ForeverMissed

Eulogy – by Kristin Grapes

GENE GRAPES - KING OF REDSTONE

One month before Dad moved on from this life he was crowned King of Redstone Highlands Senior Living Community. Every year the King and Queen are elected by Redstone staff and residents. The royal couple are chosen based upon which man and woman out of all the residents are the most friendly and well-liked. The Coronation Festival is like the combination of a high school homecoming celebration and a small town parade. There are marching bands, fancy cars, hot dogs, balloons, music, and general hoopla. 

Last year’s Coronation Festival fell on a perfect summer day. When the parades had ended and everyone was finished eating, it was time for the Coronation Ceremony to begin. With much fanfare, the Queen’s identity was announced to her cheering subjects. Then it was time for the King’s identity to be revealed. I imagine Dad was quite surprised to hear his name coming over the loudspeakers, given that he had always been a modest person.

But Dad was also a prudent person. Before accepting the crown and scepter he wanted to know what he was getting himself into. “What are my duties?” he challenged. I can just see his deadpan expression and hear the skepticism in his voice as he gleefully threw a curve to the master of ceremonies. That wry, quick humor was one of the qualities that drew people to him.

What Dad’s duties were is lost to history. We do know that, in the end, he agreed to ascend to the throne. There are many photos in the Redstone archives of Dad smiling and waving regally to the crowd as he was wheeled before them under the Redstone portico.

I would venture to say that those who knew Dad are not surprised that he was crowned King of Redstone. He was a warm, generous man who lived his life with honor and integrity. Even Mama and Papa (our Ackermann grandparents) changed their minds about him. He went from being a “Brooklyn bum” to someone they loved and depended upon. I remember Papa and Dad sitting many hours under our apple tree as Papa confided in him about the challenges of retirement. And Mama did not hesitate to call Dad when she needed help around the house or with her finances.

Dad’s employees at WWPatterson company also loved him. They never allowed the labor unions to organize their shop. They knew that Dad would see to their welfare better than any union ever would.

Dad’s kindness did not lessen with age. After his death, a nurse at Redstone stopped me to offer her condolences. She said that it had been a rough time in her life when she started working at Redstone the previous year. She grew misty-eyed as she said, “Your dad was the first friend I had here.”

 INSPECTIONS AND CROCODILES

Another wonderful quality of Dad’s was his playfulness. He could make almost anything fun. Probably all of us have grumpy memories of having to do Saturday morning chores as kids. That happened in the Grapes home as well. We had to “redd up” (western Pennsylvania dialect for “clean up”) the living room every weekend. As you can imagine, five kids, a couple of cats, and a dog that shed like a buffalo can make quite a mess. When we were finished Dad came in to inspect our work. He got down on his hands and knees and slowly crawled across the floor, looking for the slightest speck of dust, fur ball, or scrap of paper we might have missed. If such was spotted one of us raced ahead to remove the offending item while the other four swarmed Dad to keep him from getting there first. Not surprisingly, the inspection usually lasted longer than the redding up!

Not only did we Grapes kids have to survive weekly Inspections, we also had to do battle with the dreaded Crocodile. We never knew when the monstrous reptile would slither out of the murky depths and climb onto the living room couch. Once there it always stretched out to its fullest length and tightly wedged itself against the couch cushions. It loved that soft, comfortable couch and was determined not to be dislodged. Of course, the situation was intolerable. The couch certainly could not accommodate both the Grapes kids and the horrible creature. Our only option was to leap over the Crocodile and onto the couch. Pressing our backs against the back of the couch we jammed our feet against the Crocodile. Shrieking encouragement to one another we strained with all our might to dislodge the awful beast. Somehow we always won these contests. However we knew that the victory was really only a temporary reprieve. At some random moment when we least expected it, there it would be. Its maw gaping open and its tiny slitted eyes fixed upon us, ready to do battle once again.

  GYPSY AND LOBO

Dad’s talents were not limited to creating new contests which pitted his offspring against him. He was also a gifted story-teller. We loved it when mom would host her bridge club. To get us out of the living room where the women were gathered, Dad would take us upstairs to his and mom’s bedroom. We clambered up on the bed and sat lined up against the headboard. Dad would then regale us with the latest installment of The Story of Gypsy and Lobo. 

