Copyright 2005 by Cody Grant
Families and family stories share one bond, they are all unique. A few can be similar and some are models many aim for. A minority fall off the edge of the world and become headlines on news stories. Unlike mathematics none work out as absolutes, and so none can be cited as models, which the majority aspire
Having read several family stories over time, stories filled with interaction of members, I realized my own family, which I once believed to be hanging on to the rim of odd, wasn't quite knocking on the door of the Addams family, although many times it could have been mistaken for the group. However my family’s saving grace, well we didn't own a bat!
All this line of thought popped out of the mist of recall as I drove a rental auto, a right hand drive auto, down the A-1 road in Scotland toward the small town of my birth, the town of Berwick. The road itself was simply called The North Road during W.W.2, to "thwart" the Nazis, it was explained to me as a child when the A-1 disappeared from signs of the day.
Having a clear highway ahead, and clear weather, I began to play the old memory game: What is the very first memory I could remember? From that child's game I almost tripped over the seeming innocuous decision, made in 1936, which was to shape my life forever. The decision, fostered by the onset of The Great Depression, had been made by my father. A decision that has consequences to this day. I was five years old at the time, my brother, George, two years older.
The decision, which turned into a disaster for brother George and I in 1936, stemmed from two factors. One, The Great Depression, and two, the medical deterioration of our mother's health. Neither of us was privy to exactly what ailed mother at that time nor any decision regarding changes in the family lifestyle. We only suffered the result of the adult decision, a separation that would affect our brotherly mold for the rest of our lives.
The scope of change in the few sentences orated by our dad, the tone of the words from the cold disciplinarian, were understood although the long-term consequences were never imagined. My brother George was to leave our small family setting and be bussed to the town where our paternal grandmother lived. He was to live at her house and be raised there. Our mother would be spending a great deal of time in the hospital and, consequently, couldn't take care of the house, or her sons in the future.
The chill of change ingrained on my young mind. George and I weren't alike in most respects but he was there to bounce stuff off. Additionally, it swept into my mushy thoughts that now my bumper, my barrier between disciplinarian `Hitler' and me would be gone. In a short while my loving and lovable mother, plus my older brother were to be taken away from me. I remember staring down at the linoleum at my feet as that information was provided and absorbed. Minute scratches on the surface of the dark linoleum pattern appeared magnified and unsightly. The whole world and I were in one contagious mess.
The 1930's were hard times, sure, and our family unit lived with the reality of week-to-week poverty. There was no family auto, no telephone, no television set in the living room, no bank account, and even a hot bath was rationed to Saturday nights only. George and I shared hand-me-down clothes, most donated by two uncles on mom's side, though some came from a church group. And now the family was to be split up, that was a more sobering thought. I could sense the omen of loneliness, my world would change now. And though I couldn't see the horizon I already knew the first day my mother was taken to the hospital my world would become devoid of childish laughter, a mothers guidance or care, compassion or spirit.
It’s difficult to place real events in line following the separation of brothers at such an early age. The cause is most likely due to the attention span of young people, plus in my circumstance, the law of the disciplinarian. New hours of house duty sprang up like weeds in a flowerbed and demanded concentration to avoid retribution. Not that dad ever used his physical strength to ensure compliance. Words, scowls and additional temporary restrictions were trotted out if his version of the Ten Commandments were bent or broken.
Such was the case the Saturday evening I was given permission to accompany my classroom pal, Tucker, to visit the carnival that came to our small border town every year. I was instructed, with a wag of a finger, plus the usual scowl, to be home by 11 PM. I was nine years old then. Under poverty circumstances, neither Tucker nor I had any money and didn't own a watch. Anyway we just wanted to hear the music, be surrounded by the `glitz' of the carnival and watch adults play some games.
