I had a wonderful group of friends in high school. We stayed close all of our lives, and now some of our lives have even ended. Still, this group of friends, we all agreed, helped us to understand who we were, to define ourselves. Tonight, I want to go back to 1955 and try to recapture our youthful sense of fun with a couple of stories. We were all disposed to pranks. Mariam and I were the worst, followed quickly thereafter by Dee and Willard. Let me tell you about a couple of the pranks, so you can get the idea. One prank was spontaneous and kind of simple and straightforward, and the other one was complex and planned out.
Today—October 22, 2014—is the occasion of two significant anniversaries for me. It is the 104th anniversary of the birth of my father, Fernand Andris. It is also the 46th anniversary of my successfully giving up smoking tobacco. Also, it is no accident that these anniversaries occur on the same day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my maternal grandmother for the last few days. I think maybe I will write a eulogy for her. I’ve already written a lot of what my mom told me about Clara Ida Noe Sullivan in my genealogy website. I’ve tried to be objective about things there. But I want this to be a eulogy from a loving grandson to the only grandparent he ever knew—and incidentally, a grandmother whose eulogy from her daughter (my mom) you wouldn’t want to read.
I ran away to my grandmother, Clara’s house when I was five years old. I didn’t like the way things were going up on Quarry Street, so I packed my suitcase, announced my departure and designated destination, and marched the two blocks down the steep hill and the three more down Greene Street to the rooming house she was minding for my dad, which was across the street from my elementary school. I don’t really remember the details—this is one of mom’s stories—but it must be clear that I felt really comfortable with and trusted Clara.
My heart is a bit heavier today with the passing of Bea Arthur, who starred in two television series, Maude and Golden Girls. Bea played the part of Dorthy Zbornak on Golden Girls. She was preceded in death by her Golden Girls co-star, Estelle Getty, last year. I absolutely adored Golden Girls when it came out, and once in a while, I still will search for old episodes of that show on cable.
What is it about the characters in these fictionalized TV series that grabs our hearts so much? Part of the genius of writing a successful character part is that the character taps and reaffirms some part of ourselves. I love ALL of the characters on Golden Girls: dopey-headed Rose (Betty White), who goes on and on with inane stories of her Norwegian family in Minnesota, slutty and superficial Blanch (Rue McClanahan), who’s got to have every man who comes her way, and Dorothy’s Sicilian mom, Sophia (Estelle Getty), full of wise-cracks, good meals and phony wisdom. Certainly, I identify with them all. God knows I have bored many people with stories of my Belgian, German and Irish ancestry. I did spend about 10 years “playing the field,” which according to some of my more prudish or jealous friends, put me in a slutty category. And God do I love to cook and dispense cornball wisdom!
Earlier in my visit to take care of mom in Marietta, Ohio, I wrote of her memory of dad’s ball playing back when she was 18 and he was 21, and also of what my brother remembers of her tales of this era. But as so often has happened with my mother’s stories of the past, the image of my fast pitch softball-playing dad hung in my mind like a virtual reality simulation. And THAT led me, the other day, to stop in to the local genealogy library in search of corroboration.
I’m here in Marietta, Ohio, with Stephen caring for my 94 year old mother for a week while my sister and her husband go on a well-deserved vacation. Mom now needs more or less constant supervision, and it is particularly hard for her, because she has been so active and independent all her life. Still, it’s amazing to see this very intelligent person operate in this new environment. She can’t see much any more, but we can work a crossword puzzle together, and she gets more of the words than I do.