Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The General

These crab pots and that flag live down Onemo at the public landing.

Today is Veterans Day which has little to do with crab pots but does have a little something to do with the flag. Based on my proclivity for rambling, however, by the time this post is over with I'm liable to have linked crab pots with veterans, so let's not rule out a connection just yet.

My paternal grandfather was known as The General in Mathews County where he retired, but his grandchildren called him Gus. Both names were not exactly on the mark - he was a Brigadier General and his first name was Gustave. (Hence my mother's hesitation at awarding her goose that name. However, both had a Take Charge Attitude, so she acquiesced. The family name lives on in a fiery-tempered goose with his own Facebook page.)

Gus graduated from West Point in 1920 and was stationed everywhere from San Francisco to the Phillipines. I have pictures of him on Corregidor in 1929 and the German freighter Kulmerland off Singapore in 1930. There are stories of him rubbing elbows with This President or That Very Important Person, and he certainly had a long list of impressive military accomplishments.

But what I remember about Gus doesn't involve his career, which he rarely referenced. What I remember is how he called us his Vikings. (Probably because we were blond-haired kids who ran amok like savages. No offense to any present-day Vikings out there, but they did have a reputation for destruction. On the other hand, they were excellent explorers and navigators who later established a successful football franchise in Minnesota.)

Ordinarily an aloof man, he greeted his grandchildren with bear hugs whenever we saw him. His military career prevented him from seeing his own 3 boys grow up, so as if making up for lost time he cherished every visit. In later years, he'd tear up after hugging us goodbye, even though we were only going next door. Just next door.

What I appreciate most about Gus, though, were the life lessons he instilled in his grandchildren. Refusing to sit still during his retirement, he started a daffodil farm and hired us as his farm hands every spring. Although the work was hard, the rewards have lasted a life time.

After living all over the world, Gus retired to bucolic Mathews County in 1954. If not for him, I wouldn't know this peaceful paradise. Impressive military career notwithstanding, Gus knew and appreciated the gifts that abound in this charming coastal community, and he understood the importance and beauty of connecting with the natural world.

He was a very wise man.

p.s. Regarding crab pots and their relevance to Veterans Day, here's the connection: Without my grandfather--the veteran--I wouldn't live in Mathews, which has a history of watermen--who use crab pots. See?

p.s.s.t. Chesapeake Bay Viking has a certain ring to it.

p.q.r.s. What do you remember about your grandfather(s), assuming you knew him/them?


ghostless said...

My grandfather was a short firey little Italian who always smelled of cigar smoke. He would pull me into his lap and tell me stories about his horses while I played with an ivory carved horsehead on a gold watch chain. He is the reason I have such a passion for horses....and such a delightful temper (not directed at horses of course!) This year my niece turned 40, not having any children of my own, I passed that beloved Ivory horsehead on to her.

Mrs F with 4 said...

Did you know that 'viking' was originally a verb? As in, pillaging and viking? Thank you to my local history teacher from about 500 years ago (the north-east of England suffered rather a lot from said viking).

My maternal grandfather and I had a mutual admiration society. Tall, aristocratic, quiet (but not with me), taught me to knit, to read, to garden with a passion, the names of all the birds, the trees, and the stars in the sky. And an amazingly dirty laugh. I miss him every day, but I carry him with me, tucked into my sleeve.

maria from nj said...

Because we had to leave the beautiful island of Cuba and all family behind I barely have memories. When I was 5 we returned to bury my mom and while visiting my father's family one of my strongest memories was formed. In the morning my grandfather would go roast and grind the coffee beans. While I stayed there I would accompany him. Now I am 53 and even opening a fresh bag of coffee transports me back to that time and place.

Mental P Mama said...

I wish we could get them back here and ask them some more. I bet he knew my grandfather who was the highest ranking artillery officer in the Death March of Bataan. Beautiful tribute. Beautiful Mathews....

Grandma J said...

Wonderful post! Your family is deep in the depths of VA history...I love it.
Happy Veterans Day to all who served...especially Gustaf

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

That's a lovely story. I didn't know my mother's father - he died before I was born. I don't remember much about my dad's father - he died when I was little - but my mom remembers that he doted on me and would make special trips just to see me. (I was the first grandchild - first offspring of his oldest son. He was pumped.)

The Pappy that was my grandfather for most of my life (from 1976 when he married my grandma) was just so dear. He smoked a pipe (until his health required that he stop), we played gin rummy and dominos, and he was full of lovable quirks. I wrote about a few of them early in my blogging career, here:

I love that my kids get to know their grandfathers.

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

Sorry to hog the comments. The end of that URL should be:


Daryl said...

