I am reminded frequently of how very lucky I am to have my grandmother's life stories, written down in her own words, to savor and remember and share. Of course I realize this, but sometimes my readers' comments -- about never having met their grandparents or having stern families who didn't share their lore -- bring it all home to me.
I was doubly lucky. I had all four of my grandparents, and knew them all well, until I was 22 years old. But while I know quite a bit about my grandmothers, I know considerably less about their husbands, my grandfathers, who were both rather reticent men, at least with their grandchildren.
You may have been following my grandmother Mormor -- Esther -- on the pages of this blog, but today I want to tell you about Papa -- Carl McDonald -- her husband, and my grandfather. Taken in single sentences, just the highlights, I think a history may be constructed from sketches.
Carl ran track at Arcata High School, apparently the mile and the half mile. Chas tells me that these are pretty good times, especially for 1923.
Carl never ate any kind of melon, but especially watermelon. Mormor gave us the lowdown: it seems that as a boy Carl stole a watermelon from a local farmer's patch one afternoon. He sat down to eat it even though it had been warming in the summer sun. The combination of warm watermelon, zealous overeating and guilt must have been very powerful, because the sickness that followed the crime left Carl unable to touch melon ever again.
As a boy Carl was taught by a local Indian to paddle an Indian canoe. That story is here.
Carl ran away from home just as he hit his teen years, yet he managed to finish grade school, high school, and college all while supporting himself. He got his teaching credential and his masters, supported a wife and family, supplementing his income with a dance band, carpentry, and ocean fishing.
He built this home in Monterey:
My mother remembers her older brother helping to put on the roof.
Carl retired to Fort Brag, California, to hunt and fish. He wore mostly flannel shirts.
I never saw Papa in a pair of jeans. As far as I know he owned only khaki and gray work pants.
Although he was quite an outdoorsman, Carl had a scholarly side. Here he is playing chess with his new son-in-law of two months, Dave (who would be my father in about three years).
He also taught himself to speak Swedish, with his wife Esther's help, before they went to Sweden to meet some of Esther's relations. While Swedish was Esther's (Mormor's) first language, she had little chance to use it. I think their Swedish was quite limited and rather terrible, but it was their own language, just theirs, and I remember them speaking it quietly together in the evening.
Papa smoked a pipe.
Papa (Carl) and his best friend, Cliff Anderson, were extras together in the movie "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" which was filmed in their little west coast town of Fort Brag (and Mendocino). Years later Papa complained about all of the hippies who elbowed to the front of the crowd in the mob scene, which was Papa's scene as an extra. (He and Cliff were chosen because they looked like crusty old fishermen.) Yet in the movie, who was front and center but Papa, with Cliff beside him, wearing a red checked hunting coat? Not a hippy in sight.
Carl survived Esther by several years. He lived out his last days in a retirement home in Chico, California. I held his hand as his heart stopped beating.