Friday, December 26, 2014

Requiem Part Two: Bert

The grandparent who passed next was Bert. This seems a strange way to describe him, and it's not really pertinent to anything at all except what other way to order these in a set of posts brought on by the wham-bam style of deaths of the last two? The grandparent I was the least close to was Bert, my dad's dad. we're gonna get really personal here, so your warning has been given to back off now if you like themacinator in dry, witty doses! Bert was a man of a certain generation and a certain generation, and, I think, a certain personality. I was the first grandkid, and I think that, knowing my dad like I do now, he wasn't going to start learning how to get in touch with his feelings or how to use words just because I came along!

That said, he was a great grandfather in his own way. It's not his fault he didn't particularly like small children- I don't particularly like small children, either! We called Jackie and Bert "Jackie" and "Bert" because I was born when they were still young- in their 50s- which now seems impossibly young to be having grandchildren, even though I know some people have them in their 30s. The way I remember it, Jackie felt too young to be a grandmother, so first names it was. But part of me says it was Bert, too. Maybe this is because near the end, when he had Alzheimer's and became incredibly sweet, he said a couple of times, "why don't you call me Grandpa?" He also asked for more hugs.

Jackie and Bert lived in a low slung ranch house down a steep brick driveway just over the line into Bel Air from Grandma and Grandpa. This was another thing that the two sets had in common- they were both wealthy, though to differing degrees. They were also wealthy in a way that never actually gave me the sense of just how much money they had. I didn't know what Bel Air meant until the Fresh Prince came along- the house was the same size, I think, as Grandma and Grandpa's house in Westwood, and there was no discussion of what cost what. It just was. Bert wore sweaters that I always thought were quite ugly, but it turns out that they were some fancy designer. Things just were of a certain quality. Maybe this is really what privilege is: not even knowing how fancy everything is? On the other hand, there was no sense of snobbery, of my friends not being good enough, of me not being good enough. They just lived nicely. (This is my version of history, don't forget- others may have totally different interpretations.) We ate in the kitchen. The bon bons that we ate were Bert's favorite- the little frozen ice cream ones with a thin layer of chocolate- not rich people's bon bons, but the ones you can get at 7-11. His favorite restaurant was In 'n Out. He owned gas stations when my dad was growing up and did a lot of maintenance at the apartments that they owned.

One of the things I liked best about Jackie and Bert's house was Bert's office. I'm not sure we were really allowed in there much, but I just have such a strong memory of that place- or maybe I just have a memory of my house and feel like it was actually Bert's office. There were papers EVERYWHERE. I definitely think my slobbery (not snobbery) comes from him. The man sure knew how to make a mess! Jackie and Bert also had webTV- early internet that you used through the TV. I remember doing this in his office, though it seems to me that Jackie was much more technological than him. Memory is fallible.

There's also a story of making brownies or fudge and then one of us- me or my sister- I don't know now, I hope it was me- saying "I no sharing." He loved that. Maybe this sweet tooth is not just from Grandma- Bert also loved Snickers straight out of the freezer. When they developed those Snickers ice cream bars, you could find those in the freezer, too. Another famous Bert story is that, on road trips with his 3 kids in the car, all it took to get them to behave was for Jackie to turn to him and say "Bert, HIT those kids!" I don't believe that Bert ever hit anyone (please, no one disabuse me of that notion!) but the phrase stuck with all of the generations.

Bert loved animals. He gave me all of the James Herriot books- whenever he'd see one, he'd buy it and send it to me. He would tell stories of the dogs he had had. When I was growing up, there were no dogs at the house- too much trouble, or Jackie didn't like them (which is funny, because later, Jackie loved her dogs.) He especially loved huskies. When he was starting to get sick, and even before, when they'd come and visit Oakland, we'd go for walks at Point Isabel, the giant dog park near us. We'd take Kozi and he would just walk and smile at all of the dogs. I think that I got my love from him, even though I didn't know it at the time, since I didn't grow up with animals. He wasn't a particularly soft guy, and I didn't really get to see him around the animals, but it was in him. I think of him a lot when I start to wonder about how I fell into this. I have lots of memories of him sitting in the bedroom watching the horse races.

