I've never known a person who spoke fewer words.
Remembrances of my grandfather visit me pretty regularly, even 21 years after his death. This collage of memory is made up of images, objects, mannerisms, smells, and second-hand stories. And a very few words here and there.
Grandpa Eades made stuff. That's what he was good at. Making stuff -- you know, physical objects not these word things. I admired him because the fruits of his labors were all around his house.
Wood was his favorite material. He made strong, beautiful chairs, tables, dressers, knife holders, a cradle and many other things that I don't know of. There's a power in that. Self-reliance and independence, but also an artistic expression.
When you sat down for dinner at my grandparents' home, you sat down to dinner that Grandma made on a table that Grandpa made. He always sat at the head of the table in the chair with arms and that seemed right to me.
Gruff might be the best one word descriptor of Grandpa. Questions would be answered with one or two words, and usually only after a pause. And by gruff I don't mean angry, I mean measured and reluctant, brevity to a level that made attempts at conversation feel almost fool-hardy or heroic.
(When Craig and I were little boys, we were playing whiffle ball baseball in my grandparents' backyard. Grandpa was nearby. I slid into home and the inevitable argument ensued. "I was safe!" "No way, you were out!" I turned to Grandpa and meaning 'safe or out?' asked him, "Was it good?". "No, it was a bum slide.")
Grandpa was an engineer. He built roads and bridges. If I remember correctly, Grandma and Grandpa moved quite a bit in the early years of building their family. I think that he worked on the team that put together the highway on the coast of Oregon. The coast is rugged, rocky and spectacular. Most of the highway runs high above the surf weaving back and forth along the cliffs, sometimes through the rock. I imagine it must have been difficult and dangerous but satisfying work.
Note the super-mod frames. Frames similar to these became a hallmark of Philip Johnson (the hotshot modernist architect). I'd guess that this photo was taken circa 1930.
Grandma told me that Grandpa always had a job, even through the Great Depression. As a child, my grandparents' solidity and security struck me as extremely important, with Grandpa's work as the source of that security, Grandma's work the source of the warmth of what could be crafted of that security, and their combined frugality as an expression of gratitude for what they had, taking nothing for granted.
In turbulent times (the mid-70's when my parents divorced), there was money for Mom's grad school and a car that we really, really needed. Much later I learned that he had dabbled on the violin when he was a boy and that, encouraged by my enthusiasm for music, he made an agreement with Grandma that they pay for my private lessons. As I became more serious in my study that was not an insignificant amount, and they paid for every lesson until my last one at age 22. That means an awful lot to me.
Grandpa was born Glenn Newell Eades in 1900 at his home in a little Eastern Washington town called Dayton. Over the years I've noted that he was almost an exact contemporary of Mao Tse Tung and Niels Bohr. His father died when he was a little boy.
Glenn Eades high school graduation photo
(my Grandpa was a handsome devil, wasn't he?)
I know so little of his growing up years. But I do know that he met Grandma at Washington State University in Pullman before having to drop out to support his mother who was ill. I'm told that he resented his siblings for leaving him to carry this load and for having to sacrifice his schooling. I don't think that he had much communication with them after his mother died a few years later.
Tracing ancestry was central to Grandma's identity. She was adopted and traced back her genetic and adopted families. Grandpa had no interest in looking back. Queries as to the origin of the Eades family name were met with "it's American". [It was only recently that I learned that Eades is an English name.]
Around 1947, Grandpa and Grandma brought their eldest child, Glenn, and my mother to Portland and bought a house. With cash. (A different time and an incredible level of financial discipline.)
He really left his mark on that house at NE 74th just off of Burnside Street. He dug out the entire basement by hand -- no power tools and no motorized conveyor belt to lift the stuff out. And then he laid a cement foundation and flooring. He built a garage and a trellis in back that grapes grew on.
Grandpa made simple improvements that struck me as a clever and fun. One was a simple switch on the walk-in closet/cloak room that turned the light on when you opened the door and turned it off when you closed it. The laundry chute that went down from the bathroom to a laundry bag in the basement next to the washing machine. Another was a folding ladder that lowered down from a small loft space over the basement stairs. It utilized otherwise wasted space and made for a safe storage for his hunting equipment.
I recall being told that he didn't particularly like hunting. However, he had equity in the construction firm he worked for (Rogers Construction on NE Glisan Street), and one of his annual duties was to entertain clients on hunting trips from a cabin that the company owned in eastern Oregon. Somehow I can't see Grandpa chatting up clients, but there you have it. He was quoted as saying, "Why would anybody sleep in a tent when you can sleep in a warm bed?", for which I, the consummate anti-camper, will forever love him.
From what I saw, it didn't seem that Grandpa had very developed relationships with any of his kids. But talking recently with my mother, she didn't really have the expectation of having a close relationship with her father -- that's just kind of the way things were. That's not to say that there wasn't love and affection. He could be playful and kid around a little. Mom says that his nickname for her was "Sis".
