Monday, January 7, 2008

And Then There Was Grandpa

I wrote about Grandma in one of my early blogs. But I've never told you about Grandpa. Grandpa died when I was 15 years old, so my memories are a little sketchier than they are of Grandma, who lived 26 years longer, long enough to get to know both of her great-grandsons.

Grandpa's name was Ivan Womack, but my mom tells me that his name, at birth, was Ivy Green Womack. Had I been around at the time, Grandpa would have had my vote of approval for changing to Ivan.

Grandpa was a baker, and I remember him wearing his flour-dusted, round-toed, black leather shoes, slacks that were a sort of a tiny black and white houndstooth pattern and held up with suspenders, his white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and his white baker's apron. He was tall and thin, and bald except for a fringe of hair "around the edge."

As a child, whenever we went to Grandma and Grandpa's apartment, my place was in his lap. While everyone else talked about boring grown-up things, Grandpa would entertain me with stories. They were wonderful, creative tales, sometimes about adventures of his childhood, sometimes about a voyage he made to some South Pacific island (Tahiti? Bali? I can't remember). What I wouldn't give to have a recording of some of those stories he spun. I think most of them had a kernel of truth to them, but I was pretty sure, even then, that they were being embellished by Grandpa's imagination.

Despite his vocation, Grandpa didn't much like sweets, but there were two kinds of candy that he would eat. One was hard peppermint, so I usually bought him a huge peppermint stick as a Christmas present. He would break it into small, bite-sized pieces and eat on it for weeks. The other candy he liked was the U-No Bar. (U-No Bars were chocolate coated bars with a truffle-like center that had ground almonds in it. You can actually still buy them - look here.) He preferred his U-No bars frozen, so usually kept one or two on hand in the freezer. He'd take a sharp knife and slice off just one bite, then re-wrap the rest of the bar in its silver wrapper and put it back into the freezer for another day.

Grandpa also often carried a little package of Sen-Sen. Sen-Sen was the original breath freshener mint, developed at the end of the 19th century. By the time I was a child, it was not common. In fact, I never knew anyone else who carried it; nor did I ever see it in any stores. I think, maybe, that Grandpa used it because he was a smoker. But every now and then he would give me one of those tiny black squares, barely more than 1/8 of an inch on a side, and I would suck on it. It had a potent taste - licorice? mint? tar? cough medicine? all of the above? - that I wasn't sure I liked, and yet I felt privileged to be asked to share Grandpa's Sen-Sen. I see that it is still available on-line, as well, right here. I don't think I'll be ordering any, though.

Although Grandpa's love for me was never in question, I can't ever remember getting a kiss from him. Instead, when we were about to leave Grandma and Grandpa's apartment, after a visit, he would put his lips against my cheek and squeak air between them, then nuzzle my cheek with his stiff whiskers, leaving me, every time, with a stubble burn. A stinging, red cheek was just part of being with Grandpa, and a sure sign that he loved me!

Grandpa was born in January of 1896, and died in March of 1964, after a very tough battle with cancer. He was only 68 years old.


Anonymous said...

My dad always carried Sen-Sen too. This was before they were packaged in little bags....this was in the tiney rectangular box that you would slide open and shake one or two Sen-Sens out the tiny hole and slide it back shut....THAT WAS PART OF THE FUN! I LOVED that tiny box. I always thought the flavor was a very potent licorice???

I hadn't thought about those in a long time!


Linda said...

Yes, I think Grandpa's was in a tin, too. And there was definitely a strong licorice component to them.

I always remember your dad coming to visit in Newberg, on some Sundays, and bringing goodies for my boys, just like he did for Nick and Lindsay. He was so sweet to them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he was always "the candy man" now matter hwere he went to church...and he loved your boys.

At his memorial, on the back table with the programs, we had a bowl of wrapped candies and a sign that invited everyone to have "one more piece of candy from Bill".

Thanks for remembering that!


Anonymous said...

Linda: again you have brought tears to my eyes with your story about Grandpa. He was a gentle, sweet man, and I never thought of him as a step-father, but a true Dad to me. I loved him so very much, and made sure I told him before he died that he certainly made a difference in my life, and I was going to miss him.