallest in his extended family. All of the Grundmans were short, so at 5 feet 9 inches, he was a veritable giant! His mother passed away from breast cancer shortly before my grandparents married, and his father was never in his life. His parents divorced when he was a baby because his father was an alcoholic. His mother remarried a man named Samuel Winhold when my grandfather was seven. Samuel must have passed away some 20 years later, as he no longer showed up in pictures.

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My grandfather, his step-father, and his mother (Amelia) in 1923

My grandfather was Howard Grundman. That’s a good, strong German name, isn’t it? In fact, my mother’s side of the family is completely German, although they have been living in the United States (on both sides) since the 1880s. What’s funny is that when growing up, I often referred to my grandfather as “Howard” when talking about him with my mom or grandma. We visited my grandma every Sunday afternoon for many years, and one of the things we often did was get out all the old pictures and look at them at her dining room table. I had an interest in my heritage from an early age, asking my parents and grandmas to tell me the names of their direct ancestors, so I could write them down. I had a family tree going back to my great-great-grandparents when I was eight, and since then, I have done extensive genealogy research, but that is another topic.

Getting back to my grandfather, or Howard, I feel the need to make the distinction of personalizing him. He will be Grandpa going forward, as it has been in my head and in my writing that I have remembered him in a roundabout way.

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My grandparents on March 21, 1942

I was fortunate to know my grandma, Emma Grundman, until I was 15, when she passed away. I was close to her, as we saw her weekly. When she died, a void opened in my heart that I spent years (and still do) trying to fill. How can you replace a loved one? You can’t, of course, but you can help them live on by remembering them, by sharing stories, writing down memories, looking at pictures. I am a writer, and writing a story based on my late grandma’s life was inside me. I didn’t know it until 11 year later, when at age 26, I woke with a fictional character’s name on my lips: Hannah Rechthart. Hannah would become my grandma in the story, and her husband would be Edward (Howard).

I wrote a couple of chapters and then a couple more over the next few years, but nothing came of that story until March 2015. I was tired of waiting: waiting for inspiration to strike, waiting to achieve my dream of writing the story and maybe even publishing it. So, I sat down with the intention of writing for at least fifteen minutes a day. That’s it, I told myself, 15 minutes. And do it every day.

I stuck to that, and in the process, the fictional name of Edward Grunner became a character who seemed to breathe and walk off the page. He shared a lot in common with my grandpa: being raised mostly by his mother, being an only child, working in accounting, marrying later in life, being drafted during World War II but only serving for three months, and in love with his dear wife. Edward was an admirable man in many ways. He was kind, patient, and supportive. He was a hard worker and went to church with his family every Sunday. But doubts of being a good father figure plagued him because of his own lack of a good fatherly role model. He questioned his ability to be the type of dad his children needed, especially where his son was concerned.

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The Grundman family in the early 1950s

For the first time, the ache of not actually knowing Grandpa hit me. I looked at the old pictures of him with my grandma and their kids as if for the first time. I wondered what he sounded like. What was his laugh like? There’s a picture of my grandparents sitting on the couch laughing, and the sound almost escapes. It’s like a phantom room right next door, but I just can’t enter.

What was his favorite food? Did he enjoy Grandma’s pork chops as much as the rest of the family? Did he play that old Monopoly set from the 1930s that Grandma had, the one where I only wanted to play the banker because I didn’t want to lose? Did he sit in the pew and listen to his wife play the organ in church like Edward did in my story? What did he think of his in-laws? Were his grandparents really as stern as they looked in their pictures?

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My grandparents laughing in 1956

So many questions and only my imagination to answer them!

I mourned Grandpa as if he had just died in 2015 instead of 40 years earlier. For me, by making him alive in my story, I felt that loss penetrate me in a way I never had before. I remember setting an extra place at the table at times when I was a child and we’d be at my grandma’s. It was for my grandpa. Now I have set a place in my heart for him.

I remember him in this way. It’s all I’ve really got.

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The book I refer to in this post, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

My other book, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Review of The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

rubySynopsis: The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.

As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a novel intended for middle-grade students, as the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Ruby, and the story is told from first-person point-of-view. Ruby’s voice is realistic for a girl her age, and I think this book reads appropriately for kids around the same age.

