Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gramps. My Surrogate Grandfather.

This is a classic Gramps picture pose. Arms crossed, mouth set, a twinkle in his eyes.  From the time I first met him I was taken with his crooked little smile and mischevious glint.

Mr. Tennis and I had been dating for awhile when he first took me to meet Gramps at his little house on Lake Trout in St. Cloud.  He had been a steady father figure for Mr. T and his brothers since their father had died.  Gramps had moved permanently to what was once his and Grandma Rose's weekend lake house.  He was still working full time when I first met him, at the age of  75, for Minute Maid, a Coca Cola company.  Brand loyalty was strictly followed in that tiny house.  Every morning started with Minute Maid OJ, and there were always Coke products available for thirsty water skiers and swimmers.  Pepsi was verboten!

Mr. Tennis, probably middle school age, cutting the grass at the lake
He was so gracious and welcoming to me from the start.  I remember Mr. Tennis telling him that we weren't that crazy about each other when we first met.  With that little glint in his eye, Gramps said, "So, now you ARE crazy about each other?". Our Saturdays would be spent (after the OJ and Buckwheats, always Buckwheats) clearing the beach area, if needed, burning trash, cutting the grass on the riding mower, taking the boat out for a spin-Ziggy always got there first, water skiing (yes, I did-scary), grilling hamburgers for lunch, more boating, skiing, burning, clearing or lounging in hammock. Frozen entree for dinner, Lawrence Welk, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, light off from automatic timer at 11pm. Bed.  Sundays:  OJ, Buckwheats, church, breakfast at Howard Johnsons, pack up stuff, load car, head back to Gainesville.  There was comfort in the lovely predictability of it.

Uncle Larry in his favorite spot

I would always write a note thanking Gramps for letting me come for the weekend and I think that solidified my standing in his eyes.  I even got to call him Gramps after Mr. Tennis and I were engaged!  Here's a picture of us at an engagement party Orlando Grandma hosted for us:

I know, he doesn't look happy, but I have very few pictures of him actually smiling.  But that set to his jaw is just how it always was.

Mr. Tennis and I graduated from UF one week before we got married.  Here is a picture of Gramps and me, with my other surrogate grandparent, Tita, at a little family gathering we had at Mr. T's apartment the night before graduation:

See, he's almost smiling in this one!  I am obviously anticipating the stress of the upcoming wedding and look a little queasy. March 1981

After our honeymoon, Mr. Tennis and I lived at Gramps' little lake house for a couple of weeks while we looked for a place to live in Orlando.  We didn't know where we would settle after we got married because neither of us had job offers yet.  (Why worry?)  When we returned from our honeymoon (Mexico) Mr. Tennis had an offer to work at a local TV station in Orlando - parttime. So, it was settled where we would settle, O-town. Don't worry we both found full time employment shortly afterward and the rest is history.

But speaking of history, Gramps has one himself.  He came to the U.S. when he was 21 from Germany.  He spoke little English and went to live in Cincinnati where many German immigrants settled.  So determined to learn English was he that he decided not to attend events or get-togethers where everyone was speaking only German, he instead chose to socialize with English speakers.  I'm not sure how he met Rose, but she was also from a German immigrant family, The Peters, but she had been born in the U.S.  There was a lovely wedding picture of them that hung in his house, but I don't know where that picture is now, sadly, because it was beautiful.  They got married during the depression.  Gramps was fortunate to have a job and he rented and completely furnished an apartment so his new bride would have a comfortable home.

Gramps and Grandma Rose

Two sons were born while they lived in Cincinnati, Courtney and Larry. Then in the 1940s, Rose, Gramps, Courtney and Larry moved to Orlando, Florida and that's when his career with Minute Maid began, I believe.  This was all BD (before Disney) so the surrounding areas were filled with orange groves, not subdivisions, shopping malls and theme parks.

Pretty soon there was a pretty daughter-in-law in the picture, Orlando Grandma.  She and Courtney were married at St. James Church in downtown Orlando and had their reception at "Ronnie's" , an Orlando dining institution that we miss to this day.

Gramps in another classic pose in his Orlando home with a pregnant Orlando Grandma, sometime in 1958 before the arrival of you-know-who.

As we know, Mr. T and his brothers came along and added to the excitement.  They spent many weekends and summers fishing, swimming and water skiing on Lake Trout.

Mr. T. and Tony with the day's catch

Gramps and "his boys" getting ready to take a spin around the lake

Gramps showing perfect diving form off the end of his dock

There were many family gatherings at the lake.  I attended my fair share after I entered the family.  Countless birthdays were celebrated on the green picnic bench or in the dining area of the tiny cottage.

All the Weissmueller men together: Mr. T, Larry, Courtney, Gramps, baby Kurt and Tony

There was even a Christmas when our families had the day's festivities hosted by Gramps out at the Lake.  My mother always said that was one of her favorite Christmases because it was so casual and relaxing.

Back: Grandpa Hughes, me, Orlando G-ma, Lanny G, Richard, Gramps and  Larry.
Front: Eric G. (hi Mr. Decor!), Bonnie G and Grandma Hughes.

Gramps, we miss you very much, but how much better all our lives have been because you were in it.  You will always have a special place in my heart for all the kindness, generosity, suppport and love you showed me, your surrogate granddaughter.

Happy Birthday
February 20th

Gramps and his grandsons in the late 1960s

Here they are about 20 years later, plus the addition of The Writer.


Alan said...

It's an interesting sensation to see our life unfold before you as you scroll down a PC screen. Great job and thanks for allowing me to revisit those times.

KarenSue said...

Great post! I wish I could write like you. Reading this brings back memories for me-Ronnies. Thank you!

Orlando Grandma said...

I thought about Gramps all day on the 20th so great that you put into words pictures that went thru my mind and then some.We are so lucky to have in our family The writer and The writer's mam who is also a writer.THANK YOU FOR THEM MEMORIES...