Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Grandfather

I remember strange things.  I say strange, because there is no rhyme or reason to why I remember something.  I remember my childhood telephone number, but not the number Carol and I had in our first apartment.  I remember the names of my kindergarten and first grade teachers, but not those of my fourth and fifth grade teachers. I can remember what year all of my grandparents were born, but only one of their birth dates.

Today is the one of those that I remember.  My grandfather - James Worden McFarlane.  We called him Mac. He was born in 1902 (oh dear, I don't remember what year he died, but it was in the early 80s).  This man was nothing other than a character.  I feel so badly that I saw him through my mother's eyes rather than the eyes of his friends.  Mom was so weary of dealing with his craziness and complete dependence on her that I didn't get a chance to get to know him as an adult. By that time, he was just a needy old man.

He was absolutely brilliant.  His father was a professor at Columbia and co-wrote a series of geography textbooks used all across the country in the early part of the last century.  His mother decided that the easiest way for her to live her life was as an invalid.  It was a choice rather than a necessity.  (She was a little insane.)  They lived a life filled with excessive wealth; much of his youth was spent travelling through Europe.  When the stock market crashed, Mac was out on his own.  The family lost their money, but kept their stuff. He married one of his mother's nurses and that turned out to be the worst decision he'd ever made - she was a hag.  But, he took care of her all his life.  He refused to divorce her, but moved out in the early 60s.  They were both happier that way.  She still had access to his money, but not his philandering ways (one of his girlfriends taught mom how to drive - she knew them all).  He had his freedom and maintained contact with his daughter and grandkids.

He and his brother owned a newspaper in Syracuse, NY.  That wasn't enough for Grammy, so he got a job as head of the in-house printing shop for Harvard University and they moved to Boston.  They lived in the carriage house on the estate owned by the then treasurer of Harvard and Mac allowed Grammy to live a simulated life of wealth among the upper class.

Mac loved to visit us in small town Iowa.  That life was entertaining for him. One year he took a vacation to Hawaii and came back with slides for us to see.  In that little parsonage, the only large white space to show the slides was the shade covering the front window.  We all gathered for an evening of gorgeous pictures.  But, that wasn't exactly what Mac had planned.  Not only had he shot pictures of scenery, but relatively naked women in Hawaii.  All of a sudden Dad gasped and ran outside.  Oh yes ... there was mild pornography being shown through the windows of the parsonage.  Mac knew exactly what was he'd done.

I learned about the real Addams family from Mac.  Whenever I spent time with him, he pulled out Charles Addams' books.  They were filled with images drawn by Charles Addams for the New Yorker magazine.  Twisted and bizarre.  I loved them.

When I was ten, Mac was living in Iowa. Grammy wanted me to come to Boston for a visit, so Mac drove me in his VW bug.  We had a grand time.  Mom made him swear that he wouldn't drink while we were on the road, so if we stopped for the night at a hotel, he'd make me promise to tell mom that the drink he'd had was while we were stopped.  We stopped to see his brother David and they left me at his brother's apartment while they partied. I have absolutely no idea when they returned the next morning.  Those two men really enjoyed having a naive little girl with them.  They were hideous flirts and I was simply another offering to the waitresses.  We were surrounded by waitresses all evening long.  Two good looking older men, spending lots of money and a cute little girl who had NO idea what was happening.

One of my favorite stories was when we were driving through the mountains.  We kept seeing  signs that said "Watch for Running Deer."  Well, Mac decided to entertain himself and told me a story of how there were Indians in the mountains and they had lost one of their young braves.  He hadn't been seen for months and months and finally had begged the government to put up signs asking travelers to assist in looking for him.  I still didn't understand the joke when we came upon the sign that said, "Watch for Falling Rock." I kept a close eye out as we traveled for those poor lost Indian braves.

There are a lot of stories about Mac ... some I remember, some that others remember.  He was a character, though and I wish I'd known him differently than I did. But today I'm thankful for the things I do remember about him - both good and bad.  He's part of who I am and that's pretty cool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well SNAP! I learned a bit more about Mac today! What a great way to look at your memories of him. My memories are vague and few just like most. haha!