As a child, the one thing that stood out in my memory was Mom telling me how she squared off with him over Ingrid Bergman. Bergman (probably best known for her starring role in Casablanca) fell in love with director Roberto Rosellini and had a child with him even though she was already married to, and had a child with, Peter Lindstrom. This was a huge scandal in the U.S. in 1950. Mom wanted to watch a Bergman movie that was running on t.v. To Grandpa the matter was cut and dried; he referred to her as "that dirty woman" and they wouldn't be watching that movie in his house. Mom, who was in her teens at the time, felt that a woman's independence was paramount, perhaps even moreso given Bergman's achievements. The disagreement seemed to rankle her even many years later and sounded as if it were somewhat emblematic of their clashing world views.
[Two quick notes: 1) In those days, news of this sort was usually prevented from going into print. A recent Vanity Fair article on renowned Hollywood gossip columnists, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, indicates that Howard Hughes, a publishing magnate and former lover of Bergman, pushed Parsons to run the story out of jealousy and spite. 2) Bergman's love child was none other than Isabella Rosellini.]
In the years that I knew him, there was a special place in his heart for his dog, Snuffy. This little creature seemed to me to be some kind of mix of terrier and chihuahua. I remember Snuffy as being a little twitchy and not all that friendly. But he was a teddy bear with Grandpa. I can still see that white short-haired dog with brown markings trotting along in his harness, sweeping back and forth across the sidewalk seeking out a target for his business.
Older gents love their dogs. Not that all ages of people don't love their dogs. But I think that men in their later years, and especially of Grandpa's generation, aren't that comfortable expressing affection and emotion with people. Their dogs are perfect avenues for attachment.
Little things stand out in my memory of Grandpa. The sliced radishes in his salad. (Never cucumbers. "Cucumbers are hog food.") The lamp next to his recliner that raised and lowered on a counter-weighted gold braided cord. The brown baggy work pants that he wore with suspenders. His bristly gray mustache.
Every day after work, he would come in the back door and walk down into the basement, change out of his work clothes, take a shower (the basement shower being one of his myriad home improvements), change into clean clothes and then have one drink of scotch. Every day. It would be an inexpensive brand unless he was feeling particularly flush. Then he'd buy Teacher's Scotch.
This is the man who I knew as my Grandpa Eades. The photo was taken on the campus of Lewis & Clark college on the day that my mother received her Masters of Counseling Psychology (circa 1978). I keep it above the doorway next to the PC where I'm writing this.
Smell memory is particularly powerful. I remember the cool air of the basement redolent with fresh sawdust mixed with a touch of oil from the band saw, table saw, and drills.
But the silence, the quietness. This was his trademark.
My fondest memories of Grandpa, true to form, were quiet moments.
On holidays, the extended family would descend on my grandparents' home for dinner, frequently staying the night. As the night wore on and the leftovers dwindled, people went upstairs to bed until it was just me, one or two of my cousins, and Grandpa sitting in his recliner. All of us bathed in the glow of the television.
Grandpa was very predictable in what he liked to watch. Football (he wasn't particularly partial to any team, and he'd inevitably become very irritated with the officiating), Lawrence Welk, Bonanza, the Boston Pops (he and Grandma were such regular viewers that they had their favorite players and would immediately spot changes in personnel), and in retirement ate lunch to Perry Mason with a regularity that you could set your watch to.
But at night, we watched old movies. In the early 1970's, late night t.v. was Johnny Carson and then everything else. The local ABC affiliate, KATU 2, ran Late Night Theater and that's what we watched -- film from anywhere between 1935 and 1960. A lot of black and white stuff.
In the summer evenings, the glass paned door stood open to let in the cool breeze. The sounds of the city would drift in. Occasionally a fire engine from the station around the corner would go barreling down the street. John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart or James Cagney lit up the t.v.
He'd light up a cigar. (I'm dating myself big-time here. This was when: a) people smoked inside, b) when people smoked cigars inside, and c) when people didn't absolutely freak when you smoked inside with kids around.) He smoked '1888' brand cigars and they came in light wood boxes with the logo stamped in black on the top. I love the smell of cigar smoke. (Pipe tobacco too.) I don't think that's something you can learn to like or not like, but it has powerful associations for me.
Those evenings, with most of the extended family sleeping packed throughout the house and the quiet little gathering of late night holdouts -- it felt like this was his world, someplace different in place and time but familiar and comfortable.
But, if I were to choose one particular time with Grandpa, it would be this:
I must have been about 9 years old, playing out in the front yard of my home in Longview following an afternoon Easter dinner. Grandpa came outside to get some air, maybe have a cigar. I don't remember how he started, but he actually initiated a conversation. A couple pieces of rope were handy. "I'll show you how to tie a knot." And he casually worked that rope through his thick fingers as he narrated the movement, the name of the knot and what it could be used for. Three or four in quick succession. I watched attentively, appreciatively.
Then he had me try. I was interested but had never made a knot beyond tying my shoe. I couldn't get the knots he showed me. So he taught me how to tie a square knot -- basically the simplest one there is, but a powerful one. He showed me what it looked like when it was done right and he watched me until I had it. And in that moment, that was the closest I ever felt to him.
I haven't forgotten, Grandpa.