Growing up as a kid in a divorced household since I was 3, I did not have the daily contact with my father that other kids had. Since my mother had custody we lived in a neighborhood where her parents happened to live just a block away from me and my mother. I have a lot of fond memories of that neighborhood in mission bend, a suburb of Houston. A lot of them include a man who kind of laid the foundation for the man I would become, my grandpa.
Now my grandfather was by no means a perfect man, he had his flaws, but who doesn’t. I still loved him in spite of his shortcomings, but I do make jokes about his short comings on stage.
Now I started with this memory because I want you to know my grandfather was no saint, and that even though he was wrong, I still loved him regardless. Am I embarrassed, yes a little bit, but this is just one part of his story, and quite an amazing one at that. My grandfather has overcome some pretty tough odds and still came out pretty well all things considered. Lets now move on to the beginning of his story.
My grandfather was born in Scotland in 1919 as the illegitimate son of a man named James Gallagher, who neither wanted nor had any role in my grandfather’s life. He was raised by his mother and grandfather in Scotland where he suffered from Polio and managed to overcome the illness. The highlight of his time in Scotland came when he was older he sought out his father, found him in a bar, and straight cold cocked that son of a bitch and never saw or spoke to him again. Something my grandfather took great pride in, was punching his father’s lights out. The lesson here is making a baby then not accepting responsibility for the child can have future repercussions.
My grandfather left Scotland and moved to the city of Tulsa Oklahoma, where he lived with his Mother’s sister, who took him in, he also changed his last name to Hill, The name of her husband. My grandfather worked on oil rigs in Tulsa and met and married a young woman named Wilma Dean. They were married and then came the second world war, I am unclear on whether my grandfather enlisted or was drafted into service. However he was in the army, and on his way to the North African, and Italian fronts. I never really asked my grandfather about what he went through in the war, because when you are a kid or just not exposed to fighting in a war, you just have no clue. The movies and documentaries show you footage of the fights, but not the actual fighting. What I do know about what happened to my grandfather is this, he ate couscous for the majority of time he spent on the battlefield and never ate it again. He battled in the tranches where he was run over by a tank, not sure if it was an allied or enemy tank, but I cant imagine the sheer terror of having to fight an enemy and avoid getting run over by humongous machines that can’t see you but could easily crush you. The only story I was told repeatedly was the story of his knife fight with an Austrian soldier. When I was 7-10 years old this story seemed so cool that my grandfather was toe to toe with the enemy with only their bayonets and after a long standoff my grandfather prevailed. My grandfather was left with a huge scar over his nose a scar on the right side of his face almost at his temple where the Austrian solder had stabbed him in the head, a scar on top of his head from another flailing stab. When I think of that story now and how my grandfather survived, I also feel pain. Pain of having to take someone’s life in such a personal fashion. What a horrible burden to live with, someone you didn’t even know, and it’s just him or you going home in a box. Video games like to glamourize war and make it seem cool and exciting, but in video games you never really lose. You don’t see the carnage they way people who actually fought in those wars did. It was barbaric and left my grandfather with a drinking problem, and nightmares he would have the rest of his life. The lesson I learned here, no matter what my burden may be, it is not that bad, let it go and enjoy your life. My grandfather did to an extent.
Quickly upon returning to Tulsa from the war, my grandfather and Wilma Dean divorced. He began to work on becoming an engineer, and happened to meet a pretty young women named Mary Francis Moody. For their first date they went ice skating, my grandpa had a pretty big and fiery personality, and this woman who would soon become Mary Francis Hill, and later on the woman I would come to know as “Memo” my grandmother who at 93 is still alive and healthy and probably more active than me.