The details of New York in the late 1950s and the Beat Generation of the time are also fleshed out well in the backdrop. There’s a certain freedom to being a kid 60 years ago that I feel no longer applies nowadays. A girl like Ruby can wander the streets with her friends for hours at a time and be safe. I am reminded of stories my mom told me about how far she’d ride her bike or how she’d ride on public transportation when she was about Ruby’s age and be gone all day, yet her parents didn’t have to worry.

Ruby is also an aspiring poet. She wants badly to meet famous poets like Jack Kerouac and is on her way to one of his readings when…

The freedom Ruby experiences is threatened when she is accused of stealing fruit, however. A social worker steps in and begins to question Ruby’s home life. The reader discovers that Ruby’s parents aren’t married. Their apartment isn’t kept up. Her dad, Gary Daddy-o, is a musician who is on the road for weeks at a times. Her mom, Nell-Mom, is an artist is is oblivious to the comings and goings of Ruby and her brother, Ray. Ruby and some of her friends attend “school” at a store called Blue Sky, where they learn some stuff from the owners, Sky and Blu, but they aren’t being properly educated.

Everything Ruby thought was true and normal about her life is suddenly threatened. She spends some time in a children’s home. Her childhood innocence is ripped away from her. To see the shortcomings of adults through a child’s eyes is a unique perspective. I remember when I was a kid thinking my parents knew everything and that I would understand everything about life once I was grown up. To have that worldview shattered, to realize your parents are far from perfect and that your home isn’t the nice place you thought is scary and also realistic, a part of growing up.

This is a quick read. Being much older than the intended audience, I found the novel had its charms and was good for middle-grade readers, and yes, it reminded me of what it was like for me when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t get much else out of this novel. It’s a good story, but not great. It doesn’t necessarily stand out from much else I’ve read, but it was enjoyable enough.

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Old Family Pictures & Genealogy: Our Connection to the Past

grandma2I can still remember sitting at the dining room table in my grandma’s house and looking at old family pictures. Those days were at least 25 years ago now.

When you’re a kid, time almost seems to stand still. Those Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house seemed like they would never end.

Now I cannot believe how much time has passed.

The photo to the right shows my grandma’s family around 1921. My grandma is the girl in the front, about 8 years old here. She grew up in a family of nine (her younger brother hadn’t yet been born here) in Cleveland, Ohio.

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My grandparents in 1942: Love the hat!

Those old photographs now belong to my mom, but I have scanned several of them. They reside in a box in the closet, on my computer, and in my heart. I look at them now with an awe and appreciation I couldn’t as a child. Now I’m a mother. My mom is a grandmother, and so the cycle continues.

Seven years ago, I dove into genealogy and researching my family tree on both sides. I used Family Search as a free resource to find a lot of my information, but I was also fortunate to have documentation of my own. I used My Heritage to build my family tree online and share it with my family. Next week, I will share more about my experiences with family tree creation, so come back to check that out!

I wanted to update and document my family tree, as heritage is important to me. Knowing where I come from is part of who I am. When I see old pictures of family members, I can look into their eyes and smile with them, feeling that connection. I am transported back in time, and Grandma is sitting next to me at her dining room table again, telling me who all those people are in the photographs.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Poetry Tuesday – Yesterday’s Room Next Door

I press my ear to the wall.
The voices come muffled at first,
But if I listen closely,
Their love stories become clear.
The distant piano music always plays in the background,
But its song still has a story to tell.
Photographs hang from this old wall,
Frozen smiles where laughter’s echo lingers;
A feather-light finger touch caresses those tender faces.
I close my eyes and see more openly
As the wall fades away.
I reach, step, grasp, hold.
I hug every precious memory thread,
Knitting a fabric of a life that embraces me in return
As I sing along with the piano
And write rainbows onto black and white pages.
You see, yesterdays are all blended into today –
And I wonder what story my children will one day tell
Of my today in what becomes their yesterday’s room next door.

05.28.16

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 41)

While the first year without Edward was the most difficult, Hannah found strength she didn’t know she had.  There were times when she thought everything was fine, and then something would trigger a memory of Edward – a song on the radio, a line from a book, a phrase someone said.  Then Hannah was pulled back into grief.