It appears that having fun, especially when occasions are rare, that time has the uncanny ability to speed ahead. After some time running around the carnival, watching people try to place rings around objects on a table and the like, I inquired of an adult as to the time. I was informed it was just after 11 PM. Since even at my fastest running speed it would take some 20 minutes to reach the house I realized I was about to break a commandment, and had ignored the wagging finger of Hitler!
The sky was black and the temperature quite cool when I arrived home. The house was black as well, no lights showed. I rapped on the door and waited for my fate to arrive. Nothing changed so I rapped on the door again, louder. I repeated the procedure a third time after which my young mind flashed me a picture of a large wagging finger. So I went around to the rear of the house, to the outdoor coal storage locker, climbed onto some empty coal sacks and tried to keep warm and nap. Neither was accomplished. However I did see a dawn break before I heard a noise in the kitchen behind the coal locker. With stiff legs I went around the side of the house and knocked on the door. It opened and there stood a man with a little grin on his face. Waving me inside this person who was reported to be my father stated: "You didn't make it home by 11 PM." That was all.
George never had to deal with stuff like that! Anyway it was an event that shaped my family images forever. Quickly I became molded into the shape of a mother around the house, cleaning and getting the fire going when I arrived home from school, peeling potatoes for an evening meal, things like that, all the while still a boy wearing short pants. Tucker came around a few times after school and even helped clean out the fireplace, bring in firewood to get the fire going sometimes while I got the coal. He even helped dig up some new potatoes from the vegetable garden out back, set the table, slice bread and little things like that. But eventually Tucker quit asking me at school what we would do once we got home. He knew my dad; he knew I would always have house chores. If you look at it this way my mom's near constant residence at the hospital affected Tucker's life as well! Still Tucker remained a friend at school. And on my second trip home after retirement I actually did find Tucker living in the very small town called Selkirk, toward the west coast of Scotland.
During the early days of transition I was aware brother George was cozily ensconced in the lap of grandma who allowed him to do things lads do while being cared for in every respect. And George never did volunteer to show up at dad’s house weekends to help out, nothing like that. The shape and feel of our kinship crumbled into the dust.
From that time forward I have never been surprised or taken aback when I've been the recipient of negative news. The landmark decision that changed my life, beginning at age five, also changed my acceptance that I belonged in a family. And from that day I never asked for anything, clothes, shoes, schoolbooks, even food. I accepted what I was given solemnly.
With a clear recall now I can say I was never given a birthday party and never heard my father say on any day that he loved me. But most importantly, I began to feel alone.
Anyway here I was, a lifetime later, driving toward the walled town of Berwick, my hometown. The old town sits on the border between Scotland and England. However I hadn't flown from America to walk old streets in a nostalgic fog. No, my hometown was to serve as my first waypoint on this quest I had undertaken, to locate a lost brother. Lost since I wrote him twice in the summer of 1964 and did not receive a reply. I didn't write anymore, nor did George write me from England, where he had met and married an English woman in 1953. I figured the old town was the logical place to begin this investigation.
On the northern rim of the town, as the main A-1 meshed into the main road through it, sits the cemetery in which most locals are interred. Among the many is my mother's grave. This was to be my first stop. A mother's grave is an irresistible magnet, a special place which the nuclear family visit when an opportunity presents itself.
Directly across the main A-1 road from the actual gravesite of my mother sits the house of my youth, and last seen at age 10 years when I went to live in the city of Edinburgh. So the house would be my second stop, just to take a couple of snapshots up close. My mind was all set to mix the old with the present as the rental car came to the gates of the town's graveyard.
Mom died when I was 10 years old (of rheumatic fever I learned much later). By then George was 12 years old and a brother in name only. He and I did meet and spend that dark funeral day together. Most of that occasion was somber and shared with uncles and aunts from mom's family, who lived in another town across the river. Actually, following the funeral, George and I only met on special occasions, such as Christmas Day and New Years. This was due mainly to the distance between the towns we lived in. Having no telephone and no auto in the family cemented our division. So we grew up as virtual strangers.
