Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruno: A Bear of a Man, Reprise

Seem to be thinking quite a bit about my grandparents these days. With Father's Day approaching, I wanted to once again share a story about my grandfather.

His name was Bruno, German for "brown bear." A fitting name for a man tough as a grizzly, soft as a child's teddy.

Emigrating to the United States at age 12, Bruno found himself plunged into a new world and a different culture. Without knowing a single word of his new country's language, he managed to achieve all A's in school--except in his English class. He spoke of this years later, in now perfect English, with pride at his accomplishment and a twinge of disappointment at that one failure.

But education was a luxury for many families, especially immigrants, in the 1920s. He left school after the eighth grade, his carpenter father insisting boys his age must learn a trade. Bright and good with his hands, Bruno trained to be a machinist. A humble occupation, it didn't bring great wealth but ensured a decent enough living, and of that he remained proud. Decency--in a person's character and their work ethic--mattered much to Bruno.

If he'd been born wealthier and a half-century later, his calling would have been an engineer or a computer scientist. At a holiday gathering when he was about eighty, he quizzed my computer salesman brother-in-law.

"How are things at your shop?" (Every workplace was a "shop," whether the person worked in a factory, an office or out of their home.) He leaned forward, listening, as my brother-in-law fumbled through an explanation of the computer network sales business. Bruno nodded, his bushy gray eyebrows knitted together and his ever-alert blue eyes particularly intense.

"But now explain this to me," he said, in his legendary line of questioning of everything in life. "How exactly does a computer work?"

No one could satisfy his insatiable curiosity.

It was even more impossible to deter the man's determination.

A heart attack, when he was only in his forties, fortified his will to live. Damned if he'd let a bad heart get the best of him. That heart attack was Bruno's first and his last. He survived another forty years.

While he was in his sixties, the company for whom he worked more than thirty years folded. He lost not only his job but his entire pension. Self-pity or despair were never an option. Bruno simply persevered and found another job.

Years later, a horrific car crash left him with injuries that included several broken ribs and a pulverized face. (His jaw would be wired shut, rendering him unable to speak and on a liquid diet for weeks.) The day after the accident, he ignored the hospital staff's heeding and plodded down the hallway to the ICU to be by the side of my grandmother, who suffered a broken neck.

Bruno didn't believe in giving up on giving his all. That's what I remember most about my grandfather. Plus his exuberant bear hugs. And his misty-eyed, frequently repeated words, "I'm so proud of you kids."

I wish I would have, just once, said I was proud of him, too.

Bruno outlived his wife of sixty-two years, who never fully bounced back from that accident. He also outlived my father, whom he never called his son-in-law but always his son.

My dad died from cancer, at age 53, only four months after the car crash. (Ironically, while already scheduled for chemotherapy, he was the only one uninjured out of the vehicle's six passengers.) My father-in-law died just two years later--also at age 53--when my two sons were just babies.

Although he was their great-grandfather, Bruno is the only grandpa either of my now grown boys remember.

Bruno lived to a more-than-decent age of 89. He'd be 100 next month. He's been gone for more than ten years, yet I see his warmth and his fortitude alive still in my mother. I'd like to believe that I possess just a bit of both of those qualities, too. And when I look at my two sons, I'm certain I see fragments of their great-grandfather.

Yes, he was a Great Grandfather.

Happy Father's Day, Grandpa.

Any characteristics you wish a parent or grandparent passed down? What would you say to your grandparents now, if you had the chance? Can you please explain to us all how computers actually work?


  1. I wish I had my mother's mother's math genius and I wish I had my mother's step-father's joy of life and gentle patience. I wish I had my father's father's height.

    I'd tell them that I loved them all, so, so much. And I don't think anyone ever died of sitting on a public toilet seat, grandma, but I promise I'm still careful.

    Computers work at the sole whim of the Gremlin King. And 'lectricity.

  2. It has only been in the writing of my memoir that I've come to appreciate the many attributes and loves and strengths of my grandparents and extended family, particularly the women. The writing has been quite the growing-up process.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story (or, rather, stories), Sherry. I often hope that those who are no longer with us know how well they're remembered, how loved they still are, years and decades on.

    As for the computers .... (I hear crickets chirping.) And being as my husband is a techie and in charge of one company's entire technology department, you'd think I'd know better. It's all magic to me. I'm as stunned as anyone when the magic stops working.

  3. Sarah: After reading about your parents, I can imagine your grandparents were pretty wonderful too. Toilet seats and "plungerie"? Hmm. I'm sensing a theme here...

    Teri: You're absolutely right. Sometimes putting things into words helps you finally put them into perspective.

  4. I have my paternal grandmother's thirst for travel, although mine has yet to come to fruition.

    I have my maternal grandmother's love for her kids, whether born by her or not.

    I'll explain computers if you can explain how a human voice can travel over a wire, a landline, no less a freaking cell tower...