I dunno much of my grandmothers and grandfather’s early years in marriage but they made do, and went out dancing a lot. Then in 1952, March 10th to be exact, My grandfather had his first child, a girl named Cynthia Suzette Hill, who later became the woman I would call Mom. Two years later they had another child Philip Michael Hill, my uncle. According to my mom my grandfather was a pretty tough customer as a father due in large part to his temper. My grandfather was also a very smart man, and was very skilled in the game of chess. Many evenings my mom and uncle spent playing chess against my grandfather, eventually they beat him. I have many early memories as a kid challenging my grandfather on weekend mornings to games of chess and losing handily. I never did beat him because I never really had a strategy except try and take his queen. which unfortunately was not the key to a victory. Its one of the regrets I carry as an adult and one of the most valuable lessons I learned from it, instead of trying to win, just enjoy the game.
As an engineer My grandfather actually ran his own companies for a while, and was pretty good at drawing, and architecture. In fact his largest success was the creation of Marcinemic engineering, Named after his family, Mary Cindy and Mike. I still remember his office the high chair that was in front of the draft table, his scientific calculator, that he made me calculate functions on and see if I could come up with the right figures. The electric eraser that I thought was so cool and he would get so mad at me when I wasted it all. Lesson: Family is always first
Then the 70s came and his kids were growing up and becoming their own people. Then my mom got married to my dad in 1975, Then in 1976, my grandfather found out he was going to be a grandfather. My mother will tell you he was better to me than he was my mom and Mike, but I still got disciplined on several occasions. Switches and flicking my ears at the dinner table were fairly common place for me as a youth. I did enjoy setting the table with bar towels my grandfather seemed to collect from god knows where. Lesson I learned from my grandfathers disciplinary actions, eat your dinner.
Then Came the 80s, So many memories of a garage full of maggots, a rat in the garage, a house that was invaded by a swarm of grasshoppers. late nights of continuously playing with a speak n spell. IQ tests that frustrated me to no end. lots of sleepless nights where I would mosey out to the couch next to where my grandpa was sitting either watching tv or had been watching tv and passed out. To this day a lot of fond memories are of me watching Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Benny Hill, and Jackie Gleason, and laughing with my grandfather. There was also lots of work such as building a garden, bolting fences up, cleaning engines with gasoline, and trying to restore an old MG that my grandfather had always wanted to own. Many small lessons were learned during those times as well. Most notably, life isn’t always fun.
I mentioned earlier that my grandfather was an alcoholic, and a pretty big one at that, many nights he would come home late or in a vehicle that was wrecked. There were also times that he forced me to play music, as he loved music and though he rarely went to my sporting events to his credit he never missed any of my music recitals in junior high. I never liked music in the 80s, perhaps if I was born later or just been more interested I would have made my own music. I usually did when my grandfather was drunk and made me play the piano I would just adlib and just play stuff that I thought sounded good. I was very “grass roots” with my piano playing in those days. I will never know if he knew if I really wasn’t playing real music or just didn’t care. All I know is I felt like a genius because I couldn’t read music, and was just being told in a your ass is about to be whipped way, that I better play something. Lesson learned: even if you have nothing, give them something.
Then the 90’s came and took my grandfather away, took him away without me ever getting to tell him goodbye. That is the thing I regret or resent more than anything, not being old enough to go in and see him in recovery, before everything went wrong, before all the tubes and the comas, and the machines, and the hospital coffee. When I finally did turn 16 and I could enter ICU, and see my grandfather, lying there, not knowing if he was coming home, but absolutely certain that he was going to be coming home, eventually taught me how to be the rock. Because I really wasn’t a rock at all until the day they moved him into a room with only a respirator. That was the last time I ever saw my grandfather, he died early on the morning of Feb 20. 1991. For all his struggles, he really did make the most of his life, outliving both of his parents by around 30 years, and his own life expectancy of his early 50’s, by 20 something years. Lesson: You are going to lose people you love, always remember the good things and don’t focus on the bad.
A lot of the lessons he taught me back then, I just didn’t understand, but I use them everyday because they make a lot of who I am, I just never thought I would be the person I am today. So in honor of my favorite veteran, so close to veteran’s day I would honor him. In fact there are things as I change I understand now and learn even now as I am writing this. Thank you for laying the foundation for the man I have become grandpa, even though there are cracks in it, its been pretty solid.