Friday, May 31, 2013

Memories of Bebop

The holiday weekend got me thinking about my favorite patriot: my grandpa.

When I was tiny, I pronounced his name "Bebop", to the amusement of all. The name stuck until I was about 15 and going through the mental transition from child to religious and social conservative. I found "bebop" in the dictionary and was embarrassed, especially since jazz and syncopation were severely frowned upon in our circles as agents of the devil. I never called my grandpa Bebop again, but switched to the sanitized "Grandpa" and all the younger kids followed suit. His name change was hard on Bebop; he continued to sign cards with both names for a while. But eventually, he gave up.

Front of the custom-printed shirt he wore with pride

Not only was I the oldest grandchild, the eleven of us were Bebop's only grandchildren. And he adored us.

When he and Grammie came to visit, we would all take their dog for a walk beside the road. We scanned the ground carefully then because when Bebop was along, we would always find coins strewn along the way. He said someone must have been walking there with a hole in their pocket. We never found coins when we walked the dog with just Grammie, though.

Bebop had a great sense of humor and liked to laugh the same way he talked--loudly. He loved to entertain us with corny jokes, nonsense rhymes and cowboy songs, all of which we would recite long afterward--to my mom's chagrin. Sometimes he had new jokes, but he had no aversion to repeating the same ones year after year, and he'd laugh just as heartily every time. I loved it when he read us stories because he would always change the words to make us laugh ourselves silly.

When he received his first Social Security check, he told the five of us kids that he wanted to give each of us a quarter of it. He let us muddle over the math for a while before presenting each of us with 25 cents.

When we were very young, Bebop would mail us "letters" on cassette tapes--stories about his exploits in the kitchen and individual messages for each one of us. One year he wrote special--and silly--Valentine's poems for each one of us and Grammie illustrated them with colored pencil drawings.

Bebop was a planner who also loved surprises. One year he mailed me a new purse, just because. It was a favorite for years and now my kids play with it. Another time, he sent a box of his homemade raisin-nut cookies, my favorites. Once he gave me an antique book (a flea market find, no doubt) with a post-it note on the inside cover next to the copyright: "1925--I'm as old as Grandpa!".

He liked ice cream, jigsaw puzzles, road maps, vacations, hard candy, and making chili with the tomatoes from his garden. Bebop always knew where to find the wild wineberries, and the nut trees. Every fall he would squirrel away black walnuts and hickory nuts in his garage and spend his free time cracking them for his famous cookies.

His family had been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years. He had broad German features, an inveterate sweet tooth, a considerable paunch, and an accent that pronounced the A in carrot or Carol the same as the A in apple or Alex. He went away to war at the ripe young age of 17, lived in tents on a tropical volcanic island that later became part of the 50th state (and where I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary 70 years later), came back a Marine Corps sergeant, and waited till he turned 21 to marry my Grammie.

Marked for life by the Great Depression as well as fiercely independent, Grammie was frugal to a fault (in her last years she loved trips to the bank for the free coffee with flavored creamer that she wouldn't buy for herself). To Bebop, economy was a game. He loved coupons, and filing coupons, and would send my poor mother envelopes full of duplicates he'd collected. When he retired, shopping became his competitive sport. He and his brother-in-law would compare their hunting-and-gathering prowess, bragging about finding the lowest-priced bananas. Bebop couldn't resist a good sale; after he died, Grammie didn't have to buy paper towels or toilet paper for two years.

When Bebop died two months before my wedding, a month before the September 11th attacks, he already had our wedding gift prepared in his desk. I sang one of his favorite hymns at his funeral, and imagined him causing uproarious laughter in heaven by telling jokes about firemen's suspenders or leftover carrot pie.

I think Bebop's been in my thoughts lately because my mind has been in Pennsylvania with family. Once when my brother and I stayed with my Bebop and Grammie for a week, we went for a walk at the cemetery and Bebop showed us the plot of ground where he and Grammie would be buried someday. I've been to his grave twice since his death, but not as a non-believer. Now I can finally "put him to rest".

So goodbye this time, Bebop. I'm sorry I changed your name. I'm glad I got your sense of humor and your cookie recipe instead of your nose. I tell your corny jokes to my kids. You would really love your great-grandkids. I know you'd have their drawings posted on your fridge. If you had a computer, they would send you home videos and recorded messages and you'd be so proud of all of us.

Thanks for showing me so much about how to live and how to love.


  1. Hey, this is Ashley from the writer's meetup. I just read through some of your blog entries, and I really enjoy them. I'm not usually one to read blogs, but I really enjoyed some of your entries (particularly, the "my abusive ex" entry. I also browsed "Love, joy, feminism." It's a great place to read about feminism and religion are related (specifically, inversely so).

    I thought about it after the meeting, but I'm pretty sure all but one of us at the writer's meeting were atheists, or at least non-Christian. I can't think of a time where the atheists outnumbered the Christians in the room in my time in Wichita. It was kind of wonderful.

    Side note: Haha, it looks like you already wrote your piece for the "Patriotism" prompt.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Ashley!

      It took some trial and error to figure out that I am a feminist first and an atheist next. Walked out of an atheist meeting once because a misogynistic remark triggered my anxiety so badly. It is always a treat to make new friends who value equality AND have a rational worldview. Especially in Kansas. :)