  5. Thanks again to my excellent writer daughter. You have his stick-to-it-ness and determination with your great writing.
    Happy 100th from all of us Bruno!

  6. Lyra: Take a little trip to Toledo and visit me anytime. No telephone science explanations guaranteed though.

    Not-So-Anonymous: Thanks, Mom.

  7. very nice.

    to one set of grandparents i would say thanks for your love of music (they played at a square dance hall up until their sixties).

    to my paternal grandfather i didn't know i'd say thank you for his looks (me and my son have a touch of his gesenhues face for sure).

    to my maternal grandfather i'd say thanks for loving motorcycles so much (we named our daughter after his favorite thing...harley)

    i still have a grandmother alive who is 94 and cooks for the whole family every sunday. every sunday i tell her thank you and give her a kiss. she thinks i'm saying thank you for lunch, but it's really for everything.

  8. Amy: Your 94-year-old grandmother? Is this the famed Oma from your website? She's internet-savvy at 94? Wow. Maybe SHE can tell us how computers work.

  9. no, oma is my mom. (grandmother to my kids)

    my 94-year old grandmother goes by Grandma Teddy.

  10. Sherry, what a wonderful tribute. Very moving. All of my grandparents lived in Ireland, two I never met - one dying when before my parents even met, one dying before I was born. The other two I met only briefly once or twice and I don't know much about any of them. Apparently my maternal grandmother was known for her style - I could use a bit of that.

  11. Amy: Ah, that makes more sense! I knew Oma meant grandmother though, so it threw me off for a moment.

    Downith: Now I can see why it's so important for you to take your children back to Canada regularly--so they can see your home and know the rest of their family. Very touching.

  12. Bruno sounds like he was a real peach. Love it.

    I've had access to both grandparents on my Dad's side... Grandma died about 5 years ago and Grandpa is still with us. But on my Mom's side, we lost both of them before the 1980s.

    My Grandpa was the Storyteller I've so often written about. He also played electric guitar. I would love to play him some Stevie Ray Vaughan, and other blues guitarists, just to see what he thinks. I'd also quiz him about the best way to hold a room when telling stories, although it's probably too late to worry about it... too many distractions. No one listens to stories at gatherings any more.

    My Grandma... I'd thank her for being an oasis of Pop Tarts, sugared cereal grapes and candy during all those years her daughter banned them from our house.

    I'd also thank her for the Beaver Coat. She used to have this lush fur coat made of beaver... it was the softest thing I've ever felt. We kids used to fight over who got to sit beside Grandma on car rides, just so we could snuggle in. Which I'm sure is why she always wore the coat when we were around.

  13. I didn't really know my grandparents. I think we all got our animal thing from my paternal grandpa. He acted as a local vet and saved many a pet and farm animal even though he wasn't schooled. Apparently, he brought home stray, starving horses and dogs all the time. We all have this weird affinity for fuzzy creatures.

  14. This is beautiful. It's wonderful that you have such great memories of your grandfather. I come from a long line of closed off people who didn't share much of themselves unless they were angry about something. I just can't find it in myself to romanticize them the least little bit this evening.

    I'm glad you reran this. I didn't see it before.

  15. Bluz: I always love your family stories, and remember a few about your grandparents. How wonderful that you still have one of them around.

    Deb: Aww. Your grandfather sounds like a man after my own heart. I've yet to bring home a stray horse though. You?

    Lisa: But that closed-off tradition clearly ends with you. From what I've read, you appear to be as warm and open with your children as anyone I know. Amen.

  16. First of all, I love the name Bruno. When I become a grandmother, I'm going to lobby for this name big time, subtly, of course.

    What a lovely tribute. I wish I had those kinds of things to say about my family. Sadly I only knew one grandparent and she was not a good woman. She outlived my mother, which is probably the biggest injustice of all. I can only hope her wickedness died with her.

  17. MSB: My grandfather bought his first new car when I was in high school. He gave his old one--an early sixties model Ford Fairlane--to my sisters and me. We named it Bruno. Closest he ever got to a namesake.

    And, rest assured, the only wickedness I detect in you is a wicked good eye.

  18. It was lovely to read this story about your grandfather when I've been missing my Dad and my grandparents so much lately. I wish I had my Dad's wisdom and ability to put things in perspective particularly when I'm trying to talk to my teenagers, especially my son. I often wish I could ask for his advice on how to handle the tough times. If I could talk to my grandparents now I would thank them for always making me feel incredibly loved and special. When I was young I would spend a week or two every summer with them, basking in their love and attention (I would NOT allow my Mom to send my brother too - he had to go a different week). If they were still living, I would dump all my responsibilities (husband? kids? who cares?!) and still spend my week or two with Grandpa and Grandma.

  19. Beth: Sounds like you have some similarly warm family memories. And what a great thing that would be--to spend a week with our grandparents now, with everything we've experienced and could share with them. When scientists finally come up with that time travel ship, let's both book a trip... Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!