As Father’s Day approaches I’ve begun to see various tributes posted on social media. Not only are my friends reminiscing about their fathers, but also about their grandfathers. One such post invites the reader to share the favorite memory one has about his or her grandfather. And that is what made me think about the topic of this essay.
My paternal grandfather died before I was born. Grandfather Clarke, for I never knew him to have a “grandfather-ish” name, was a tall and handsome philanderer who my father had on a pedestal as high as the Empire State Building. I never knew, even as an adult, whether my father ever knew about the mistress his own father kept for years, a mistress who was not a secret to anyone except, perhaps, to my father. I have to admit, however, I would have liked to know him for in the few pictures I have seen of him, my grandfather Clarke was one handsome devil.
The grandfather I did know, although not as well as I wish I had, was my mother’s father, Charles LaFayette Cummings. Papa, as I called him, was a wonderful and kind man who had helped raise his six or seven younger siblings after his parents died. Foregoing higher education, Papa nevertheless supported not only those younger siblings, but also his own growing family. Eventually he became a successful salesman for Bryan Hosiery. I have vague memories of him bringing me “little girl stockings”, a gift which I found thrilling and oh so grown up. My favorite memory of Papa, however, is of walking with him down to his garden on a summer afternoon, Papa still in his suit pants and white shirt, now tieless and with shirt sleeves rolled up, and me carrying a basket to collect the day’s produce.
Although my Papa lived to the ripe age of 87, my memories of him are few. And for a very sad reason -Papa was only allowed in our home on his birthday..
Of course as a young child I was oblivious to this fact. It was only as I entered my teenage years that I began to question the obvious discrepancies in the way my Papa was treated versus how my father treated his own mother. Papa was persona non grata, while my grandmother Lucia practically lived with us, so often was she at our home. I never have figured out why my father treated his father-in-law the way he did, and in my family, where one never discussed unpleasant topics, no one ever told me.
When I think of my father now, and especially as Father’s Day approaches, I remember a man tormented by his own demons, a man from whom happiness fled, a man who, for reasons myriad and complex, was unable to accept life on life’s terms without either blaming others or pointing out their egregious faults – and I am saddened, for I know my father’s life could have been so much more had he chosen a different path. And had my father’s life been different, perhaps my Papa would have been welcome in our home and I would have an abundance of memories.