Monday, March 18, 2013

My Grandfather Paul

My grandfather, on my mother's side, fell eight stories from a scaffold while working on a New York hi-rise. He survived, but his partner, who he landed on, did not. There was no workmen's comp back then and he was laid up for two years. He lost his job too.

As a result, he was an epileptic for the rest of his life, having a seizer every afternoon like clockwork. He was never allowed to drive again.

A WWI vet, he had migrated from Hamburg, Germany to Hamburg, New Jersey in the 20's. His wife and my aunt followed some years later. My mother and my uncle were born and spent their early childhood in NJ. They were kids when grandpa fell and his wife worked as a housekeeper and took in laundry to make ends meet. My mother hated the depression and always talked about it in terms of food availability, especially the lack of pork chops, which she loved.

After recovering from the accident, Paul (pronounced 'Powell', by his wife Ellie, my grandmother) migrated to Trona, California, near Death Valley, where he worked as a machinist. The family eventually followed some years later, coming by way of the Panama Canal, to West LA, where my grandmother became a housekeeper for Charlie Chaplin and my mom attended University High School during WWII. My uncle was a submariner in the Pacific. I remember looking at my mom's HS yearbook as a kid; almost all the boys were in uniform.

After graduating, she worked at the Broadway, Downtown for a while and eventually met and married my dad when they were in their early twenties. They said they met in the unemployment line. I showed up about 9 months later.

As a boy in the 50's and 60's, I would often stay with my grandparents. Paul would get up very early every morning, make coffee and have a smoke, while making me a light breakfast of smoked fish on toast. I used to love that and still do. He would always bring my grandmother a cup of coffee and kiss her good morning, but otherwise they spent their lives watching TV in their separate rooms. They both liked to watch wrestling (my grandmother hated "that Freddy Blase") and she would cook dinner for the two them, which they ate in their rooms on TV trays. Whenever I came to visit, Paul would hide Ellie's teeth as a joke, which I thought was hysterical. They loved each other in their own funny way.

In his 70's, grandpa would hold out his arm and I would swing from it. I was a skinny kid back then. In his 80's, he was hit by a car and tossed several feet, breaking his arm and collar bone, but otherwise recovered ok. He finally died at the age of 84, within a year of my grandmother's passing. He was still taking his morning walks down Wilshire Blvd, from Bundy to the Santa Monica Pier and back, running errands and always dressed in his olive drab or dark blue Sears work shirt and pants.

He gave me the best advice anyone ever has. He told me: "Marky, I go to bed every night with no worries, let a good one out the backside and turn over and go to sleep."

He liked one good belt of scotch at night (Black Label) and smoked two packs of Pall Mall everyday until he died. He never showed any adverse effects not attributable to his accidents. Not everyone gets cancer from smoking.

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