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My Grandfather’s Granddaughter

November 12, 2009

I just went through a bunch of photos of my grandparents at Yellowstone in the 19-teens. They are a small part of a much larger set that I got when my grandmother died recently(ish.) I also have boxes of letters, someday I will do something with them.

But looking at these again, I am reminded again of how much I am like my grandfather. A man who was outwardly one of the happiest, bravest, smartest, gutsiest, lustiest, most passionately adventurous men you’d ever meet. On the inside, he was frightened, felt unloved, misunderstood and utterly out of place in a life that he created, but somehow didn’t seem to jibe with the life he meant to create.

My grandfather loved ALL of his grandchildren, for most of my life it was just us 5 girls. I always believed that he had a special spot for my cousin Shawn and I – because Shawn and I, like him, were (are) outwardly the theatrical ones, as he was. We were (are) lovers of theater, music, things that feel good, taste good, sound good. Sensory indulgence.

Speaking only for myself, when I started to realize what an intensely lusty person I am, how much I love things that engage my senses, that I always want to know how something will feel or taste, if it will give me joy or pain, fear or excitement, I recognized more and more of him in me. Especially when I was older and realized how alone it makes me feel.

He was always the person who told me I could do “it,” whatever it was. That I should let nothing stop me. That he would help me, catch me if I fall. And indeed, I always did, and he always did.

As an adult I see different things altogether – in both of us.

He was, as I’ve said, and amazing lover of life. What he needed and wanted out of life was very simple. He wanted great sex, great art, great music, great food, great booze, great cars. Not just great, the BEST. Top of the line, whatever it was. He wanted to feel very very alive, all the time. It was never a case of acquiring THINGS for him (though he did acquire many things,) it was a case of seeing what he could do – feel – with those things.

He fell in love with my grandmother, and fell hard. She was a great beauty, for sure. She was brilliant, driven, strong (or so it seemed.) She was the embodiment of what he loved in women. Something the Greeks would have sculpted. Top of the line.

For her part, he fit the bill too. He was gorgeous (look at the photos,) and would surely be a doctor like his father.

Problem was, she wanted a doctor. To be a doctor’s wife. Her script was not about how life made you feel, but how it looked. His was about how it felt. He never wanted to be a doctor.

Over the years he made a fairly substantial fortune. But not as a doctor. As a car dealer. He loved cars. To me, it looks like the obvious thing for him to do. Cars were so “like,” him.  They were about power and art and movement and technology – even about sex and women! The things that he loved. It seems like the perfect manifestation of everything he loved. But it was not good enough for her.

It is an over simplification to say this is why they grew into the cold and relatively loveless people that i knew. But it is a good metaphor. It didn’t matter that he had given her the world, quite literally, it only mattered that he never grew out of being the lusty young man that she married. He never grew up.

She never loved him for who he was, but rather what she wanted him to be. And he knew it. He never held back, he was very much the man he wanted to be, but suffered a lifetime of daily reminders that it wasn’t good enough. No matter what he did, he could not make her happy, and saw that as his great failure, and proof that who he was was not lovable. He was not loved for who he was, but tolerated for what he could provide.

My favorite memories with him are in fact perfect metaphors of his pain and isolation. Eventually, after years of being asked to “grow up,” he eventually had his own room in their homes. Not a bedroom, but a room overflowing with audio equipment – from reel-to-reels to CDs – books, plays, playboys, scotch and cigars. It was my favorite room. It was his domain, the one place in which the world around him looked like the world in his head. Where he was the person that he pictured himself being.

But this room was soundproof. He had to literally protect it from the woman he married. Hide it. He had to hide and protect the manifestation of who he was from the woman he married.

Until the day he died he would wine and dine the people in his life. He would buy great gifts, host dinner parties, take people on trips. In some ways I wonder if he wasn’t just trying to buy moments in which he felt like the person he wanted to be. But I know that he was one of the most generous people you’d ever meet.

I miss him. I am his grandaughter. Like him, I long to be loved for who I am. To be surrounded by people who want to know what things feel like, more so than what they look like. Who know that the only real power in any of us exists in our ability to openly share what’s inside of us, even when it’s hard.

Like him, I love sex, music, theater, art, cars, scotch (not cigars!)

Ultimately, I think he died lonely. He died, basically, from scotch and cigarettes. And I am glad that he did. He didn’t need to live any longer than he did, he was done. And in a life that was perpetually “denying” him the pleasures and validation that he wanted, I’m glad that he chose to fly in the face of logic, drink and smoke because it made him happy.

I wish, for all of us, that we can live lives that make us happy on the inside. That make us feel like we are the people we want to be, living the life that WE want to live. Not living for what it looks like to others. I don’t know how I will die, but I hope that I die from something that I love.

I miss him. There are so many times I’ve wanted to call him. There are people in my life who remind me of him, who I love, who he would love, who would love him. I wish I could share them with each other.

But the best I can do is share me. I am so much like him. And like him, I promise to stay true to who I am, even though, more often than not, I feel like it frightens people and makes me more alone, not less. But Papa Jim, I will not lock it away. I will live outloud in a way that you couldn’t. The small handful of people who really know the depth of me, and love me for it, are worth everything else. And you taught me how to let them in, because you showed me the pain of locking it out, and I don’t want that.

I love you.

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