Monday, October 10, 2016

On Grandpa’s Knee

“Tell me a story, Grandpa Charley.”  Those words take me back to the sweltering days of summer vacation, when my sister and I were kids, and there was nothing to do.
Grandpa Charley to the rescue!
My grandfather, Charles Henry Hollow, was born in Cornwall, England. He possessed the awesome ability to recall his days as a young man seeking adventure. Grandpa could spin those tales with accuracy and imagination—captivating us one minute, then scaring the daylights out of us the next. Spontaneous hand gestures, body jerks, and popping eyes were all part of his endearing yarns, and we never knew which “special effects” would prevail.  
One experience Grandpa enjoyed sharing—with my sister and me each propped upon a knee—was when he worked with the famous inventor, Guglielmo Marconi. Grandpa was part of a work crew that helped Marconi span the Atlantic Ocean with his historic wireless message.
In 1901, my grandfather and the others assisted Marconi in erecting sixteen 250-foot poles, along with a weird assortment of wires, all part of the elaborate setup Marconi devised for his wireless. From an experimental station on the English Channel, the crew watched as a wild gale blew in. (For the benefit of his granddaughters, Grandpa provided impressive huffing and puffing sounds to accompany this tale.) The storm leveled all the poles but one. It is said, the inventor was undaunted by the damage, and, soon, according to some versions, went ahead, with what remained, to send the first wireless message across the ocean to Newfoundland.
“What else happened, Grandpa?” we would ask in anticipation.
 “Well, that storm nearly blew all of us into the sea. You should have seen those waves. They were high as a building!” With that, Grandpa Charley’s arms flew upward, nearly sending us giggling and tumbling to the floor.
Later in life, Grandpa Charley worked mainly as a cabinetmaker. His skills took him to the diamond mines in South Africa. There, he became a cabinetry specialist for one of the mining companies. In Grandpa’s work, he preferred using glue, not nails, for better adhesion. As a kid, I still remember that reeking pot of thick, black glue heating outdoors in preparation for one of his carpentry projects.
Along the way, Grandpa Charley became proficient at the game of checkers. Records of his championships are on file both in England and in Michigan. But Grandpa could be quite the trickster: I recall one time when he appeared to be stuck, eyes fixed on his checkerboard. Then he would cast a pitiful look my way and ask, “Honey, could you help me? I’m lost here.”
At first, I jumped at the chance to beat an “old man” at the game and eagerly plowed right in. Then, in expert checkers fashion, he made moves like the pro that he was, and I was trapped—while he enjoyed a good laugh at my expense. I soon learned not to fall for such trickery.
Sometimes, Grandpa would tell stories handed down from the African natives he befriended, often adding one of their rousing campfire songs. My sister and I had such fun learning them, then out doing each other while singing: Hi lo minny minny cocka oocha oocha . . . and other memorable tunes. Well, the songs might have been memorable, though I doubt our singing was.
A fun and interesting man was my Grandpa Charley. Today, as an adult, I have only one regret, and that is simply that I cannot climb upon his knee and beg, “Tell me a story, Grandpa—please?” If he were still around, I’m certain he would be more than happy to oblige . . . hand gestures, popping eyes and all.