She supposed she would spend the rest of her life susceptible to such turns of emotion.  According to Harry, he had similar experiences since losing Kathy. He joined Hannah at the cemetery some Sundays, and when the weather was nice, they slowly walked the well-trod path from Kathy’s grave to Edward’s grave to their parents’ grave and finally to Amy’s grave.

“You know, this may sound morbid, but I’m finding the cemetery oddly comforting,” Hannah said on a July day, a year after Edward’s passing.  “There’s a certain beauty about this place. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but coming here has been vital for me.”

“I’m glad you suggested I join you,” Harry replied.  The wind gently played with his silver hair, messing it in the manner he’d often worn it when he was much younger.  Behind thick glasses, his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled. “You know you must’ve been very convincing to get me to come here this often, sis, seeing as I avoided this place like the plague for years.”

Hannah joined in the laughter.  “Anything to get you to listen to me, Harry.  You know I’ve always known what’s best for you.”

Harry sobered.  “There’s more truth to that than you realize.”

Hannah reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Hey, you old geezer, you forget that you first came to my aid.”

“Who you calling old, Hannah-panna?”

“Don’t you remember how you related to me when I was angry about Amy dating?  For the first time, I felt like someone understood me, Harry.”

Brother and sister exchanged knowing smiles.

“I have a feeling my two younger grandsons are going to cause as much trouble as you and Erik did when you were boys.  Randy’s only seven months old and is determined to crawl. He’s getting into things, and I have to keep my eye on the little stinker around the outlets.”

“Ah, grandkids.  They keep us young, don’t you think?”

“I often forget my age, but keeping up with them is another thing entirely.  What I’d give to wake up just one morning without a stiff neck or back, and if it isn’t that, it’s my legs.”

“You sound like that one old biddy friend of yours you’re always complaining about.  What’s her name, Gertie? The one from church who goes on and on about what’s ailing her.”

“Yes, that’s Gertie all right, but don’t you even start, Harry.”  

The siblings walked on in perfect companionship to the pond and fed the geese, whiling away another lazy afternoon.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 40)

After Tim pulled away, Erik, Lily, and Harry joined Hannah.  She was sad that Irma wasn’t able to make it, but she understood that her sister had her hands full with caring for Ross.  Lily and Erik embraced Hannah before saying they needed to return home. As Hannah watched her oldest brother go, Harry lingered by her side, his presence comforting and steady.  

Fresh tears filled her eyes as her brother pulled her to him.  “Oh, Harry.” She sobbed into his shirt while he rubbed circles into her upper back, and when Hannah finally withdrew, she looked up into his wise eyes.

“I won’t lie to you and say the pain ever goes away,” he said softly, “but in time, you’ll find peace.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of Kathy.”

“And here I thought no one understood, that I was so alone,” Hannah said, half-laughing, half-crying.  “How could I have been so selfish to have forgotten? You’ve always been there for me, and I-”

“Shh,” Harry murmured.  “Grieve in your own way, in your own time, Hannah.  There are no rules for this sort of thing. No one can tell you how to feel, what to say or do.  And you forget that I wasn’t always there…”

Hannah shook her head.  “That was a lifetime ago, Harry.  We were all so young.”

“Sometimes, sis, when I’m low and feeling especially sorry for myself, I still go there.  Besides you, Kathy was my rock. Without her, the temptation to have a drink is stronger, but when I think of how it would break her heart, I know she’s alive inside me, and I hold back.  Edward will still be your strength and comfort when you don’t even know it.”

Hannah nodded.  “Thank you, Harry.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Harry looked like he was about to speak, but he only hugged her and smiled, turning as he went to join his own family.  Hannah gazed at the fresh grave one last time.

“Goodbye, Eddy,” she whispered.  “We’ll see each other again in Heaven, my love.”

She somehow found the resolve to walk away.  She knew Edward wasn’t really in that grave, so as she ambled across the freshly mown grass to join her family, she looked up at the heavens.  The sun brushed her cheeks and lips like a feather-light kiss.

