When I was a kid, often times I would spend New Year’s Eve with my grandpa Hank, or Hankie as I called him. My parents usually were at a party, so my bachelor grandpa would hang out with me; an only child. Now, technically Hankie wasn’t my ‘real’ grandpa, rather a family friend who showed up at the hospital when my single (at the time) mom gave birth to me and had no ride home.
Hankie offered up his Buick, but not before he spied me through the glass while I lay in the nursery, unaware that one of my greatest teachers, supporters and loves was peering in at my scrunched little face.
As the years went by, he often baby sat me, while my mom and my step dad worked. I had lots of afternoons listening to Vin Scully on the radio, while the delicious aroma of home-made stew wafted through the little house Hankie lived in. He taught me how to pound a nail and saw a piece of wood. He bought me a little mouse (Charlie!) and built a fabulous hutch for him. He taught me how to type…(67 words per minute!), he bought me National Geographic Society subscriptions and he taught me how to bowl. I still have my custom bag, shoes and ball! He was a crack bowler and had bowled numerous perfect games.
He smoked like a chimney, had grown up in abject poverty in Wisconsin and was one of twelve kids all relinquished to an orphanage because his father died and his mom couldn’t take care of all the kids. He remained close with the siblings that were still alive, especially his one brother Esko. Esko at some point came to live with Hankie and the three of us would often spend the weekends together, listening to baseball, cooking and feeding the squirrels. Looking back, it is kind of weird that this little chubby girl was befriended by these two elderly bachelor brothers, but there ya go.
Hankie was in the Navy during WW2. I wish I had been more curious about his service. I just knew he was a soldier at one point. I saw the pictures!! At the end of his life, he ended up back in Fon du Lac Wisconsin. Some of his siblings were still there. He ha developed emphysema from years of smoking and working at Rocketdyne where he worked on the assembly line building space shuttles and airplanes. He died in the VA hospital, but not before he got to see pictures of my first-born. I wish I could have seen them together. What a pair they would have been.
So, I started this post to reminisce about my New Years Eve tradition that I started with Hank and ended up writing small tribute to him. I am very ADD, let’s face it. Anyway the tradition goes that after eating a full meal and getting to stay up until midnight, we would watch Guy Lombardo play Auld Lang Syne (I am really showing my age here!). We would bang on pots and pans, but most important we would open the back door wide and open the front door wide. We would stand at the front door and welcome in the new year, then run to the back door and say good bye to the old year. I thought it was always fitting tribute to the past and the future. I continue it until this day.
It just goes to show you that old acquaintances should not be forgot and Hankie was much more than an acquaintance. He was a grandfather with a capital G.