A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy
My Grand Father was one of the most important people in my life. He was the first man I loved and was my life teacher. While other grandchildren called him Gramps or Granddaddy, I declared our loving attachment by providing him a designation of my choosing. Only I would call him, “Grand Father.”
He had little formal education. Instead, Grand Father had street smarts and tenacity. He was a Merchant Marine during the war, then a Merchant Seaman. He started from the lowest rungs of the hierarchy, bus boy, and rose to the level of Chief Stewart for international shipping companies.
When I was five years old, Grand Father taught me to read and write so we could correspond during the long months he was off to Hawaii, then Japan, then back again. His letters were filled with encouragement and the unconditional love only a Grand Father could bestow his “Little Girl.”
Whenever I was fearful I couldn’t accomplish something, and some adult was suggesting I give up, Grand Father would gently scold me in a letter (gently, because he knew I cried easily),
“ You don’t believe anything anyone else tells you. You are just as smart as everyone else, so you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Months at sea also meant months at home! Grand Father and I had an exclusive four-note whistle salutation. As I’d run through Nana’s kitchen asking where Grand Father was, I could hear his half of the greeting coming from outside. Out I’d run to the top of the steps. Stop. Catch my Breath. Then send my two notes. We’d continue the volley of whistling until I located him.
Once found, I’d instantly help with whatever task was at hand. When he’d be doing laundry, Grand Father would hand me an item of clothing from the washtub and I’d feed it through electric rollers which squeezed out excess water … before we hung it on the clothesline.
My habit was to push the hanky, sock, towel, etc., through the wringer too fast — which meant my fingers would be pulled in with the clothes and pinched between the rollers. Fortunately, the dangerous hand-eating thing would suddenly pop open with a loud onerous sound, and stop. Grand Father would patiently pat my smashed and reddened fingers, reminding me that I had to feed the beast slowly, carefully, and with attention not to get too close to the rollers.
I’m actually surprised I didn’t end up with gnarled, broken fingers, as inevitably five or six times in every wash cycle, I’d push something through without paying attention to impending danger… until: “Owwwww!” Pop! Loud onerous sound! And, stop! Grand Father would give me the patient warning again – and hand me another sock.
Words and actions of unconditional love and encouragement … Grand Father would laugh if he knew how I continue to act as though I can achieve “anything I put my mind to,” despite my fingers getting pinched on occasion.