Naturally I hadn't made the journey from California to Scotland with the sole goal of taking a few snapshots of a cut-stone house or standing at the very spot I stood when 10 years old watching my mother's coffin lowered into the cold, rich-black soil. This day, this afternoon was to be used to renew memories, to actually see my mother's resting place one last time, to personally take a few snapshots that I could carry home to California and later view from my scrapbook of the way things were—in the beginning.
The weather was cool, the sky pasty-gray that first trip day. Perhaps it wasn't strange at all that my mother's grave didn't appear to be located where I remembered it. Other grave markers had joined around that patch of green, a silent club of sentinels standing before the gates of eternity. However after a lifetime of viewing many corners of this living planet my eyes were not able to rest on my mother's headstone without a visual search around the area. Then I felt a renewal of spirit, a reward that spanned years of remembrance as my eyes caught the gray-blue granite marker.
After focusing on each of the chiseled three names which heralded to all the person who rested in the small piece of good earth I noted for the first time my mother's headstone faced across the A-1 road, directly at the house my mother had called her own.
I certainly would remember that as I snapped several pictures of the tiny plot of land and the name etched so clearly on the granite. Time had changed her sons face but the name on the headstone might well have been chiseled there that very morning.
Since I realized this would probably be the final time I would stand in front of mothers grave I thought of all the places I had traveled since 1941, of the long loop of time that had brought me back to this spot. I wondered about fate, and I wondered if mom would approve of how I had lived my life.
From the day mother had been taken from the house and began her long hospital stay dad and I walked into town two evenings a week to visit her in hospital. I praise my dad for his dedication about that. On a Sunday it was a twofor, which means we attended church at 11 AM and following the church service swung over to visit mom on Sunday afternoons. I can't recall seeing George at our mother’s bedside at the hospital. Certainly he never walked with dad and I those two evenings a week. That's how things turned out from that adult decision to separate George and I. And I never did inquire of Hitler why George didn't visit mom, or come home from school to light the fire and peel potatoes. In truth I seldom had time or the feeling to think of George as a missing brother at all.
I can't pen how George thought of our separation. In fact we seldom saw each other for weeks at a time. And those gaps in time were sufficient to alter our recognition as brothers to that of familiar acquaintance. We now were divorced in every respect.
After my mothers death my dad had me packaged up and sent to live in Edinburgh, some 50 miles north to live with an `aunt.' That outgoing lady wasn't a relative at all but a woman who had been a patient in a hospital bed next to my mom and the two had become fast friends. Mr. & Mrs. R. had two sons, one a year older, the other a year younger than I. The family treated me as one of their own and I fitted in like a glove. I was happy for the first time in my life. I was all of 10 years old.
World War 2 came and went. If memory serves George and I met twice during that period. By 1949 George was drafted into the Army. When my invitation arrived from the government they had me enter the Air Force. Not one letter was exchanged between we brothers, in my case simply because I hadn't been given George's army address!
Following my service in the Air Force and college, work became available at the city airport, prior to the Christmas season. I claimed a position that was pointed out to me as a step to a career in aviation management. But there was a personal mission I had to undertake before I set off into a career or a domestic life of my own.
An idea, a nagging feeling had been bothering me for some time and it was now or never to carry out my plan to cauterize my earlier life. So some five months later, I set off on a journey home. I had a loose end to take care of, a mission to conduct.
The man who had quickly disposed of his son years ago ushered me into his house. I refused coffee and an armchair by a fire. My target was the living room table. On to its surface I emptied a pocket stuffed with cash then pointed to the pile. I cleared the furrow on my fathers brow by stating the money was payback for the cash he had been forced to expend on me when I was a tyke. I then left the house and walked on down the road without a glance backward. I never saw my father again.
The picture of my dad, of George, my hometown, my life before the integration of city life and a family who were wonderful and understanding, faded and the gap of separation between George and I continued for years. During this period Dad was married again, and George got married while in the army. I found out about these events long afterward. No notice or invitation to the wedding ceremonies was ever received by me. We may as well have lived on different planets.
