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Donelle M. Knudsen

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Granddad, My Best Friend and Mentor
By Donelle M. Knudsen
Sunday, August 03, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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As I travel down "memory lane" I reflect on times spent with my paternal grandfather; a gentleman in every sense.

     Granddad was my best friend and from a very young age and until the spring before my tenth birthday, I spent every weekend with him. I have a vague memory of Grandma enrolling me in Sunday school at RoseCityParkMethodistChurch when I was four. More than once she took me to my father’s elementary school to visit the Kindergarten room. I think it was to acquaint me with the notion of school. Unfortunately, our time together was short-lived as she died the following year.

     I think my weekly presence helped Granddad recover from his loss. He spoiled me in subtle ways, as he was a man of few words. He made sure the house was supplied with “kid-friendly” treats. Dad’s Root Beer, chocolate éclairs, Ovaltine, Fig Newtons, Welch’s Grape Juice, Black Jack Chewing gum and Log Cabin Syrup were regulars at Granddad’s.

     My favorite lunch was a bowl of Campbell’s beef and barley soup with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. Nothing tasted better than Granddad’s sandwiches dipped in hot soup! I used the square-shaped sandwich plates with the scalloped corners and drank milk from Welch’s jelly-glass glasses.

     If I ate by myself Granddad would let me bring a book to the table. Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio were my favorites. The kitchen-nook table always sported a freshly starched tablecloth and a vase of flowers. We used an English-style pan and brush to dust away sandwich and cookie crumbs at the end of the meal. Lunch was extra special at his house; an “event” with dignity and style.

     At breakfast Granddad squeezed oranges for fresh juice. It was a real labor of love as Granddad had arthritic hands and I savored every drop. Saturdays we ate dry cereal, usually Shredded Wheat or corn flakes, and toast, but on Sundays Granddad served up a feast of French toast, smothered with rich syrup and pats of butter. Crisp bacon and tart grapefruit with little sprinkles of sugar rounded out our meal.

After eating, we’d wash the dishes and I’d stand on a chair to put them away. Grandma’s lovely bone china teacups sat in the cupboard. I think they were waiting for her to pour us a cup of tea.


At Christmas the overstuffed chairs were turned around to face the fireplace. Granddad and I read stories and enjoyed eggnog and cookies by the crackling fire, while Christmas music played on the radio. We decorated the tree with beautiful blown glass ornaments and tinsel, and then I’d hang my stocking on the mantle for Santa to fill. To add to the atmosphere, we’d turn off all the lights so only the fire and the soft glow of the tree lit the room. It was a magical time; Santa was surely on his way.


I can still see Granddad’s living room in my mind’s eye; it never changed and was always immaculate.   The furniture was kind of old fashioned, but very comfy. Two oversized chairs and a couch were the main pieces. The family piano hugged the inner wall. It was given to his mother when she was a teenager in the 1800’s. I spent many an hour plunking out tunes by ear. The round card table by the radio held the never-empty bowls of mixed nuts and mints, a jigsaw puzzle and stacks of children’s books.


Granddad’s cleaning lady came in once a week. He and Dad were co-owners of a business, and Granddad was on the road most every day. On the weekends Granddad did his own cooking and cleaning, and he was as neat as a pin. There was a metal foot scraper outside by the back door for wiping our shoes. To ensure the kitchen floors stayed all waxed and shiny, I was careful not to muddy them up. When I forgot to wipe my shoes, Granddad reminded me for the next time. The windows always sparkled, no dusty or smudged view of the world for us. He taught me how to make beds military style, with the sheets centered and tucked in tightly. They’d pass an army inspection any day.


Granddad and I had a winter bedtime ritual. The house would get pretty cold because Granddad opened the bedroom windows just a crack for fresh air. He believed that night air was essential for good health, no matter how cold it got. A few minutes before bedtime, Granddad heated up water in the teakettle. Then he carefully poured it into thick rubber hot water bottles and they were tucked under the blankets. Our beds were warm all night.

