Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Of Fedoras and Bunions

"Daddy, do you have your hat," I can hear Grammy's voice as she and Grampy would prepare to sally forth. She in her mink with a perfectly coordinated silk scarf and he in his fedora. Somehow, I ended up with the scarf, the fedora, and for a time the mink. I can remember wearing the fedora around college and then around town. At some point I jettisoned the mink and more recently the fedora went out the door. The scarf remains -- a mix of oranges and golds tucked away in a box with various other scarves acquired during my life. Scarves that I no longer wear but somehow can not bear to part with.

Somewhere there are pictures of my grandfather wearing that fedora and my grandmother in that mink. I know that she used to wear it as she caught the sun in Elinor Village when they wintered in Florida. The fur was damaged as a result -- with the shoulders and collar turning the color of straw and feeling just a tad rough (under the arms was just as soft as could be). Somewhere there is a picture of a younger me wearing that fedora -- jauntily tipped at just the right angle. An article of clothing that could at once make me feel like a cool girl but also could just bring a smile to my face because it was grampy's.
He and I never had the easiest of relationships. I was the kid who was reading Deliverance (scandalous!) at too young of an age. I remember his voice drifting up to the bedroom in Washington, CT where I lay curled up with a book -- that book. "How could you let her read that, he said to my mother. She kind of laughed and told him she had stopped trying to screen what I read once I started to check books out of the adult library. Things got a bit heated and I started to read faster (who knew, maybe she'd take it away, see his side of things). To this day, I wonder if she had actually read Deliverance at that point -- did she know what was causing him to make such a ruckus? Did she know that I also devoured Valley of the Dolls up in Maine? I think for her, it just mattered that I was an omniverous reader -- constantly with a book. Seems kind of funny now -- those books being scandalous that is.

Grampy was quite something -- feisty and climbing trees well into his 70s. He could bring my aunt Monica to tears of frustration (and use of valium) just by the way he gave directions to Lake Quasipog. In the family lore (the stories you carry around), she turned the tables on him once, slippng valium on one of their last trips to Florida, dropping it into his coffee just so she could get him from point A to point B. I think it was likely the early stages of his dementia which would never really conquer his spirit but gradually take his mind.
I remember the way he coped with his bunions -- cutting holes out of his black leather shoes and wearing those with black socks and a bathing suit to Mt. Tom. He would shed things into a neat pile and unerringly find that rock near the shore so he could execute a shallow dive. Often, he would join us kids in standing on our heads as we played in the shallows of that spring-fed pond inat the end of a hot summer day.

As I sit here late on a Wednesday evening with my own throbbing bunion, I am wondering if I will hit a point where I have to cut holes in my shoes to get myself through the day. Unlike the fedora. Unlike the mink. I can't just toss this thing that is growing on my big toe joint out because it no longer suits me. In reality, it's a pretty small bunion as bunions -- or bumps as my sister calls them -- go. Like the fedora though, it ties me to an earlier memory of a man who was opinionated, strong as an ox, and stubborn as could be.

I wish I could meet that man again as I turn the corner into the 2nd half of my life. I'd like to meet that woman who married him as well -- Grammy of the afternoon Manhattans that Jimmy (my father) made just perfectly. She was the softer half of this duo -- always gracious and someone who you wanted to help. On many a summer morning we would hear her voice from downstairs asking "Daddy, do you think they're awake? Frosty (the dog) go get them up." And there they would be as we tumbled down the stairs, blueberry pancakes (a Grampy specialty) at the ready to fortify us for the day.

It would be great to have one of those breakfasts now that I'm old enough to appreciate it. Instead, I have a scarf, a throbbing bunion, and the memory of his and my fedora. And that is enough.


  1. Lovely writing! My grandpa always wore a hat too and was a great guy. Funny, I was just thinking today that I inherited his goofy way of doing/repairing things as I painted a chair in a three foot square area in the garage trying not to get paint on anything besides my clothes and hair as I bent upside down instead of doing it the correct way.

  2. that is too funny. mine had a work room -- down in the basement and all sorts of tools from his day as a welder. I don't think i inherited any of his handiness -- my only project ever was to strip and refinish a chest of draws. that did come out nice though.

  3. Wow! I was spellbound. I always knew you were a great writer...but this was poetry for my eyeballs. That post was truly enchanting... thank you for sharing such detailed and beautiful memories... I had never heard any of this... you've made my day.