Thursday, December 7, 2017
Happy Birthday in Heaven Grandpa Duerr
I have a hard time remembering birth dates but for some reason, I always remember my Grandma Jean's birthday (it is the day after mine) and my Grandpa Duerr's, which is Dec. 7th. Maybe I remember his because it is also Pearl Harbor day, a day that is remembered each year in Hawaii where I grew up and because I had a teacher who, as a child, was on a beach that fateful morning and saw the Japanese planes coming in and the destruction that followed. Or maybe it is because my Grandpa Duerr was so different from my other grandfathers (I had 3 of them) in he was always warm, loving and adored his grandchildren and let them know it.
I did not grow up being able to spend much time with my Grandpa Duerr because we lived in Hawaii and he lived in Ohio. I don't remember my first time meeting him because I was 2 years old and my grandmother was dying of cancer so he bought train tickets for my parents and I to come back to Ohio (we were living in California at the time and my mom was finishing her teaching degree). My grandmother wanted to meet my mother and I and spend time with us and my father, her oldest son, before she passed away and my Grandpa Duerr, who loved his sweet Evelyn Anna more than anything in the world, made that happen. I have pictures of my cousin Tim and I with both of our grandparents. The next time I saw my grandfather was years later, after he had remarried my Grandma Betty, when they came to Hawaii. My grandfather was afraid of flying, but he did it anyway so that we could all meet Betty and because she really wanted to see Hawaii. I was still pretty young then and I don't remember much of that trip other than Grandma Betty appearing to be pretty high maintenance and was not a very "warm and fuzzy" person...she was very different from my Dad's mother.
The Summer that I turned 12, we took a family vacation back to the mainland and through Canada. We spent time with family and friends in California, Oregon and Ohio and took the train from Montreal, Quebec to Vancouver, BC, making stops along the way to stay at National Parks. It was on this trip that I really got to know my grandfather well. We stayed with him and Grandma Betty and all my cousins, my Aunt Susie, Uncle Ronnie and Uncle Gary came over and spent as much time as possible with us. I have very distinct memories of my Grandpa Duerr, sitting on his back patio looking out over his beautiful vegetable garden and watching all of us grandkids playing together. I also remember him telling my cousin Tim to unlock the handcuffs (my Uncle Gary was a police officer and had come over straight after work) that he had locked me to the fence with. LOL! Don't worry, I did get my cousin Tim back later! I was fascinated with weather and tornados so my Grandpa took us to see the town of Xenia that had a tornado come through just 2 weeks prior to us getting there. I was amazed to see how a school had been "sliced" in half and the papers in the standing half still pinned to the board and the desks were still all neatly lined up. A few days later, while Grandpa and I were sitting outside in his garden, I told him that the air felt weird and I was feeling electrical currents in my body and I thought there was a tornado coming. About an hour later, the air got very still and then the wild animals started running like mad in one direction. I again told him that the electrical currents were getting worse. He gave me a strange look but decided to go and check the weather on TV. Sure enough, there was a tornado warning. I will never forget his reaction to this when it looked like one would be coming near us. He had us go pick all the ripe tomatoes out of his garden and sent my father and uncle to Kentucky Fried Chicken to get lots of chicken for us to eat while we sheltered in the basement and had that and fresh tomatoes. 😀 I now associate tornados with fried chicken and tomatoes. Anyway, my Dad and uncle got back with the chicken and we had the TV on upstairs tracking where the tornado was hitting. Grandpa sent us downstairs and then all of a sudden called me to come upstairs to see something. There was a tornado off in the distance and he wanted me to see it! He understood my fascination with them and wanted me to be able to observe one from a safe distance. My Grandpa Duerr really "got me". He explained all the things that I saw flying around in it as the roofs from businesses and homes and some other things were in there too. When it got a bit too close for comfort, he and I once again headed down to the basement. The tornado did not hit his neighborhood thank goodness, but it did hit just 2 miles away from there and caused all kinds of damage in that neighborhood, which he took me to see. I thought he was "perfect" until we were taking a drive one day and I saw two little girls holding hands and skipping together down the sidewalk in what my grandfather described as the "bad part of town". I thought the little girls were adorable and said so. My grandfather thought it was "disgusting"...his reason, one was white and one was black. He had been raised in a time when prejudice was sadly very common and so had my father, and yet my father knew it was wrong and tried to break that cycle within our family, along with my mother who rightfully believed that the color of your skin should have no bearing on anything! I was shocked and hurt to hear him say that and I told him so. There we were in the car and I was telling my grandfather how wrong he was to think like that. They were two innocent and beautiful little girls and how wrong it was to be so hateful and judge someone just because of the color of their skin. My father tried to shut me up and told me I was being disrespectful to my grandfather. I did shut up but not until after I told my grandfather that I loved him but thought that he was totally wrong and how disappointed I was in him. 😟 I must have touched something deep down within him because he never got mad at me and was very careful to never say anything like that again around me.
