Remembering the Good Guys

The location for Ken and Kathy’s post awaked something in me — memories of two special men in my life but more on that in a minute. I suggested several locations for Ken and Kathy’s photo shoot and Kathy seemed drawn to the ones involving architecture … downtown Boise, the Bishop’s House, or the Capital Building were some of the suggestions I’d made, but it was Ken who came up with the suggestion that I knew was “the one.” He suggested the VA Hospital grounds at Ft. Boise (now officially called the VA Medical Center), but more specifically, the old homes behind the VA Hospital. It’s one street of beautiful columned homes on a narrow, slightly up-hill, slightly down-hill, one-way road with the homes on the right and parking, grass, or a view of the VA on the left. There are five or six homes tops that once housed Army Generals and doctors and now house HR, Social Services, or other administrative offices.

The reason I was excited was for a totally different reason than photography. The location moved me because my dad and grandpa (mom’s dad) had both worked there and both probably knew every inch of those grounds in their day. Grandpa was a crusty old guy with a lively past. Take for example that he had served in the Army in 1918, had been previously married with two children, and was 13 years older than my grandmother when they met. She was 18 and he was 31 when he proposed with a ring — a ring that he would supposedly lose in a poker game after her dad made her give it back. True love. Her father made her vow she would never see him again, supposedly even going so far as to lock her up for a while to help her see things more clearly. I guess she saw things as clearly as she wanted to, because she convinced her father she would stop seeing him only to see him on the sly (Grandma!) and one day running off to get married. It is said that her dad never spoke her name again. So sad. They married in 1921, had three boys and two girls (my mom is the cute Blondie — my aunt not born at this time), and moved from Ness City, Kansas to Idaho in 1937 purchasing a home soon after that would be the only home they ever lived in together.

Grandpa started working at the VA fairly soon after moving here. He started off in the kitchen, moved to the grounds as a guard and in his later years was posted at the guard-house. They retired him in 1960, presumably against his will, at the age of 70. He died in 1968 of kidney failure at the age of 78 after 47 years of marriage when I was 14. Most of the early photos I have of Grandpa has him all dressed up with a white shirt, suit and tie, and a cigarette clutched in his fingers (although the only way I remember him is in coveralls). Grandma was usually at his side in a pretty dress and heels often wearing a non-smile on her face. Life was no doubt hard in those days.

My childhood memories include lots of cousins playing in the big yard on holidays, dressing up in Grandma’s fancy old clothes, and eating lemon drops. Grandma was the disciplinarian and Grandpa was the softie who loved having us hang out with him in the yard and taking us to the Auction. I loved my turn at accompanying him to the Auction looking over all the junk eye-candy lying around and wondering which treasure he would take home and if I would get to keep something special. Sometimes I’d get real candy and a hot dog as the Auctioneer “hey bidder bid” away every last junky desirable morsel. Maybe we took something home, maybe we didn’t, but that was of no consequence because there was a side shed attached to the house filled with useless items so exciting that a kid could hardly contain it. I don’t recall Grandma being as excited. Never knew why.

Dad was a cook at the VA for most of the years we lived in Boise (we moved here in 1962 just before the start of my 3rd grade year) but lung cancer forced an early retirement and he died in 1981 at the age of 55 when I was 27 (the year before Megan was born). It had been a very long time since I had been on those hospital grounds. As a matter of fact I can only remember being there a handful of times growing up, and have only one remembrance of going to see my dad at work inside the kitchen. That seems particularly odd to me now in light of the fact that we’ve reached the era of the friendly work place, but that was then, and it was a government agency after all, and you didn’t have people traipsing in and out of your kitchen. Maybe they still don’t.

My dad in his work uniform standing by the hall mirrors that he won an award for suggesting. Notice the plaque on the wall — a sure sign of the times in more ways than one!

My dad grew up on a horse farm in my hometown of Ellwood City, PA amongst five rowdy brothers and one sister where he worked hard and played hard. With his help needed on the farm, he only acquired an 8th grade education but he was one of the smartest men I knew (particularly as I got older). At the age of 18 he enlisted in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and would be trained in Gowen Field in Boise where he eventually met my mom at the Grenada Movie Theatre. They fell in love and married in 1946, the summer of her graduating year, in Grandma and Grandpa’s back yard at the ages of 21 and 19 (on their shared birthdate). Several moves back and forth between Ellwood City and Boise would eventually land us here to stay.

