Memories with Richard Bleil
So many social media pages ask questions for their readers to answer. I usually don’t answer them. All too often they’re phishing scams trying to get hints as to what your password might be. When I do, I never give any hints that my password is Ima10sER!! and, usually, it’s a reply to a friend’s comment on one of these posts. Today, one of my friends commented on such a meme that asks what pleasant memories of your grandparents do you have? This got me to thinking about my grandparents.
I really only knew two of my grandparents. My grandfather on my mother’s side died of heart disease long before I was born, and although I technically did know my grandmother on my father’s side, I was too young to remember her. I only really knew my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom.
My grandfather was a truck driver in his youth, starting so long ago that his first truck was pulled by a team of horses’ asses, and unlike today, the rest of the horses along with them. I remember him from after he had already retired. He was living on a very small farm, just big enough to grow food for himself, and a barn just big enough for two horses. When I think of him, I think of his cats.
He had many outdoor cats that he fed and kept hydrated. I don’t know the exact count, but it seems like about a dozen. They would let him pick them up and pet them, but he never let them in the house. And they all had the same name: “dummy”. He’d go out and pour food into the big bowl saying, “c’mon, dummy, get yer food.” There was something about the way he said “dummy” that I can recall to this day. He said it somehow too fast, making the word very pronounced. Often I say this word the exact same way, thinking about him as I do.
I remember striking up a conversation with him about his trucking business. I was older at that time and visited him without my parents. He told me that he won the award for zero accidents in a year far more than anybody else in the company. I sensed a pearl of wisdom, some prophetic statement from my grandfather, as I asked how he accomplished it. He looked at me, sat up straight and proudly said, “oh, I just never reported ‘em.”
My grandmother was always surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She would tell us how she would clean the apartments of the old women living in her complex, who all, of course, were older than she was. Visiting one day (which was actually a rare event as my father would only put up with visiting mom’s side of the family once a year) my mom was admiring a plant in the living room. “It’s the strangest thing,” grandma said. “It never grows, never gets new growth, but the leaves never die either.” Dad looked at it and said, “are you talking about this plastic plant here?”
One day, I called grandma, and she explained to me that she had just gotten back from the doctor. Her feet had swollen up so much that she couldn’t put her shoes on and had to walk to the appointment barefoot. “I don’t like walking through the streets barefoot,” she said. “I ain’t no hillbilly you know.” Then she blurted out, “I just said that I ain’t no hillbilly. That’s the kind of thing a hillbilly would say!” And she burst out laughing.
I learned a heartbreaking lesson from my grandmother. She lived in the same city where I was an undergraduate studying chemistry. I was the first person in our entire extended family to pursue a college degree beyond a two-year associate degree, so I was something of an anomaly. I would call her on occasion, but it seemed as if our conversations were growing shorter and shorter, to the point where the entire conversation was “I’m so glad you called, can’t wait to hear from you again. Goodbye.” I once asked my mother why this was, and she told me that grandma was intimidated by me. Since I started going to college, she felt as if she had nothing to say to me. I, of course, continued to get my doctorate. Sometimes I wonder if part of the cost of my advanced degree was my relationship with my family.