My paternal grandfather died when I was 2 so I dont remember him at all .. my maternal grandfather was a master carpenter and much in demand but he always had time to spend with me ... did you see the movie Avalon? The actor Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the grandfather and he looks so like my grandfather right down to the overalls he has on I told my mother she must see it ... she said 'you think he looks like my father? You're crazy'

Well maybe but I am sticking with my story .. he looks like Grandpa in that movie!

Loved your post ...

big hair envy said...

Fabulous post!

I have so many wonderful memories of my paternal grandfather that I wouldn't know where to begin!! I will share that he used to let three little girls put barrettes, bows, rollers and hairspray in his hair;) He also had the most beautiful bass voice you have ever heard....sometimes, at church, I still hear him singing.

mom x 2 said...

I miss my grandpa. My maternal grandfather died before I was born, but I have many many memories of my paternal grandfather who passed several years ago. He was an engineer for the railroad in Iowa and as the first grandaughter I was spoiled rotten. After my parents divorced, I spend a lot of time at my grandparents. I remember one time when I was about 10 years old, there was some kind of "back in the past" celebration going on and they had an old time passenger train, with real dining cars and a coal fired engine. My grandpa was the engineer that day and gave rides to the towns people like they were "back in the past" and I got to ride in the engine. It was the coolest (well, hottest) thing!

God Bless our Veterans!

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

Lovely post CBW! Thanks to all who have served!

I remember my grandfather well. I was his favorite too! He was a tobacco farmer. He taught me how to drive a tractor and grow a garden. He was funny and had a great sense of humor! He always made me laugh. I used to cry when I had to leave his house. I miss him.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

ghostless-what a lovely description of your g'father. I cannot wait to see your horses when you move here.

Mrs. F. - Very interesting - had no idea viking was a verb although can't say I'm surprised. Your grandfather sounds like a Renaissance man. I love Renaissance men.

Maria- Much like Mrs. F. above, you should have a blog. That's a great story. One of my life dreams after visiting the Amazon is to go to Cuba--I"m drawn to it for reasons I can't explain. The documentary about the Buena Vista Social Club (and accompanying CD) is one of my favorites. I have two CDs of Ruben Gonzales and the lady (can't remember her name at the moment, but what a lovely voice) that I adore.

MPM-Isn't it wild to think that they may have been there at the same time and known one another?

GJ-You're right in the heart of it now, in Killeen. We're thinking of you.

Meg-That's great that you have those memories even though you may not have known your blood grandfathers. I didn't know my mother's father either but I adopted a local grandfatherly type and loved him dearly. Your kids are very fortunate.

Daryl-I haven't seen a movie since 1989 but maybe I'll rent that one. Don't worry about being crazy; crazy is the new normal, and you're in fine company.

Oh, BHE, that he let you put bows and ribbons in his hair might be the most precious thing I've ever heard. That he let you put curlers and hairspray in says he had the patience of Job. I hope you keep hearing his voice in church.

momx2 - I'll bet it meant even more to him that you were a part of that experience.

NNG-Aw. Well, he taught you well. The little bit of gardening I learned from you this weekend shows you know your stuff. Next year I'll be more diligent about drying out my chili peppers and picking the green tomatoes. AFter this storm I won't have anything left except crab pots from the Eastern Shore floating in what used to be the garden. But you certainly know your stuff as it relates to the garden. (And to laughter, too. I think my stomach muscles have finally stopped hurting from all the hootin' and hollerin' this weekend.)

The wind is howling outside and the tide, she is a risin'. We're in for a doozy of a storm here.

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

Hunker down with them youngins baby girl! Stay safe and dry!

ghostless said...

Stay safe and dry. Glad I am missing this storm! Found a house in Cobbs Creek so I will be there soon...I hope!

Country Girl said...

My mother's father died when she was a teenager. My father's father died when I was very young. But my father spoke of him often and had much respect for him, so I feel as if I would have liked him as a person. But I don't remember him at all.

Very reflective post! And I do like the CBV.

foolery said...

Wonderful post, Cheeky.

I knew both my grandfathers well and was in my 20s when they died. But they were of a different era and were somewhat formal and distant with me. They were both college graduates and very dignified men, but happiest when they were doing something earthy: both gardened, both built things, from birdhouses to houses. My maternal grandfather hunted and was a commercial fisherman in the summers; my paternal grandfather moved his family to several remote places (including post-War Honolulu) as a highway engineer. And yet, as much as I admired them, they were mostly unreachable to me. I have "adopted" several grandfathers over the years to fill the space.

Thanks, CBW. This was lovely. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF THIS WEEK! : )