Dad was not overtly demonstrative in affection but I always felt loved. He loved fishing more than breathing and it was a passion he pursued vigorously. He loved Elvis Presley and the man in black, Johnny Cash, carpentry (he built our house in PA), Rawhide, Laugh-In, shopping for the big family items (only because mom didn’t), Sunday drives, long distance driving, drive-in movies, and cheap steak, green beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy (several times a week). He loved holidays, particularly Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day creating some very unique memories for me. He was a neat-nik with a place for everything and everything in its place and it had best be there when he went looking for it. He had the most perfect cursive hand writing and zero tolerance for back talking (I even had my sisters crying for me one time and my sisters didn’t even like me!). He taught me honesty and integrity by his actions, and how to make the perfect grilled cheese and jelly sandwich (jelly was spread on top of the finished sandwich) until I learned in Jr. High that other people didn’t eat that. He combed his black hair back at all times, rolled his shirt sleeves up, never wore tennis shoes or shorts, and for most of his life, carried a pack of Camels, Kools, or Marlboro in his shirt pocket. He owned a brown suit and tie later in life that he wore at least twice that I know of — to one of my sister’s and my wedding. He did not attend church but grew up under the most beautiful Christian mother and later accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour on his death-bed. He was far from perfect and would be the first to tell you.

In writing, then reading this post back to myself, I realize I wrote it more for me than anyone else. Dads are important in a child’s life and while there were times I was scared of him, there were more things learned from him than anyone I know. He could do anything he set his mind to as my mom says. He was stubborn. He was a bit anal … remind you of anyone? He would have loved my kids and grandkids and I always felt a bit cheated that he wasn’t around during those early parenting years or when I needed something remodeled! My niece and nephew called him “Pap-Pap.” Cool name. With the exception of a few, those of you reading this never met my dad (or grandpa) and will share no sentiment, but my guess is while reading you might have thought of someone else in your life worth remembering … yes? Isn’t it interesting how a moment in time can take you back?

Megan - March 15, 2011 - 11:23 PM

Want to know a little secret? This is my FAVORITE post to date. I loved it- everything about it…and sadly, there’s so much I learned in this post!!! I had no idea Grandpa Queen was a cradle-robber! The picture of Grandpa Brown in the kitchen threw me for a loop- I can’t believe how much Matt looks like him there. It was fun to read of lemon-drop and auction childhood memories.
I can only imagine how much you must miss your Dad…even after all these years. I wish I could have met him. Someday. 😉

Kathy Jones - March 19, 2011 - 8:58 AM

Love this post! It made me feel nostalgic and although I never met your dad, I feel connected through your stories because you have such a great way of story-telling! The stories also reminded me of my own father in many ways. Thanks for sharing! - March 19, 2011 - 8:33 PM

My oldest sister wrote me an e-mail with these comments on this post. They are special and I appreciate her!
“My memories are in some ways the very same and others the exact opposite. I do not ever remember Dad saying the actual words – I love you – but I never doubted that he did. My special memories are after Nick. Nicole was less than one because she wasn’t walking and I walked into the kitchen and he was on his stomach on the floor making her laugh. I can very clearly remember thinking to myself – who is this fellow? I have always felt sorry for both of you that you didn’t get to meet Pap Pap on your own level with your kids. I do know that I was given a gift.

I don’t remember not liking you with the exception of having to go to the basement and getting you grape jelly and who knows if that was more than once. I was sad to read that you felt that way so SORRY many years later.

I also have good memories of both sets of grandparents. I remember Grandad as only wearing railroad pants, always with hard candy, which I hated and would never turn down his offer of a piece (and would turn the corner and spit out). I loved riding in his funny old car. I always thought that he took care of Gram. Not that he was perfect because we all know thats not true. I have happy memories of the aution but I know that only went once or maybe twice. I always knew that their house was tiny and so perfect in so many ways. I was always impressed even as a very small kid that we were all invited as a giant family. The garden was so important to her and we were allowed to run the paths, pick the berries, play in the wonderful smelly little room downstairs with the clothes and hats. I loved Easter dinner there. I always felt sorry for Gram when it was rainy or cold. Cousins are a special thing. This year at Christmas at your house my husband was reminded of that same magic watching the ladies, Charlie and MJ. It’s just special, crowed, noisy, estra messy, and special. With four, soon to be five and six.”

Becky Hamilton - March 22, 2011 - 12:59 PM

Mary – you have such a way with words. I can picture Grandpa and Uncle Kenny vividly in your story. My favorite story about your dad is that he used to throw 24 pennies out in the yard and tell you girls not to come in until you found them all. Problem was he would tell you he threw out 25. Always makes me smile. - March 22, 2011 - 1:01 PM

Are you serious? I didn’t know that story. That’s hilarious … can’t wait to play that on my grandkids one day! Thank you for commenting Becky.

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