Gypsy was a St. Bernard who lived in a village in the Far North. Lobo was a wolf who prowled the forest that pressed up against the small settlement. Lobo was a classic alpha male. He was strong, handsome, supremely confident, big-hearted and adventurous. Gypsy, on the other hand, was big-boned, clunky, generous to a fault, and prone to drooling. Though they made an odd couple, they also were a perfect couple. Before long they had a litter of puppies out of wedlock. 

The small family was often in danger from the townspeople, including Gypsy’s human, due to their prejudice against wolves. Other dangers, such as flash floods, grizzlies, and cougars, also imperiled them. But somehow they always survived, just in time for us to go to bed. 

 HANDBALL VERSUS JUILLIARD

Dad’s parent’s marriage fell apart when he was eight years old. At the time the family was living in a small rural town in Massachusetts. Finally, New York Mama (Dad’s mother) decided to take her seven children and return to New York City. She had been living there when she met and fell in love with Ira Grapes. He had been a boarder at the boarding house she had inherited. Ira was furious that his wife was leaving. He did not object to her taking with her the three other children. They were from her first marriage. However, he angrily refused to let her take his children.

At the time Dad was 8, Dorothy was 6, Richie was 5, and David was 3. Ira worked full time at the blacksmith shop in town. He had no one to care for his children while he was at work. Also, he was an alcoholic and sometimes didn't always come home from work until late at night. So it fell to Dad to take care of himself and his younger siblings.

When Dad told me this story he was about 60 years old. He described his Mother leaning out of the window of the bus that would take her to the city. She fixed him intently with her eyes and promised, “I will be back for you.” As he told me this Dad’s eyes filled with the pain and fear of that young boy all those years ago.

About two years later Dad, his sister, and two brothers did indeed find themselves in the Bronx. It’s hard to imagine the culture shock they must have experienced. There were things they missed from their old life in Massachusetts. No more could they swim in Long Pond or dig secret caves in its banks. Nor could they continue to skip school. Back in Massachusetts, nobody had seemed to mind that they stopped showing up at the little country schoolhouse for a year.

But the Bronx had its own treasures and pleasures. Chief among these for Dad was handball. He spent hours with his friends, hitting that small hard ball against the wall again and again. In fact, Dad’s love for handball significantly shaped the course of his life. Were it not for that sport he might have been an opera singer.

At the same time that Dad was honing his handball skills he was also getting paid to sing in the Boys Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Manhattan. New York Mama was not religious and the family did not attend church. But she needed every nickel she could get to take care of her brood. The older children did what they could to earn a little money which they gave to their mom to help with the bills.

Singing in the choir was quite a commitment. It took most of Sunday. Not only was there the time it took for the service, but there was also the long ride on two different trains to the church in Manhattan and then back home to the Bronx. One Sunday the choir master asked Dad to meet with him. He was very impressed with Dad's talent and believed that with voice lessons Dad could get accepted at Julliard. The choirmaster offered to give him private instruction every Saturday. Dad’s first thought was that this would keep him from his beloved Saturday handball games. And he was already giving up Sunday games! The decision was a no-brainer. Down with Julliard and up with handball! So, though Dad never sang at Carnegie, he did win many national and international competitions. For every victory he brought home a trophy. Mom decried every one as monstrously ugly and quickly banished them to some old bushel basket in the attic. Dad didn’t care. It was the game, not the trophy, that mattered.

 LOVE

Dad was not one to talk about feelings, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t know how he felt. Timmy, the youngest of the Grapes kids, was a challenge for Mom and Dad when he was a teenager. One night when Timmy again came home well after curfew, he found the door to his bedroom nailed shut. Message sent; message received. No words necessary. This was the child whose life was twice saved by Dad. The first time was when Timmy was three years old. We were breaking camp at the end of our vacation at Lake George when Mom realized Tim had disappeared. "Where's Tim?" she asked. Suddenly, someone noticed a small body floating face down about 20 feet off shore. Dad raced to the water’s edge and dove in, scraping open the skin of his chest on the rocks in the shallow water. As he carried Timmy’s small, limp, blue body out of the water Dad looked at Mom and pleaded, “Meccy, don't let him go!”

