Father's Day and our fathers' fathers

I remember growing up in Phoenix on a small farm.  We raised goats.  I was on the north end of Phoenix, near 16th Street and Oak in 1952.  My father had moved to Phoenix in the early '40s with his father; my father's mother had passed away a year or two before.  My father worked as a tool-grinder during World War II for the McDonald Company.  He met my mother on the tennis courts at Encanto Park, and that is how it begins.

My grandfather on my mother's side was an immigrant to the New World in the late 1800s.  He was from a small town in Yugoslavia, Vivodina, where he had grown up with his girlfriend and bride-to-be.  My grandmother immigrated first, followed by my grandfather a couple of years later.  They had relatives in Chicago, and they reunited and married there in 1911.  I have their marriage certificate hanging on my wall with their marriage photo.  A lovely couple.

My grandfather was not averse to work, and he found himself a job at the steel mills in Gary, Indiana.  He realized the value of property ownership and rentals.  He built a two-story building that he ordered from Sears.  The building came in, by rail, dismantled, in sequential order as he needed it.  Soon, he had his home for the family on the upper floor, and he rented out the lower floor to a man who opened a Greek market.  My grandfather worked at the steel mill for years before being hurt in an industrial accident, rendering his shoulder unusable.  So, in the late thirties, they packed up and left the cold country for a place in the sun and landed in Phoenix, Arizona with their daughter.  Their son opened restaurants in the D.C. area, later to become a restaurant owner after the war in Panama.

My father, a really good tennis player, met my mother on those city courts, and I had a sister born in the late '40s, fourteen months before me.  My grandfather somehow knew the value of property ownership, and he saved to purchase a home with four apartments in the heart of Phoenix, where they lived.  My father rented a home for his wife, my mother, at the northwest corner of 3rd Street and McKinley.  My father at that time was working for Marston's Supply, a school supply and sporting goods store in Phoenix.

Not letting any moss grow under his feet, my grandfather purchased a large lot on a dirt road near 16th street that had two homes and four apartments.  He moved into one of the houses with my grandmother, and my father, mother, and sister moved into the other house.  My grandfather, seeing the advantages of rental property, built two new homes on the lot, and we moved into those, and he rented out the other two.

I remember talking with my grandparents about life in the "old country."  It was a good life, but hard work, something my grandfather never forgot how to do.  We had farm animals, and I learned a lot from my grandfather.  He still made wine in an oak barrel, and he made sauerkraut and grew vegetables.  We were never hungry thanks to my grandparents.  They spoke broken English, but not broken enough that I could not understand.  They had the wisdom to impart the ideas that worked.

They lived next to us for the better part of eighteen years before the Lord took them away.  Nothing can replace those years of memories of talking to them and them to me.  To say the least, it was nothing less than fabulous to have them close by.

My grandfather taught me how to use a shovel and a post-hole digger, and how to straighten nails, mend fences, paint, and lay block.  Most of all, he taught me that we are children of God.  He was gruff and tough but kind, something not too common today.

This Father's Day, I will celebrate my father, the best that could ever have been, but I will also celebrate my grandfather, that tough old bird with horseshoe hair and a strong spirit, an American who earned his citizenship, and an entrepreneur who had no idea what that was.  Here's to the men in my life who are now gone but whom I cherish so much.  I just pray that I can be as good as a grandfather to my four grandkids as my grandfather was to me.

Image via Picryl.

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