Like many American children, I grew up without the presence of a father in my life.
My parents were divorced before I was aware of him -- the father figure. I saw him three times during my entire life, once when he had been drinking, before I was in school, probably about age four; once when he had been drinking, when I was about age eleven or twelve. Once, when I was twenty-one. That time was the first and the only time I spent a day talking with him -- none of the time privately, and, as it turned out, not a word of which served an real purpose.
Actually, this piece has nothing to do with my father or my step-father. Rather, it is a notation that today is the birthday of my mother's father -- my grandfather. He quit observing his birthdays several years ago, I might add. He is long in his grave.
More than once, I can recall him called out in the middle of the night to help repair a bridge that had been damaged in a flash flood or to help shovel out a train that had become snowbound in a blizzard. He was a real man among men, from my perspective.
I can remember him coming home once so frozen and exhausted he could not remove his own clothing, and my grandmother stripped him naked and helped him into a tub of hot water and bathed him. They did not see me standing nearby, watching; for a few minutes, nothing else existed in the world other than themselves. I envy them for those minutes. He was full-blooded German, by the way, and she was full-blooded Norwegian. That sort of twain did meet.
My grandmother, together with her sisters and brothers, had a farm as their inheritance. It was not unusual for my grandfather to help with the work there on weekends. Before my time, when my grandfather and his identical twin brother were in their twenties and thirties, they raised horses on the farm. The twin once saved a drowning man by riding his horse far out into a lake to reach him -- just like in the motion pictures.
By now, you might have guessed that he rarely spoke. What I know of him, I know because I watched him and saw what he did. By the way, his twin brother died when I was somewhere between two and three years of age. Strange as it might sound, I remember this identical twin brother from one occasion, and I remember I knew who was which.
The only purpose of this post is to mention that I carry him with me, and think of him often, especially this time of the year when his birthday arrives, and I visualize him, mostly with a book in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other hand -- sitting in a rocking chair under the shade of a tree on a hot, summer day, reading and reading and reading.
Only a few years after I came into the world, my grandfather's twin died, and I never heard them play together. On occasion, however, after a stein of beer or two or three, my grandfather would become nostalgic and bring out his violin to discover what his hands and fingers remembered from his childhood.
By then, he was no longer an accomplished musician, by any means, but, for me, it was enjoyable to experience and a childhood treasure to remember now.