Mom didn't let him go. Just a few weeks earlier she had read an article in Reader's Digest about the new technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for people who had stopped breathing. After an eternity of seconds Timmy gasped and started to breathe.

The second time Dad saved Tim’s life was less dramatic, but no less significant. As mentioned earlier, Mom and Dad were worried about Tim in high school. He was hanging out with a bad crowd and getting into trouble. So Dad invited Timmy to ride the bus into Pittsburgh Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons after school to play racquetball at the YMCA with Dad and his buddies. When they were finished they’d all go across the street and have dinner at Tamballini's Restorante. Tim fell in love with racquetball and blossomed with the attention and affirmation of the players who took him in. Before long he was playing tournaments with Dad and the guys. When he graduated from high school he began working at WWPatterson, where he became the best salesmen the company had ever had.

Dad was especially uncomfortable with the words “I love you.” Last summer our family had a wonderful 90th birthday celebration with Dad. Afterward, I visited with him in his room. It was the evening before I had to return to North Carolina and I wanted to say good night and goodbye. Finally I got up to go, gave him a hug, and said, “I love you Dad.” He paused. Then he said, “Yeah, well that’s good, because the feeling’s sort of mutual.” Of course, I cracked up with laughter. That’s my Dad!

Well Dad, the feeling is sort of mutual for all of us. We love you and miss you.

Forever.

 

Tributes are short messages commemorating Eugene, or an expression of support to his closest family and friends. Leave your first tribute here, and others will follow.

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Angel's Poem

Shared by KC Grapes on April 11, 2014
I was sitting on the sod. It was very sad. I was sitting on the sod That would cover the ashes of my Dad.   He had died two years ago, One day off my birthday. It was so very sad. We didn't know it would be this way.   Later we had lunch at the China Garden Where if you ordered wine, you didn't get a glass. That was Eugene Frank Grapes' day. The day was very sad.

Hear Dad’s childhood stories, narrated by Dad.

Shared by KC Grapes on September 6, 2013

During the late 1990’s, we began to realize that although Dad was a wonderful story teller, and an excellent writer, he was never going to write his colorful childhood stories down on paper. At that time, Beep, Kestrel, Tansy, and I used to go over to Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner each week. We decided to start taping Dad’s stories so that we would have them for future generations of family members to enjoy.

We didn’t want Dad to know he was being recorded because we wanted the spontaneity of his storytelling ability to come through. So we hid the small recorder behind a nearby wine bottle, primed him with glass after glass of the tongue-loosening liquid, and plied him with lots of questions about his childhood. That’s all it took.

Dad regaled us with some tales we’d already heard and many we’d never heard. The kids giggled with glee while we adults laughed and shook our heads in wonder at how different his crazy childhood was from ours.

Each recording is about 30 minutes long. Because this was dinnertime discussion you’ll sometimes hear silverware clinking on plates, kids whispering to Grandma in the background, and other small interruptions. But the sound quality is clear. The voices you’ll hear are Gene, Beep, KC, Meccy, 11-year-old Kestrel, and 10-year-old Tansy. Uncle Richy visited once during that time and made a cameo visit on our audio tapes. Although Richy has been gone longer than Dad, it’s great to hear his voice coming over the years and talking with Dad about what life was like for the both of them back then.

Also, because the recordings were done in a clandestine manner, the conversation sometimes segued into contemporary topics of the day. We tried to get Gene back on topic, but occasionally it took a few minutes to get him back to a story. Side A of the Ancestors tape begins with a lot of contemporary talk. You can skip the first half of the tape by sliding the blue speed bar to the right. Move it to the 13:40 time mark and you’ll drop right into the beginning of one of Dad’s stories.

From Where Did The Name “Grapes” Come?
Many versions of this tale have been told. Mostly, they are all wrong. Even though I listened to Dad tell how the name evolved on these tapes, I guess I also had had too much wine in me … because, I’ve been telling the story wrong all these years since, too.