Five years later, I returned to Ohio for about 2 months during the Summer and stayed with my Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Susie, my cousin Tim and cousin Amy. I desperately needed to get away from a very stressful family situation at home be free from being the buffer, mediator and "other parent", which had been my role since my brothers were born and had only gotten more intense when my sister joined our family. I was also "stuffing" the shame and guilt of having been sexually abused by someone outside the family and had never gotten help for dealing with all the emotions that brings up. Staying with my dear Aunt and Uncle and being in a totally different family dynamic where my uncle came home to his family every night after work (my father's job prevented him from doing so since there had to be a manager on duty at the resort 24/7), my Uncle Gary and baby cousin Diane (she was 7 at the time) would come by almost every afternoon to visit and where we spent as much time as possible with my Grandpa Duerr and Grandma Betty was new to me. I learned how I wanted my family to be when I got married. I wanted that life where weekends were spent doing fun things as a family, where cousins got to grow up together, where grandparents were there and enjoyed being with their family and took great joy in their grandkids and kids. I learned more about my Grandpa Duerr and his unconditional love for us all and heard stories about my father and uncles growing up, about my grandmother Evelyn, and about how my grandparents and my father, who was a young child then, made it through the Great Depression with the help of my grandmother's aunt and uncle and living on their farm with them and later by my grandfather working a full time job and gardening for other people as well as for his own little family and my grandmother taking in people's washing to do to make ends meet. I wanted to learn about my family history and would later become the family historian. All this talk did not go over well with my Grandma Betty, who was not fond at all of my father's siblings, their wives and their children. She made it very clear that she preferred her own children and grandchildren. For some strange reason though, she liked me and wanted me to have a relationship with her grandkids. I did get to know them and spent time with them that Summer and they were very nice people for the most part other than one creepy cousin who wanted to "make out" with me. YUCK! I did find out later Grandma Betty had a dark secret that she did not want me and my family to know about and was mortified that one of my uncles, who was a police officer, had stumbled upon some information about her past and her connections to the Mob. Because he had that information and had shared it with my other uncle and aunt, they were on her "crap list" and she did not even want them in her home, but my Grandpa put his foot down and told her that his family was always welcome in their home as was her's. I have always wondered if she liked me because of my father's position as the executive manager of a resort that catered to the rich and famous. I do know she threw that around to her friends. Her own children were "academics" according to her. My Uncle Gary was a police detective and firefighter and my Uncle Ronnie was in middle management for the General Motors. My uncles and my father were all self made men that worked hard all their lives and were well respected and gave back to their communities, just as my Grandpa Duerr had. He taught all his sons that whatever job you do, give it your all, do your best and take pride in it. He led by example and his sons all had the deepest respect and love for him.
My cherished memories of my Grandpa Duerr will always stay with me. He was a man who worked hard his entire life, loved his family and was so proud of them, always welcomed you with a huge hug and kiss and got a tear in his eyes when we had to part. He had a green thumb and maintained a beautiful and productive garden up until the very end and would share the garden bounty with family and friends. Sadly he never got to meet my husband because he was afraid to fly out to our wedding and he never got to meet his great grandchildren (my children) either. He passed away suddenly within a 3 week period where I also lost my Uncle Dave, and my Uncle Lorne. I was able to say goodbye to my Uncle Lorne, because we knew he was dying and I called and spoke to him several times, leaving nothing unsaid about how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I did not know that my Uncle Dave was ill until he passed away and I do wish someone would have told me so I could have called and spoke to him when he was in the hospital. My Grandpa Duerr passed away suddenly, with no warning, so no one got the chance to say goodbye. I wish I could have had just one more chance to see him, share a hug and tell him how much I loved him and how much I cherished being his granddaughter. I miss you Grandpa, I love you and I hope you and Grandma Evelyn (who was the love of your life) and now Uncle Ronnie too, are together and happy in heaven. Happy Birthday!