Today would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday. The date never comes and goes without me remembering his birthday but today is especially poignant. He has been gone nearly 13 years but some amazing memories remain.
My father's parents, he and my grandmother were everything grandparents are supposed to be. Parents to two (I wrote about their daughter, my aunt here) and grandparents to four, they provided love and comfort and always a safe haven and a sympathetic ear. The only thing my grandparents loved more than each other was family, and they were unconditional with their love for all of us. Not to say they didn't have their own fights. We used to call them Mrs. Cat and Mr. Dog.
Though never rich, they always had a buck when any of us needed it. They gave out many "loans" that I'm certain were never repaid. They provided some part of down payments for all of our first homes.
My grandfather was the son of what we humorously referred to as a non-pastorized Methodist minister. He had a church in Maine but never attended seminary school. My grandparents met in high school. Grampa was a member of the Class of 1929 of Harmony High School, and she was Class of 1930. Graduating from high school in rural Maine back then was a rarity and a huge accomplishment. Married in 1930, they had two children born during the worst of the Great Depression but I'm not sure how much of an impact it had on them since Maine, especially the interior, is pretty much always in a depression.
Some time around 1936 they moved south to Rhode Island, eventually settling in a house that his mother owned although the details of that move are lost to time. My father and I both grew up in that house.
In the 1940's they started a laundry and called it Laundromagic. A name I love to this day and can still picture painted on the front window in its fancy script. People dropped off laundry and paid by the pound to have it washed, dried and folded. My grandparents worked there side by side 5 1/2 days a week from six in the morning to sometimes ten at night. The laundry was my first and only daycare center since my mother worked there, and my father drove the truck that picked up and delivered laundry and dry cleaning. Even though it was during my first five years, certain memories are so vivid in detail.
In business together for 30+ years, he was a dreamer and she kept him grounded. In the late 50's my grandfather bought a used Buick. Attached to the Buick came an 18' Shasta travel trailer, and we became a camping family. My grandparents, my parents and I traveled the East Coast as much as week-long vacations allowed.
Within a couple years my grandfather got a gleam in his eye and a dream to own a campground. At 55 years old, unfathomable to me that he was only two years older than I am now, he and my grandmother took a mortgage on the laundry. For $3500 they bought 75 acres of virgin land on top of a hill in Connecticut and Sterling Highlands was born.
Grampa was the epitome of a Jack of All Trades. While living in that 18' trailer, within a year, he had cut a road, dug a well, brought in electric lines, put up a building with restrooms and showers for men and women, developed 30+ campsites and had a 60' pool installed. The only thing he and my father didn't do themselves was the pool.
They eventually sold Laundromagic but the first couple years the campground was open they kept 'day jobs,' she a waitress in the off-season and he a full-time machinist. Eventually developed to include 100+ sites, only when Sterling Highlands became a success did they devote all their time to it. And I mean all their time; they worked seven days a week. When I look back with my adult eyes I realize how hard they worked. Always a gregarious man, my grandfather was like a pied piper to dozens of kids who summered there, and he became "Gramps" to them all. At his funeral a man came up to me, said the usual "do you know who I am?" and then pointed to Grampa and said "that man taught me how to drive." He was one of the kids who had grown up at Sterling.
From age 5 to 17 I spent every summer running barefoot in those woods of Connecticut. I know that's where my love of the outdoors was fostered. It was a wonderful place to grow up, and it kept me close to Grammie and Grampa. In 1978 they reluctantly sold The Highlands. Almost 70 years old but still going strong, it was time to get out. In yet another travel trailer they hit the road and spent winters in Florida until their first great-granddaughter was born. Not wanting to miss anything, they stuck close to home after that.
A man of many talents, Grampa also was a writer. He kept a journal for many years and had stories published in camping magazines. He also had an amazing gift for crocheting and knitting. He developed his own patterns and made dozens of tablecloths, bedspreads, and doilies.
In 1997, after 67 years of marriage, Grampa died. Although he wasn't well in his last years, his mind stayed sharp, and he knew all of us to the end. I look back on that with such love and appreciation because although she didn't pass away until three years later, Grammie left us mentally soon after he died. Maybe because she just couldn't adjust to life without her partner of 70 years. But it meant everything to me that Grampa knew me right to the end.
So today as I recall sweet memories of my grandfather, I say Happy Birthday, Grampa, you were the best.