In the spring and summer Granddad and I sat by the radio and listened to baseball games. My favorite place was the wooden rocking chair, while Granddad sat in his easy-chair smoking a pipe. He didn’t say much, but I felt close to him then. When we weren’t listening to baseball games, we’d tune in radio programs like comedies, mysteries, and the like; cherished memories.


Granddad eventually bought a black and white television for the knotty-pine party room downstairs. On rainy days I watched the popular shows of the fifties, but I also used the room as a theatre. Small stages were made of brown corrugated boxes. I cut a large opening and then glued fabric on for curtains. Various objects became props, and voila, on with the show! My puppets were very simple; sometimes just wooden spoons with paper faces or little sock people. Granddad was often my exclusive audience, but I also played to an imaginary crowd.

Granddad’s home office was in the basement and he let me use his Underwood typewriter, old invoice books, and stationery. I spent hours in his office, either alone or by his side. He always had paperwork to do after a busy week on the road selling and repairing business machines.  His work desk was made of walnut, always cluttered and totally irresistible.


I looked forward to helping Granddad wash laundry in the wringer washer. The clothes and towels came out very wet because the tub did not spin like modern washers. The wet things were taken out one by one, and then carefully pressed through the rollers to remove excess water. Granddad operated the crank, which turned the rollers. When we wrung the clothes he reminded me to keep my hands away from their treacherous pull. We pinned things up either in the basement on lines and racks, or on the clothesline in the back yard. The drying sheets made a perfect place to play hide-and seek, and they smelled wonderful!


I spent many hours on Granddad’s homemade swing that hung from the cherry tree, swinging higher and higher. Back on earth, I filled my basket with juicy blackberries from the backyard, and we’d eat them alone or in a bowl of milk. When my neighborhood friends came by, we’d lug the wooden croquet set from the garage and we’d play a round or two. In the spring the “snowball” bushes in the side yard were especially inviting. We’d pick the blooms and shake them over each other, like snow. Their fragrance was heavenly.


Granddad’s driveway was long and extra wide at one end, so I practiced on my roller skates, scooter and bike by the hour. Eventually I was able to race down 58th street with some skill, however Band-Aids were always available.


A block or two over, the streets of 59th and 60th were very steep and perfect for sledding. All the neighborhood kids gathered there to sled and build snow forts. We also had furious snowball fights that lasted for hours.

One winter evening a fight turned nasty and ice balls were thrown. I was hit with a rock packed with frozen snow and developed a terrible black eye. Granddad was furious! I recognized the guilty party, so the next day Granddad paid him a visit. The boy was chewed out good. I was never afraid of snowball fights again.


Granddad was my protector and friend. When I had a sore throat he made sure I gargled with salt water. It stung, but helped the pain go away. I felt safe, accepted and loved. Dad told me many times I was a “spitt’in” image of Grandma and that made me happy.


Granddad had known great joy and great pain. His oldest son, my Uncle Jim, was lost at Pearl HarborDecember 7, 1941. Thirteen years later his beloved wife died suddenly of a heart attack. Granddad was as tough as nails and a little ornery, but I saw through his thick shell. He was one of a kind, like a precious pearl made from a grain of sand. Granddad taught me a lot about life, love and loyalty. He passed away exactly four years after Grandma, but to me he is alive, as are all the precious memories of our times together.




















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Reviewed by Donelle Knudsen 8/5/2008
Thank you Larry. I appreciate your comments very much. I tried to write about Granddad first from a child's point of view - gradually building to the perspective of an adult.
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 8/5/2008
Marvelous story, Donelle; very well written! BRAVA!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
Reviewed by L Hippler 8/4/2008
I really enjoyed this story, Donelle. You did a wonderful job of making your relationship with your granddad come alive through the details. The quiet meals, listening to baseball games together, the ritual with the hot water bottles, all combined to paint a vivid and touching picture.

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