I lost my grandfather today, 1/11/18. He was 96, and a great man who fought in WWII, stormed Normandy at Omaha Beach. When he returned home in 1945, he returned to work at the engineering firm where he started years before as a courier. He ended up President, Chairman, and majority owner of the company. He lost his wife, my grandma, 19 years ago. Far too soon to lung cancer, she never smoked. He did, outside. They always had a fire in the fireplace, and we lived close enough that outside, or at times in elementary school (where I could see their house from the music room), I could smell wood burning, and I always assumed it was coming from their house. I still do.
My grandparents had a pool table in the basement, and I remember finally growing tall enough for my view to change from the gray resin belly, wooden rails, and leather-fringed pockets, to a brilliant aqua sea of felt, brightly lit by a shop light. Almost illuminating those many different colored balls. My dad, brother, uncles, and occasionally grandpa would play pool, and when we could see over it, we would be allowed to play too. Sometimes 8-ball, sometimes 9-ball, and once in a while, pea pool. one of the accessories was a leather jug which contained black peas with white numbers. Pour out a numbered pea, and take turns shooting until you sink the corresponding-numbered ball.
I have a shot of my son and my brother’s son playing on that same table decades later. It brought back a lot of memories.
A few years ago, when Grandpa could no longer live in the house on his own, I got a call from my brother, asking if I wanted a memento from the house as they were preparing it to sell. “Sure, how about the pool peas?”
At Christmas, Grandpa sent Christmas cards with checks for all of his family as always, with a note my dad helped write, encouraging us to use the money to do something special and remember him. I had always wanted a Yamaaki pot from the 1st generation patriarch, Akitsugu; the one with the eggplant chop containing 3 characters. I don’t know why. When I saw this one, it reminded me of the pool peas jug, and it had the eggplant stamp, just peeking out from the bottom. So that’s what I bought with my grandpa’s last Christmas gift. Fitting on several levels.
My ume is in full bloom today.
I’ll always admire, love, and miss my grandpa. Rest In Peace.
Earl Ramsay Van Fleet, May 9, 1921-January 11, 2018.