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This is my home-game entry this week for therealljidol . I am not competing this season but invite you to read and vote for the "Winding Up" entries" and the "Here There Be Dragon" entries you could do either topic, so I went with "Winding Up."

Grandpa Heritage
Grandpa Heritage shows off two fish he caught at his beach cottage.

My father's father died before he was born. We know him only through faded black-and-white photos. A thin, dapper man who looked a bit like Willem Defoe, by the time he died, at 48, he looked 20 years older.

My grandmother didn't remarry for about 30 years, and when she did, it was to the bulldog-faced, boisterous man I always knew as my grandfather, Grandpa Heritage. By then, he was retired as a federal prison warden, and I imagine that those he dealt with on a professional level saw a very different side to him. He was big, and I can imagine him being imposing, to someone else's eyes. But to me, my brother and my sister, he was a gentle man who made funny faces and sang off-key. "You don't like my singing," he'd complain, and pout. But the truth was, we loved every minute of it.

One of the most fascinating things about Grandpa Heritage was his collection of antique toys and coin-operated banks. When we visited Grandma and Grandpa in their apartment in Northern Virginia, the toys were lined up in a neat parade underneath one of the tables. We were not allowed to touch them, but Grandpa would demonstrate them at our request. Amazingly, considering how young we were, we honored these restrictions, although the toys sat within easy reach and we could have disobeyed at any time.

Many of the toys were made out of tin, the sort of thing you'd never give to a child today. All edges and sharp corners, with moving parts, they would never make it past inspection. But we watched, fascinated, as Grandpa wound up a goggle-eyed monkey, who banged his cymbals jerkily. We marveled at the bank where, once you inserted a penny in the tree stump, a bear would rise up and sweep it away. Every time we visited, we'd beg for a demonstration.

It seems strange now to admit that, of all his toys, those are the only ones I remember clearly. I know he had many more, and I know that they delighted us. But Grandpa Heritage died 27 years ago now, not long after suffering a heart attack while visiting us in our Central Pennsylvania home. For years, I could not sit on the couch where it had happened without seeing him grab his chest. The toys, like most of his possessions, passed not to us, his step-grandchildren, but to his children and grandchildren from his first marriage.

Although I corresponded with one of his sons, a fellow writer in the D.C. area, for a long time, I have not written to him for about 10 years. The families stitched together by Grandpa Heritage's marriage to my grandmother were torn asunder at his death.

Of course, as anyone who has ever loved someone knows, those toys don't truly matter: only our shared joy as my siblings and I watched him demonstrate them; only the impossibly gentle voice coming out of that tough face as he told us the stories behind the toys. Just like I'll never hear "The Church in the Wildwood" without hearing Grandpa Heritage singing it, I'll never see an antique toy or coin-operated bank without thinking of him.

I intend to share these stories with my son, whom we've nicknamed Kung Fu Panda. His actual middle name is Grandpa Heritage's first name; he may not have been related by blood but was a truly wonderful grandfather. Bad singing and all.

Memories matter more than possessions.

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. My grandfather meant SO MUCH to me. I loved this story.

Glad your headache is better. :)
Nov. 6th, 2010 03:38 am (UTC)
Thanks! I think the headache was partially helped by spending time with KFP, who was babbling cheerfully this afternoon. When I first started writing this piece, I still had a bit of a headache, but recalling those happy days must have worked a miracle.

Grandfather stories are great, aren't they? I'm having fun watching my dad in his grandfather role and imaging how KFP must see him.
Nov. 6th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
It is too bad you guys did not get at least one or two of those toys. But the memories are things no one can take away. Thanks for sharing those.

Maybe you and the gryphon should do the yard sale deal and who knows, some of those old toys might just show up in someone's yard.
Nov. 6th, 2010 03:39 am (UTC)
That would be amazing, if we could. Of course, we live in Pennsylvania, and his family was in Virginia, so it's not likely. I'd probably have better luck at auctions, but even if I found something similar, I'd never know if it had actually been his.

Of course, the memories are what matters.
Nov. 6th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
You may have heard this story, and I can't swear that it's true,
but it's what I've heard.
The coat Frank Morgan wears in The Wizard of Oz?
Nothing the studio had was quite right, so they went out looking for an old coat,
and found one. Turns out it had actually belonged to L. Frank Baum.
So you never know.
Nov. 6th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Ooh, that story gives me shivers!

On a related note, I've been thinking of contacting PBS's "The History Detectives" about checking out a family legend. My mother's mother, Nana, had a cousin who was a little person. I've been told that he was a flying monkey in "The Wizard of Oz" but haven't been able to find confirmation that Mervan (or Mervin?) Hinkle (his name labeled in the photo album is spelled with an "a") appeared in the movie. I have a photo of him in clown makeup riding a pony that I could give them as a starting point. No pictures of him on the set, unfortunately.
Nov. 6th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, you should contact them.
The worst they could do is ignore you.

this entry of yours stirred me enough to write something.
It may be crap, but I'l be posting it in a little while.
Lemme check which fliters you're in.
Nov. 6th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
I love this, Alyce.... it's a beautiful tribute and reminds me of my own grandfather (in large part b/c of the photo, too - my grandfather took me fishing as a child).
Nov. 6th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
That's sweet. My brother and I were always very impressed by the fact that he had a boat at his beach cottage and could go out fishing. I realize now it was a small to medium motorized boat, and the cottage was a little ranch house. Still, we thought it was fab!
Nov. 6th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
You're right - it's not the actual object, but the memories attached to them. I am glad you have such wonderful memories of your grandfather :)
Nov. 6th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
He sounds just wonderful :)

For me it was my great uncle who had the fantastic old tin toys that I was allowed to look at but not touch myself. But my great aunt had one even better, which she gave to me for my 6th birthday - it's a board studded with nails, and has a little spring down one end that you use to shoot a marble up the board, which then goes down through the nails into one of about ten little hollows at the end, all with different point levels. Most of the nails have gone through the board just enough for the back to be all scratchy, so I always had to be careful not to cut myself - or get it stuck on my tights!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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