Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The One Where Grandpa Was Born on the 4th of July

 Once when Grandpa got a concussion they took him to the hospital to be looked over. The nurse asked him his name. Roscoe Hamblin. And then his date if birth? The 4th of July. That was not his birthday, but we teased him about it forever after. So, since it was the 4th this weekend, Happy Birthday Grandpa. This one is for you.

Random things I learned from Grandpa... in no particular order.

Regarding grandkids. I am sure Grandpa was a good father, but I don’t think there was any question that he was really meant for grandfatherhood. He embraced that role and reveled in it. He always had time for us, and he spent very little of the time scolding or lecturing. He spent much of the time teaching, even when we didn’t realize it, and he spent most of it having fun. My mom says that one time she came to pick “the little girls” up. The little girls would have been Wendy and me. We had Grandpa’s pants rolled up to his knees and we were rubbing lotion on his hairy legs. Clearly, dignity was not his top priority when the grandkids were around.

My mom also tells a story about how when I was little, she was trying to wean me from my bottle, to which I was more than mildly attached. They dropped me off at Grandpa and Grandma’s house with instructions on how to distract me if I wanted the bottle, and how to have me drink out of the cup. When they returned to pick me up, I was happily drinking milk from a brand-new bottle which Grandpa had purchased for me. In some frustration, my mom asked what happened. I’m sure she already knew…I had cried, and Grandpa had caved. Grandpa’s response was, “She wanted her bottle.” That says it all.

The world is beautiful. I spent many summers when I was little in Mesa, Arizona at their home there. Grandpa and Grandma would drive out to California in their white 1964 Impala, that had no air conditioning and no seatbelts, to pick up me, Wendy and Paul and take us to Mesa to spend as long as a month with them. I loved those trips for a lot of reasons. First of all, Grandpa and Grandma almost never scolded. I think we were pretty good kids most of the time, but they were also extraordinarily tolerant.I loved stopping in some of the roadside diners and restaurants and ordering from the menus. Since we were often driving through the desert, we also happened upon many roadside stands, where we bought anything from fresh fruit and nuts to turquoise and coral Indian jewelry. I loved buying postcards and other small items from those stands.

Growing up in Mt. Shasta, California, where the evergreen trees touch the sky, and the summers are green and beautiful, I didn’t know how to see the beauty in the endless desert, with all its cactus, rolling sagebrush and hazy horizons. Grandpa would point out how beautiful everything was as we would drive. One summer they took us on a side trip to the Grand Canyon. I was pretty small, but I still remember what an awesome sight that was. Now when I look around at the dry natural terrain around our Orange County home, with its cactus, live oaks and scrubbrush, I think it is beautiful, and I probably owe that appreciation to Grandpa. There is a particular smell that takes me right back to those summers. Sometimes in those afternoons driving through the desert, we would pass through a summer thunderstorm. The rain would hit that hot pavement, which made a wonderful smell of its own. But there was a purely magical smell that would drift in through the windows with the raindrops. Grandpa told me it was chaparral. I will never forget that.

Grandpa also loved Hillcrest Orchards, an apple ranch where I also lived for a couple of years when I was about ten years old. Grandpa and Grandma had lived there for some years, and I believe it was Grandma that planted the lilacs that grew by the ranch house. They were probably beautiful when she lived there, but by the time we lived there, that bush was like something from a fairy tale. In the spring, there would be hundreds of blooms. I still love lilacs, even though I almost never see one, as they don't seem to grow in Southern California. Grandpa used to talk about the ranch, and about how beautiful it was. My dad had also inherited that love of the beauty of the earth. They both used to get a little dreamy just talking about the soil in the garden there. They made it sound good enough to eat. It really was the most amazing black dirt... and after a rainstorm sometimes we would go down to the garden and find glittering black obsidian arrowheads... evidence of some long-gone tribe that had lived and hunted there.

Good enough to eat. That could be a post all of its own. It is almost not fair to say this is something I learned from Grandpa, because honestly, Grandma had to prepare most of the food. But I’m writing about Grandpa right now. I ate so much good food with Grandpa and Grandma. Grandma was a great cook, and not a boring one, either. I remember one evening in their Mesa house when I was little. There was a big thunder storm, and the rain was pounding against the house, and Grandma was cooking up the most amazing quesadillas with every imaginable topping. That is still one of my favorites to make my family. Something that Grandpa explained to me is that food is best eaten in its season. Grandma had a way of taking fresh fruits and vegetables in their season, and storing them away in Mason jars, so that in the winter, there were rows and rows of gemstones waiting to be discovered on the shelves of the pantry. They tasted good fresh, but somehow they turned to heaven in the jars.

