My grandfather, my mother's father, would have been 100 years old today. I was unable to say anything about his life at his funeral, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to write something now in remembrance of his life.
My relationship with Pop-pop was fairly complicated. He was one of the smartest men I've ever known, but some years back I was sure I was the smartest person around. Given that we were both pretty arrogant (I like to think I've gotten past that, but who knows?), we butted heads a lot when I was younger.
But despite that, he never hesitated when my parents wanted to leave me with him and Mom-mom. When I was pitching in Little League, he didn't mind helping me practice. He didn't even complain when one of my pitches caught him in the shin, causing it to swell up almost as big as the baseball.
I didn't know it at the time, but he was quite an athlete when he was younger. I don't know exactly when, but he did trapeze work at one time. And he could still walk up stairs in a handstand when he was fifty.
I mentioned him being very smart. He made his living as a civil engineer, building sewage systems and such up and down the east coast.
It wasn't glamorous work, but it kept him outside and challenged, and he really enjoyed it. It also kept him moving around, which I think he liked. Unfortunately, he retired around the time that I was born, so I don't know a whole lot about his work life. I think I probably learned more about his work when he met my wife than I'd known up to that point.
He was very hard-nosed about business; I suspect he was probably a right bastard to deal with back then. He definitely didn't feel that anything came easily to him, and he certainly remained a stubborn old goat into his eighties.
He was born Clarence Edward Clark, but went by Bob pretty much his entire life. How did he end up as Bob? It took me many years to find out, but the answer is fairly simple. His father called him Bub, but his brother Louie had a stutter, and couldn't really say that. But Bob came out ok, and that stuck.
He was born in DC, and, aside from Louie, had another brother, Dick, and a sister Thurley (no, I didn't misspell that, although I called her Aunt Shirley until the day she passed away). I've heard from both him and his Uncle Dick that Bob used to beat up on Dick, until Dick enlisted in the Army.
Uncle Dick ended up in the 101st Airborne, and after that, Bob wouldn't fight with him (he knew Dick would kick his butt :). As a side note, I'm told that Uncle Dick was asked to be interviewed for 'Band of Brothers', but that he declined. I never got a chance to ask him about why that was.
Getting back to Pop-pop, after high school, he went to the University of Maryland to study civil engineering. After he left, he did a number of jobs for a while (this was the Depression). The ones I remember are selling ice cream, driving a truck, and doing surveying out west.
But at some point, he found the sewage work that he did for the rest of his career (aside from the airborne photography he did for the Navy in the War).
And as I said, it was up and down the east coast. He never lived in one place for very long; usually only for a year or two at a time. I know my mom had never lived in one place for more than five years until after I was born (and not more than five and a half until I got to college).
As far as family life, I don't know what caused it (well, I suspect a significant part of it was him being difficult to live with), but it wasn't especially healthy. My grandmother passed away from pneumonia shortly after my mother was born. He remarried a couple of years later.
They had two more daughters, but the relationship didn't last all that long. I don't know exactly, but I believe he left after only seven or eight years. And my understanding is that he lost all of his money in the divorce.
But he started over, with my mother and him living together until she went to college (also at UMD). At some point in that time, my aunts joined them, but I don't know the details. But because of those years living together, and reinforced over many, many years, they were very close. When my mother passed away, the first thing he said to me was that he had lost his best friend.
My mom met my dad while she was in college, and shortly thereafter Pop-pop met Mom-mom. They were much happier, and stayed together until she passed away, roughly twenty-five years later.
I wonder how good she was for him, though. That's not meant to be an insult; she was the nicest, most generous person I ever met. To give a small example, she knew that I liked gummy bears. We got them in bulk at the local grocery store, where they came in four colors. She noticed that I always ate the yellow and green ones first, so she once bought me a couple of pounds of all yellow and green ones. That had to have taken quite a while for her to separate. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was saving the best for last, when I didn't eat the red and orange ones right away.
Anyway, my grandfather was pretty agressive and arrogant. I think that was his defense for insecurity and the belief that he needed to fight for anything he was going to get. Going through the Depression at a young age probably did
a lot to reinforce the latter. Also, we didn't find out until about when he retired, but he had never been able to finish his degree, so he needed to make sure nobody checked on that. And while Mom-mom was wonderful to be around, she did nothing to curb his worst tendencies; among other things, they both drank quite a lot for many years.
Their lifestyle was interesting, though. After Pop-pop retired, they did not settle down. Instead, they bought an Air-stream trailer, and traveled around the US for most of the year. I'm sure they got to see every corner of the country in which they had any interest.
As I mentioned, Pop-pop and my mom were very close, so most years, Pop-pop and Mom-mom would stay with us for a month or so every summer. They would help with anything needed around the house; Pop-pop frequently made things that we
could use (a grill, a stand for an aquarium, and other things I don't remember). When we moved (we didn't stay in one place too long, either), which happened several times, they spent hours and hours helping us with it all.
When Mom-mom passed away, Pop-pop was living in the Air-Stream in a park down in Melbourne, FL. He couldn't travel like that by himself, so he stayed for a while. He met another retiree down there, and they ended up getting married.
His new wife, for all her faults, was very good for Pop-pop. He lost his aggressiveness, and was actually pleasant to be around. My mom complained about her frequently, and mostly for legitimate reasons, but she was at least mentally and emotionally good for him.
Nevertheless, they were eventually divorced, and Pop-pop remained in Florida, in Melbourne for some years, and near Lady Lakes for the last couple of years.
Anyway, I just want to say that I wish we'd talked more, Pop-pop, (I really wish this had fewer gaps), and that we still miss you.