My brother Dave texted me the other day and asked me an interesting question. Was Dad close to Gramps? Gramps, of course, was our grandfather, my dad’s father. Gramps died in 1969 at the very young age of 69, and Dave had not even turned 10. His memories of Gramps are mostly limited to their interactions in the bakery.
The truth of the matter is that I was unable to answer the question. I have only one fact under my belt dealing with that question. Gramps had his first stroke a couple of years before he died. Grammie called Dad in the middle of the night, and he immediately got dressed and drove over to be with her as she waited for the ambulance. A few years later, he got another phone call from Grammie, and this time Gramps didn’t live. The next few hours and days went about as you would expect. But then one night, in the darkness of the early hours, I heard my dad crying behind their closed bedroom door. Sobbing, in a way I had never heard before. I could hear my mother softly comforting him.
Grammie and Gramps emigrated from Switzerland — the German part of Switzerland. I don’t think I’m overly generalizing when I say that Germanic people are not warm and fuzzy. I don’t think I ever hugged my grandfather. We shook hands when we greeted one another. That’s how he greeted all of his kids and grandkids as far as I know. So there was, of course, never a time when I witnessed my dad giving Gramps a great big hug hello, the way that Bill and I greet our kids. But I also remember Gramps playing a game with me as a small child in which he used his hand to imitate a bear getting closer and closer to my tummy, all the while saying ahuntabear ahuntabear, until the “bear” got me and tickled me.
That was affection, wasn’t it? Dad did the same thing to his grandkids, and so do I. (Well, so DID I as I’m pretty sure even our youngest grandchild, 7-year-old Cole, would turn and run at the first huntabear.)
All this is to say that the fact that Dad and Gramps didn’t give each other hugs, or even high fives, doesn’t mean they weren’t close.
And as I’m thinking about it, really no one was as affectionate in the first half of the 20th century in the same way that we are now. Though COVID put a bit of a brake to it, Americans do more hugging than probably necessary. When did we start hugging people we first meet? And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.
Having said all of the above, I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall and listened to my dad and my grandfather as they worked together all of those years. My dad learned to bake just as my brother learned to bake — at the side of their fathers. My dad always told the story of the Great Depression, when my grandmother would try to be frugal by serving a sweet fruit salad for dinner. He and Gramps were not happy campers to be eating fruit cocktail and whipped cream after a hard day’s work.
“What’s Mom making for dinner tonight?” he would ask Gramps.
“You’re not going to be happy when I tell you what she has planned,” his father would respond.
“Someone should invent a restaurant that you can drive up to and order a hamburger to go,” my dad would say.
“Son, that will never happen,” Gramps would reply.