When I was about 14 or 15, Grandpa and Grandma were living in a little apartment about halfway between our house and the high school. I found that if I rode my green Schwinn ten-speed bike to school, that during lunch hour I had just enough time to ride to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for “supper,” which was their main meal of the day, and then get back to school before lunch hour was over. I loved their simple feasts. There would often be homemade bread. Fresh cottage cheese with home-canned tomatoes.Sometimes Grandpa would made his chili. Grandma did most all the cooking, but Grandpa had a specialty, and it was chili. No beans, just beef and plenty of hot. Served with saltines. Sometimes Grandma would make a special dessert to spoil us. She made some pretty amazing pie. But the best dessert was the simplest—a jar of those plums she had canned the summer before. They were the most glorious shade of purple, and tasted like candy straight from the jar. It is strange to think that I may never taste canned plums again—I don’t even know if you can buy such a thing anymore, but even if you can, they wouldn’t taste like that.

When they moved to their last house outside of Yreka, I used to ride my bike out there. It was close to ten miles one way, from our house. Fortunately, my dad was usually good for picking me up after my visit so I only had to ride the downhill way. I loved those rides out past Greenhorn Reservoir, and during the summer, Grandpa would pick the sweetest corn in the world from their garden and drop it straight into the boiling water. It is hard to enjoy grocery store corn, since Grandpa insisted that every minute after it is picked, the corn loses flavor and sweetness.

Love of the gospel. Grandpa loved the scriptures, but most especially, the Book of Mormon. I can recall sitting down to hear Grandpa read from the Book of Mormon for my whole life. Whether we were in Arizona, Mt. Shasta, the little apartment in Yreka, or their little house just outside of town in Yreka, he and Grandma sat to read together every night.At the end of scripture reading, we would always have a family prayer. We would all kneel around the room, and Grandma would fold her crooked hands over her knees and bow her head for the prayer. I used to hate it when Grandpa would pray, because it would go on for about five minutes, more than my little patience would bear. I didn’t mind that so much as I grew older.

The importance of serving a mission. Grandpa and Grandma set the ultimate example, by serving a mission in Roswell, New Mexico. They talked about that time a lot, and I think it was a great experience for them. They started to talking to my brother Paul about serving a mission when he was very small. In fact, Grandpa had a sock into which he would place all of his loose change. He told us that was for Paul’s mission fund. Missions were extremely important to Grandpa. Our two ancestors that we talked the most about were Jacob Hamblin and Parley P. Pratt. Their lives were defined in great part by their missionary work, and I think that a good case could be made that that became our family legacy. Mom and Dad went on to be mission presidents, and then serve another mission. Wendy and Paul served full-time missions, and now Grandpa is probably watching his great-grandsons with great pride, as they go out to serve.

Life is sweet. I hate to admit it, but Grandpa really got to me on this one. I still have secret candy stashes, and it is all his fault. Grandpa loved his sweets. I’m sure that today he would do somersaults over my homemade toffee, but the fact is, it didn’t have to be homemade. He was an equal-opportunity candy consumer. He could always be depended upon to have a small red foil pouch of Sen Sen in his pocket. I don’t think you can buy those anymore—they were rather vile little licorice-flavored nuggets. I think their main usefulness was in freshening smokers’ breath. I believe that Grandpa smoked during his younger years, and maybe that was a leftover habit.

His candy habit remained. Milk chocolate peanut clusters were a favorite, but he liked most types of candy. I learned at a very young age that if I needed a candy fix, Grandpa always had small hiding places for such things. The glove box of the old Impala was always a surefire bet. I could usually find some butter mints there, and Life Savers.

Love of music. Grandpa loved music. That was something that he certainly passed on to my dad, who listened to all sorts of classical music. But Grandpa’s taste ran along different lines. He loved church music. His very favorite was “O That I Were an Angel,” and he was thrilled whenever he could get someone to sing that one. But he also loved Big Band music. He had an extensive collection of Glen Miller and many others. When I was a teenager, he told me that one of the things I should do was find someone who loved to dance, because it was wonderful be able to dance. I have never been very coordinated, and never really learned to dance the way he was talking about, but my sons have loved to learn ballroom dancing, and are very good at it. I thought of Grandpa Hamblin when Josh and Jessica were dancing at their wedding. He would have loved that.