Jackie and Bert went to the Olympics every four years- then my dad started going, then my sister as well. I got to share baseball with Bert. My dad and I went on a bus tour once of baseball stadiums, and another time Bert came with us. (Is that right? Were there two?) There is a picture of us on the field at the old Phillies stadium that I'll post if I can find it. He loved sports. Of all my grandparents, he was the only one. Bert and I went together to the only World Series game that I've been to- A's v. Reds. We sat in the back row in the second to last section in right field, before there were tarps or Mount Davis. I show people that section all the time. Dad just this season told me the story- apparently he had two tickets to each game, and he and Bert went to one and Bert told him he was going to another. So off we went, no dad. I must have been 9. Unless it was the Dodger's world series, which makes more sense, in which case I was 7. I don't remember the game, just going with my grandfather and sitting in that scary back row.

Bert got easier to be around- less gruff and distant- as I got older, and I think that this is true of his time with my sister and my younger cousin as well. He loved to joke about young blondes- as he got older, the dream lady got younger. It was always funny, but as I think about it, it doesn't seem funny. As far as I know, he was a wonderful, loyal husband. I don't remember how long he had Alzheimer's for- 5 years? 10 years? He had a minor stroke- so minor that they couldn't find it on the scans, but he started mixing up numbers and not feeling himself. His golf game suffered. The many loved his golf. I wonder, now, if he was any good at it? I wonder how a man with shaky hands (the essential tremors run in the family) could be good at golf! Jackie and Bert got a dog, Pepi, a miniature schanuzer. She was lovely. They were terrified that she would get out and get hit by a car, and, sadly, she did. Their yard wasn't fenced due, I'm guessing, to that steep brick driveway. So Jackie got another rescue miniature schanuzer and named it Pepi. Bert must have had Alzheimer's by then. I don't think that he knew this was a new Pepi. By the end of Pepi 2's life, I don't think Jackie remembered, either, though her memory was fine. Everyone is the center of their own novel. Regardless, Bert loved that dog/those dogs.

At some point, Jackie realized it was time to sell their house and move somewhere less isolated. This must have been near the beginning of Bert's illness. They moved to a fancy condo on Wilshire- even I could tell this one was fancy. Bert wasn't there too long before he was moved to a full time care facility (also fancy), and I don't think he was there too long before he died. Alzheimer's is terrible. All of us on that side are terrified of it. Bert's sister had it, and he was terrified of it. The jokes we make about it aren't really funny. They're hiding the terror. He starved to death- the body forgets how to swallow.

After he died, I realized that many of the photographs in his house were ones he had taken. Why hadn't we talked about this earlier? Jackie gave me some of his cameras. He had lovely (and heavy) macro and micro lenses and fixed focal length lenses- my favorite. I wish we had talked about his travels to Africa and Guatemala where he took incredible pictures. The way he saw things- he must really have seen them, like seen like a photographer. Framed them with his mind and his eyes. He used to do a sort of preprocessing of the negatives- I found ones where he had sort of written instructions on them to have the shop alter things- I'm not sure how it worked. I never knew this about him.

After Bert died, Jackie kept his ashes in an urn. She talked about him and the urn, him- the new, ashes form of him- at least once a visit. I think she probably talked to him. We aren't really spiritual people. But every time I went, I did look at the urn. Yesterday I wondered where we'll put Bert, and how we'll make sure Jackie and Bert stay together. She'd want to be near that urn.


mamagotcha said...

My dad sounds a lot like Bert... and he gave me all the Herriot books, too. Alzheimers is a hell of a way to go, I'm so sorry that it hit him.