Hannah returned often to Edward’s grave.  She brought fresh daisies every Sunday after church.  Sometimes her family joined her, but she was usually alone.  She took to keeping a folding chair in her trunk, and whether rain or sun, she’d sit with Edward for a little while and speak to him.  She sometimes read from her book of Psalms, but other times, she’d just sit quietly, listening. Closing her eyes, she didn’t have to think hard to imagine him in the rustling of the leaves, in the birdsong, or in the breeze that embraced her.  These days became Hannah’s path to healing.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 48)

“I just don’t get it,” Hannah said, eyeing the many stacks of newspapers in Harry’s basement.  “You have way more stuff than I do, and Abbi is acting like I have a hoarding problem. She’d have a field day over here!”

Harry shrugged.  “I’ve thought about cleaning them out, but none of my kids will bother with them.  I’m too old to go at it myself, and I figured, what’s the harm?”

“It’s a fire hazard, Harry.  You really ought to consider getting rid of some of these.  I know I’m not one to talk about keeping things, but it makes me uncomfortable seeing all these papers down here and you living alone.”

“But some of them have stories in them I like, important historical events, old ads that are neat to look at.”

Hannah smiled ruefully.  “You sound like me making up excuses.  When Abbi asked why I had a couple hundred plastic bags, I told her that you never know when you might need a bag to carry something in.”  Chuckling, Hannah said, “She doesn’t know this, but after she left on Sunday, I went back out to the trash and brought half of the stuff back in.  Can you believe she threw out old Christmas cards? She told me she holds onto hers for a year, uses them to write out that year’s cards, and then throws them away.  Can you imagine?”

“Maybe she saw the way you are and decided to do just the opposite?”

Hannah shook her head as they ascended the stairs.

“That seems to be a pattern in my family.  I keep wondering where I went wrong with Glen…”

“Don’t beat yourself up, sis.  I could ask myself the same thing about my daughter.  Gloria never married and seemed so against it. Her mother and she argued all the time about it.  It’s not just sons that upset us, not that I had expectations that Gloria needed a man in her life.  Her mother thought differently, though. I know a thing or two about upsetting my parents.”

“Does that bother you, even after all this time?” Hannah asked as they took seats on the sofa.

“It’s always with me,” Harry said softly, meeting his sister’s eyes.  “When Gloria showed herself as independent and head-strong, part of me admired her for standing up for herself, but I was reminded of… Kat.  There were a couple of occasions when Gloria was in her twenties and she was dating a different guy every week when I was this close to grabbing a drink.  Kathy stopped me every time. Now, I’m about to be a great-grandfather, and that’s the easiest role I think I’ve ever played.”

“So, is Heidi expecting, then?”

“Yes, my oldest granddaughter is pregnant.  I teased her that she was making me feel old.”

“You’re pushing eighty.  You are old.” Hannah smirked at him.

“You’re right behind me, sis.  To be honest, I’m happy to see eighty.”

Hannah thought briefly about Erik and sobered.  “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“All this talk about families, we’ve spoken about our roles as parents, but as my brother, I want you to answer me honestly.  Was I an annoying younger sister?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, were you ever! But seriously, Hannah, you were there for me at times when most would’ve left.  Why?”

“I hear Abbi talking about her kids and how they fight, and I think about my own kids and how they just don’t see eye-to-eye as adults.  I feel like a hypocrite at times, Harry, when I remember how I failed you as a sister. I don’t care that it was years ago. You tell me otherwise, but I sometimes wonder if I’ve failed in other ways as well.”

Harry frowned.  “Is this mostly about Glen?”

“Yes…”

“He’ll come around.  I did.”

“Eddy’s father never did.  I told you his story.”

“But Glen’s circumstances are different.  I think he really is trying to do right for his family.  When you’re a son, Hannah, there are expectations to be ‘a man.’  I guess that means proving yourself, not showing weaknesses… stupid stuff at the end of the day.  I’m not one who’s all that wise, Hannah. I just know that if someone’s meant to be in your life, they will be at the end of the day.  You’re very strong, but somehow thought you were failing others. I’d say if anyone I know has earned the right to speak her mind, it’s you.  I didn’t want to hear the truth all those years ago, but you weren’t afraid to get in my face when I needed a good emotional slap. If your son has any sense, then he’ll be there.  I’m certain he loves you.”

“I hope you’re right.  Thanks, Harry.” Hannah squeezed his hand.  

“That’s what I’m here for.  I have all the time in the world, Hannah.”

“Like for cleaning out those newspapers?”

“We’re back to that again, are we?”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.