Grandma had the worst arthritis I have ever seen, and her hands were gnarled and bent, and she was plagued with bone spurs. Her knees were swollen and painful, and a childhood illness and surgery left her with one leg shorter and a pronounced limp. Grandma and Grandpa probably danced when she was younger, but she had some real physical challenges to overcome, even then. I like to imagine when she has a perfect, resurrected body, how they will just dance all the time.

How a lady should behave. Yes, Grandpa had views on that as well. I used to be the tiniest bit resentful about that sock full of change that Grandpa was collecting for Paul to serve his mission. Girls can serve missions, too, you know. His ideas of how girls should behave were rather old-fashioned. One time he saw me playing with a Barbie doll. That was certainly a rare enough occasion—it must have been left behind by a visiting cousin, because I was not a Barbie fan, or even of dolls at all, really. Grandpa picked up the doll. He told me that girls today don’t behave like ladies. He made the Barbie’s legs swing back and forth in wide arcs. He said that they take big strides instead of small ladylike steps, and they wear clothes that aren’t modest. I’m not sure about the big strides, but he is certainly right about the modesty. It made me think a little bit about trying to act more like a lady as I grew older. Grandma was surely the example he would offer, as she was pure grace under pressure. I was probably a teenager before I realized that the reason she ate Bufferins like candy was that she was in constant severe pain, but she only ever betrayed her discomfort with an occasional moment where she closed her eyes for a second to compose herself. I suppose that a lady doesn’t burden everyone with constant complaints. Of course she was perfectly modest as well, and as long as I knew her, she never wore anything but dresses. I’m sure she did not even own a pair of pants.

I may remember a few instances where Grandpa taught me about being a lady, but every moment we were at their house, Grandpa was teaching us how a real man treats a lady. He loved Grandma so much, and was always trying to find ways to make her more comfortable. The only time he was ever sharp with us was when we played too rough by Grandma or were careless of her in some way.

Taking care of things. Grandpa liked for things to be in good repair, and to take good care of the things that they had. He especially liked things to be clean and orderly. Grandpa and Grandma had a set of stoneware dishes in a deep chocolate brown. For as long as I can remember, Grandma cooked, and Grandpa did the dishes. That may have been Grandpa’s way of serving Grandma as her arthritis crippled her body more each year. But I loved how he did those dishes. He told me that the water needed to be very hot to get the dishes clean. Grandpa filled the sink with soapy water that was so hot I couldn’t even dip a finger in without burning it. Then he washed each of those heavy stoneware dishes, using a washcloth which he held with a meat fork because he couldn’t put his hands in the water. He would place each one in the dish drainer, where they would dry almost instantly because they were so hot, and then he would put them away in the cupboard. Grandpa liked doing any job well.

Writing in a journal. Grandpa told us many times how important it is to write in a journal. He loved telling about Jacob Hamblin, and the many great stories about him. I don’t have a journal like that for Grandpa. In fact, I fully realize that all my memories of Grandpa revolve around me, as though I am the center of his universe. I know that he worked many years on the Arizona Highway Patrol. I would love to know about his childhood and his younger years. Knowing Grandpa, he believed that he never did anything exciting enough to write about, but that is a book I would loved to have read. Maybe a blog...


Gr8Life said...

Thank You for sharing your Grandpa with us. He sounds really wonderful I wish all kids had a Grandpa like yours!

Jennilyn said...

I enjoyed reading what you learned from him. Good stories, good examples and well written. Thanks for the inspiration!

Cindy said...

This is such a GREAT read. You need to do more of them for your own posterity. Typing is so much faster than handwriting. I really enjoyed this. What a guy!

Cherie said...

I have tried to leave a comment twice now and both times it has been wiped out by my computer connection - GgGgggrrrrRrrrr

Now this is personal between me and the computer - LOL!!

Victoria I just love you and the way you write! You are so blessed to have the rich family memories that you do and the wonderful legacy too.
I loved reading about your early life with your grandparents and all the stories about your Grandpa - He sounds like he was just a neat man!!

Hope you are having a Wonderful Summer! I wish I was hangin' with you on the beach down there!!

Cherie said...

I did it!! Freakin' computer!! Ha Ha

Garden of Egan said...

Beautiful! I love that story.

Eric Petersen said...

Victoria, thank you SO much for posting this. It brought back wonderful memories of both Grandpa and Grandma.

I loved that 64 Impala. Grandpa would take me for rides and we would pop wheelies in it : ) I also remember how much he liked to laugh.

Loralee and the gang... said...

Your grandparents remind me a lot of my own parents. Brought back some good memories. Thanks for that. Lovely post.