In order to learn the real story listen to Side A of the Ancestors tape. Slide the time mark bar to 22:00 and begin. I would tell the story here, but I wouldn’t do it justice. It’s best to hear Dad tell it.

I hope you all enjoy these tapes as much as we’ve enjoyed listening to them again. It’s so good to hear his, Richy’s, and Mom’s voices from that happy time spent in the warmth of their home.

WWII Interview of Eugene Grapes By Justin Holm 1997

Shared by KC Grapes on August 29, 2013

By speaking with my Grandfather, I learned that for him the war wasn’t quite as fast paced as I thought it would’ve been. It still sounds pretty exciting. I would’ve thought that it would be more depressing and sad too.

My Grandpa grew up in a poor family in Massachusetts and in Brooklyn, New York.  When the war started he probably thought that it’d be a good opportunity to make a little money, have an adventure, and help him get into college hopefully.  He joined the Navy rather than be drafted.  The only way that you could get into the Navy was by volunteering.  His Brother George also joined the Armed Forces but he went into the Army and fought over in Europe.

My Grandpa joined the Navy July 10, 1942 and in his time serving he reached the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer. The two jobs he had over the course of war were radio man and radar man.  I never knew you had to go through as much training as he did just to get out in the ocean. “First I went to Boot Camp.  Then I went to Radio School where I was offered the opportunity to volunteer for PT Boats. I did volunteer and I then went to PT Boat School for two months.  Later, I was assigned to a boat and we were taken overseas.”

I learned that a PT boat is a Wooden Motor Torpedo Boat.  It has four torpedo tubes in it.  It is very small and usually had a crew of only eleven people.  Life on the PT boat was very cramped.  It would not be the ideal choice of places to work for anyone who’s claustrophobic.  Many people who worked with my Grandpa would get a little, “weird”.   “Some people got awfully homesick and they would start acting strangely.  They would stop shaving and washing and things like that, but once they got notice of a 30 day leave, they’d perk right up.  We would be out there for two years at a time and very close quarters so I could understand why people would get a little weird.”

Most of the time Grandpa’s PT boat patrolled around the islands of the Pacific.  “The idea was to patrol islands and sneak out and attack much larger ships at night.  We had to do it at night or we’d be blown out of the water.  We could even sink ships as large as destroyers.”

When the first atomic bomb was dropped, no one on his ship had any idea what it was so they did not know what to think.  By the time the second one was dropped they had learned more about it.  They expected that the war would be over soon.  A week later the war was over.  It ended in August of 1945.

You had to get enough points to be discharged and there were many factors that played a part in how many points you needed to get.  These included how many years you served, how old you were, if you were married, etc.  My Grandpa didn’t have enough points to be discharged when he learned that the war was over.  “The war ended in August and I only had 30 points, which was not enough.”  So his PT boat landed in the Philippine Islands where he worked until February 6, 1946.  During the time he spent on the islands, he worked in a telegraph office.

The Armed Forces had Japanese prisoners to do work for them.  They knew that the prisoners would not run off because the Filipinos (people from the Philippines) hated the Japanese and would kill any that they could.  So, the Japanese could be trusted to perform menial labor for the Americans.

I really enjoyed doing this project.  It was very interesting learning about my Grandfather’s younger years and his service in the Navy.

MORE INFORMATION

The last I had heard, my brother was in the battle of the Bulge over in France in 1945.  I hadn’t seen him for several years and thought he was still in France.  Then my sister wrote me a letter asking why I hadn’t gone to visit him since he was over in the Philippines.  Before then I had no idea that he was there.  I found out later that when the war had ended in Europe he was sent over there.

I went to Manila, which was nearby and found out where he was.  He was stationed only about 100 miles away so I asked my superior officer if I could go visit and he said I could.  So I hitch-hiked over there.  It was a tough ride because the roads had been bombed out, it took me all day.

I got there around supper time, and it turned out that my brother wasn’t back yet.  When he did get back it had gotten dark.  I came up from behind him and hugged him, but he didn’t know who it was, he then said, “Darnit Jimmy get off my back!!”  He then turned around and realized that it was me and just about broke my ribs in a hug.