When my sister and I were learning to read, the Dick and Jane books were popular in schools. Dick and Jane had several relatives like their baby sister Sally and their Grandmother and Grandfather. These last two people were a kindly couple who drove up in their late model car and watched as their three grandchildren ran and played.
The grandfather I am going to write about didn’t do any of those things, as he was none too fond of children in the first place and, in the second place, he was dead before my sister and I arrived on the scene. We only know of Charles through stories my dad told.
Charles was born in Central Illinois near where we grew up. He was first married to a woman named Minnie Nave. He and Minnie had two children: Opal and Tommy. Charles found employment at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, and that is where he and Minnie made their home for a few years. Unfortunately, Opal contracted polio and they returned to Central Illinois.
Charles and Minnie divorced and Charles headed up North to follow the wheat crop. While doing day labor as a wheat cutter, he met my grandmother and they married. (I hope that they fell in love, but I never heard anyone say that.) Anyway, he moved in at my grandmother’s farm with her parents and he and my grandmother began having children. My dad was their fifth son and by that time my poor grandmother needed some help. The services of a hired girl were procured and within an extremely short time, Grandfather began hitting on her.
The hired girl became pregnant and Grandfather was charged with the crime of bastardry. He decided to act as his own attorney, and he insisted on taking my dad with him to court each day and sitting him on his lap. He thought that would get the sympathy vote, but it did not. Grandfather was found guilty and thrown into jail and my grandmother promptly divorced him.
That was the last my dad heard or saw of him until Dad arrived on his doorstep at age fifteen (after being a hobo for the previous three years). Dad thought his father would be thrilled to see him, but no that was not the case. Charles invited him in and my dad immediately found a job with the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corp, which was set up during the Depression). At night he and his father would play cards and Charles would cheat. That’s right, he would cheat his own son even though nothing was on the line. Dad finally told him:
I’m not going to play with you if you keep cheating.
I have already written about “The Through Ticket,” which is my favorite thing that he would do. His house was a shotgun house with a front and back door in perfect alignment. When someone brought him a pie or other culinary treat that he didn’t like, he would thank them profusely and then once they were gone, he would tell my dad to open the door and “Give it the through ticket,” which meant the item would end up on the ground in his backyard. Sounds pretty messy to me.
Finally, he would calm babies by means of the “Water Torture.” If a child was crying, he would throw a dipper of water in the child’s face. He said that the water would force the child to gasp and take a breathe and therefore stop crying.
Grandfather died sometime during the Second World War while my dad was a teenager fighting the Nazis in Germany. My sister and I never met him, which might be just as well. He certainly was a character!