Double Exposure

A few months ago my father sent me a scan of an old and half forgotten photo of his father; my Grandpa. It was taken by my Grandmother while they vacationed in Canada. Yesterday was their 70th anniversary and It’s been along time since I’ve seen my either of them. I was twelve when he died and though memories from that age can be incredibly vivid, they are also extremely selective. There are only a few times that I can recall, with real clarity, time spent with my Grandpa. General memories run along the lines of his voice, his silhouette and his smell.

He had a gruff, raspy voice after a life time of smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day. I can still hear it echoing around in my head. For some reason, he always called me “Little Rebel”, which I remember being both confused and bemused by. It was made doubly strange by the fact that my entire family came from New Hampshire and that I was a ridiculously good natured, trustworthy kid. But hey, “Little Rebel” it was, and since he was the only one who called me that, thinking about the monicker warms my heart to this day.

This was the man who gave me my first gun. My beloved .22 caliber, single shot Stevens. They were the one who lived too far away to visit easily or frequently and so, through that infrequency, gained a kind of mystique. Plus, as my Father’s Father, that made him all the more impressive to a boy who knew that his Dad could do anything in the world. Grandfathers hold a very special place in the minds of little boys.

There are a few things that stand out in my mind about him. First of all, the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He always had one going and I can’t really picture him with out one screwed into the corner of his mouth. Then, there was the coffee that he always seemed to have a half full mug of. He couldn’t make it through the night with out either. On the few times I spent the weekend with them, I can remember him getting up consistently at two AM and going to the kitchen for a smoke and a coffee. It was something that called him out every night.

When my Dad was kid, his Father started drinking. It got bad. Bad enough for his young, only son to leave home when he was still really just a child and move in with an older sister and brother-in-law, half a country away. My father grew up strong and confident in his own abilities and and moved along in life. Then he got married and I came along, That was something kind of extra special in the extended family. I was the only son of an only son of an only son. The line ended with me… and my father would not take me to his parent’s house. Not until my Grandfather stopped drinking, and you know what? He did.

It took a long time. I only really got to know him when I was somewhere around eight. But I did, and here’s the interesting thing. This man who made my Father’s childhood so awful and so sad at times; this man who had been out of control with drink for so long, I have nothing but tender memories for. When I was with Grandma and Grandpa, I had a wonderful time. He taught me how to shoot, how to identify the different types of steam locomotive and that if you were sharing a house with him over night, you needed to be asleep before he was. Other wise his snoring would keep you up for hours.

I can still see the two of us sitting at the red picnic table in their back yard. The cup of coffee, the open pack of cigarettes, my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Coke. We’d spend hours there, shooting at targets that he set up on the hill behind the house and talking. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I’m forever glad we had those conversations. He seemed to enjoy them.

The photo my Dad sent is a classic accidental double exposure. Two exposures on the same film. The effect is a ghost image of a man who I knew in such a different way than my Father did. Rather an interesting allegory for the two ways his son and grandson saw him, I think. On some level I believe that my Grandpa was hoping to make amends with his son by being so good to his grand son. From the perspective I have, I’d say that he achieved it. I proudly named my only son after the Grandfather who was so kind to me. The only son of an only son of an only son of an only son.

Thinking about you today, Grandma and Grandpa.


5 Responses

  1. ~~”On some level I believe that my Grandpa was hoping to make amends with his son by being so good to his grand son. From the perspective I have, I’d say that he achieved it.”~~

    Omg, I can so relate to this, Only it was my grandmother and mother. I also named one of my kids middle names after my grandma!

    Your post gives credence to the saying: “Time heals all wounds”

  2. You’re right about the photo. It seems to be showing how ephemeral our lives are.

    I’m reminded of Shakespear’s “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more.”

    We all come and then go whilst most of us try to do the best we can while were here. I’m sure your grandfather did the best he could with what he had. Who knows what reasons drove him to drink?

    I think you’re lucky to have such good memories of your grandfather. I wish I could say the same about mine.

  3. Your grandpa was called Short Stack? What a strange family!

    Lovely story. Your father must have had it pretty rough to go to this extreme. Great motivation to get sober too. I wonder if your grandpa would have ever stopped drinking if it weren’t for his desire to meet you.

    I’m currently reading “A Wolf at the Table, a Memoir of my Father” by Augusten Burroughs. I’m not very far in the book, but it seems your dad may be able to relate (hopefully in a mild way!)

  4. Great story TP. It reminded me a lot of by grandfather. There is an interesting bond between grandfathers and grandsons. My grandfather was a former policeman, the best story-teller I knew and a bear of a man that I was terrified of and loved at the same time. I was lucky enough that my oldest daughter got to meet him and still remembers him. We share great memories of him.

  5. It seems that our grandparents were made of sterner stuff.
    In 1988 I had the privilege of introducing my son to both my grandfathers. Until that day I didn’t really know the meaning of choked up. There is a photo of this event in the guest room. I am saving it until the day my son moves away from home, he will take the photo with him to pass along to the next generation.

    Thanks for the memory.

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