I said my goodbyes to the family who had accepted me and raised me as one of their own at ten years of age and left Scotland in 1954. After an ocean voyage, in steerage class, and having a walk around the dock area of New York, I boarded a train and arrived in a suburb of Detroit, where I knew a friend of a friend.
I moved several times and eventually enjoyed an analyst/administrative career with the Port of San Diego, and found a comfortable home in a northern suburb of the city. Then came retirement, and time for an adventure I had thought of for some time, a voyage of discovery. So a safari was mounted with the express purpose of hunting for breadcrumbs, to find a trail, which would lead me to my brother, or at least discover what had become of him. I was to fly to Glasgow, Scotland, rent a car, then drive to my hometown. There I would visit my mothers grave then begin my search for my brother.
It was a stroke of luck I decided to start my trek at the house of my youth, my dad’s house. In my thoughts I was aware that my dad would have died years earlier, however the people now living in the house may provide some information of what happened to the family.
The rental car took me to the house once known as my prison of gloom and doom, an unhappy place. I stood in front of a familiar building. From the sidewalk, alterations in windows and front door were noted. Some changes had to be expected, I convinced myself, as I took some snapshots. Then I felt the moment had come, all my senses transported me to a world that had been real in another time. I walked up the path and stood in front of the dark green door. I had done exactly that so many times coming home from school.
A hesitation, then I knocked at the door. A man appeared, a stranger opened the door. I explained my purpose, providing the names of my dad and brother. The man called over his shoulder: "Pam."
A woman with gray hair appeared at the door. She looked at me a few moments then her eyes broke some type of memory code. She edged the man next to her aside and reached for me and called my name. My gamble had paid off.
The woman, Pam, turned out to be the widow of my dad, my stepmother, and the man who had answered the door was her second husband. Not only that, Pam was in contact with brother George who had relocated to Tampa, Florida on his retirement. Pam provided his telephone number. And a bonus surprise this day, I learned brother George was in England visiting his, now, ex-wife and two sons in Blackpool.
Pam had recognized me from an old photograph I had sent to my dad, along with military insurance papers, years ago, plus an equally dated snapshot sent requesting information on the address of George after he left the service. Of course there was one clue, a trigger. Pam had heard me ask for my dad and George by name at the door when her husband opened it and I explained my purpose for being there. Still it was a lucky day. The very day I had landed in Scotland I had found my brother.
From this chance encounter with my stepmother I dialed the provided telephone number of my brother. Amazingly when he did get to speak with me George didn't seem to have much to say. The fast telephone call reminded me George still suffers from tunnel vision, or lacked imagination, as he did forty-one years ago. And so the telephone exchange after forty-one years only lasted a few minutes. I believe I spent most of that short period listening to the tone and accent of my brother’s voice! Time and curiosity would have to be spooned out slowly. Still George did provide his address and an invitation to his place in Florida.
So old Dodo is alive and well and living in retirement in Florida. We have met several times since that first telephone call and reviewed two lifetimes. However as can be expected we are still not `brothers.' The huge gap of boyhood experiences following our separation in the forming years can never be overcome by memories or talks of the `old days.' And yet we are closer now as brothers than we were as wide eyed boys.
Memories have been exchanged and jogged into near conformity to match personal archives. What could be built on has been taken advantage of, while darker times have been allowed to slip into the past forever. Two years of age separated us however my older brother never seemed `tuned in.' In fact that two year gap was never bridged, not really. George never sat on the end of my bed and chatted. We just never had kid stuff in common.
True, some recall has been manipulated now to
smooth once held opposing views, items that children believe are
earth shaking at the time. A time when the world is a formidable
place to see and challenge. And a time when the future is really the
future, with all the pitfalls, all the wonder of a lifetime.
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Cody's Story List and Biography