Some of my most enduring memories from when I was a child are of my grandfather.
When I was younger, he had a house on Delatre Street in Woodstock and I always loved to go visit him. He had a great sense of humour and a very laissez-faire attitude toward caring for his grandchildren. He was a very intelligent and loving man, and I miss him very much.
The house on Delatre Street was set on a very long piece of property, with a big sloping driveway along the one side of the house that went into a big garage in front of the vegetable garden. My grandfather was very good at gardening and caring for fruit trees. There was a gigantic pear tree in his back yard and every year he would come to visit us with bushels full of the biggest, most melting, yellow pears you can imagine. I still can’t eat pears from a grocery store, because every time I tried, they tasted like cardboard by comparison.
He also had a mulberry tree in his back yard, and for a few years, we would come to visit him and he would lay out a gigantic tarp underneath it, and we would take an elongated wooden beam and shake parts of the tree, so that the mulberries would fall onto the tarp underneath. At that point, we could just pick them up off the ground. In preparation for this, for the week beforehand, he would sit in the back yard with a couple pieces of wood joined by a hinge and fend the squirrels off. He would slap the pieces of wood together, and it sounded enough like a gunshot to work very effectively. Later on, as I recall, he got a water gun for the same purpose. I wonder which he liked better.
My grandfather was very clever about making things in his basement workshop. First off all, a lot of the woodworking tools that he kept in his workshop were things he made himself. And he used these tools to make all manner of wonderful, useful and beautiful things.
Even now, my apartment is full of a great many things that my grandfather made. He made my bed, my dresser, a full-length mirror. Pretty much everything that’s wooden and beautiful that’s in my home was made by my grandfather.
When I was very young, and I liked to collect coins, he made me a wooden box and engraved “Benjamin’s Treasure Chest” on the top of it. My grandfather was always very supportive of what I found to be interesting, no matter how strange he thought it was. And he had no problem telling me how strange he thought some of my interests to be.
He used to drive a big blue classic automobile, the make and model of which I have forgotten. I want to say it was a Plymouth Fury II, but I could be wrong. It was the kind of car that you would expect to see in a car show. It was made in the 1960’s, back when seat-belts were optional. The one that he owned had seat-belts, though. My little sister loved it, and was very disappointed when he sold it, later in life. My mother told me that one summer he took it apart to its component parts in his driveway and the neighbours were taking bets as to whether or not he would be able to put it back together again. Of course, he had no problem doing so.
I’m glad that I wasn’t there to see the house of Delatre Street after grandpa moved out of it, so I remember it the way it was. The house itself was full of dozens of clocks, all of which chimed on the hour. There was a wooden spinning wheel in the front room, and a grandfather clock. There was a huge chess set in the living room that, of course, grandpa made, and I remember playing chess with him when I was very young. The house was full of furniture, cabinets, old family photographs and Wallace Nutting prints.
For Christmas, we always went to visit. Every Christmas, all the grandchildren would mark off our heights against a doorframe in the kitchen. In the summer, we had a family reunion and barbecue, and my grandpa loved it.
I remember one day being called out of class because of one of my dad’s psychotic episodes. My sisters, my mother and I left our home and went to stay with my grandfather, where it was safe. The rest of the world could fly out of control, but when I was at grandpa’s, I was safe.