My father was 25 years, one month, and two weeks old when his father, my Grandpa Bert, died. Grandpa Bert was 73 at the time. He had been in failing health for years, victim of a bad heart. He died on June 1, 1950 – three weeks before I was born.
In truth Grandpa Bert was my father's stepfather but I didn't know
that fact until I turned fifty. I'd grown up thinking he was my Grandma El's first husband and my biological grandfather. And to be honest, the truth made very little difference in the way I think about him. I've always regretted the fact that I never had the opportunity to get to know him. Grandpa Bert remains, for me, a shadowy figure of almost mythic kindness and equally mythic mystery.
When the Honourable Great Grandpa Fuller died, he left a considerable fortune to his children. I’m embarrassed to say I have no idea how many of them he had or what happened to them. If you’re looking for begats and a nice neat family tree, you’ll have to go to another forest. Mine is dark and dense and tangled.
Grandpa Bert moved from Halifax to Boston at first where his brother, The Actor, was appearing in repertory with Tyrone Powers’s father. The Actor lost his money backing bad plays. Grandpa Bert, I’m afraid, lost some of his money backing the same stinkers. The one that did in The Actor’s nest egg was called “The Hyacinth” and it lost its last petals one evening at a theatre on Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts. (Coincidentally, their father's name was Hyacinth.)
From there, Grandpa Bert went down to New York City. Another brother and a sister were now living on Long Island. (I have no idea why they didn’t stay in Nova Scotia.) Grandpa was looking for a way to turn his inheritance into an even larger fortune and he did what any forward-thinking young man at the turn-of-the-century would do: he bought himself a lake in Massachusetts. I mean, wouldn’t you do the same thing? The lake was frozen solid, as New England lakes should be during a hard cold winter. The idea was to cut huge blocks of ice from that frozen pristine lake, store them in ice houses, and reap the rewards all summer long.
Wouldn’t you know it? That year saw the earliest thaw in a century and it wiped him out.
I get the feeling that Grandpa Bert lived the life of an elegant dilettante for a long while. Somehow he ended up as an insurance underwriter. He was nearly fifty when he married for the first and only time. I wish I knew what he did, how he lived, during the years before Grandma El came into his life, carrying the sweet yoke of domesticity in one hand and a cudgel in the other.
So many mysteries I'll never unravel.
PS: I'm Barbara Bretton, a little late today but definitely enthusiastic about sharing my stories with you. Leave a comment and you'll be eligible to win signed copies of CASTING SPELLS, LACED WITH MAGIC, and SPUN BY SORCERY!