The Legacy of My Grandfather

Grandpa and Uncle Drew 1946I mentioned my grandpa briefly in earlier posts and not in a very favourable light. He deserves to have more of his story shared.

Robert (Bob) Strathdee Reid was born in 1917 in Glasgow, Scotland. He was born out of wedlock to Mia (last name unknown) and John Strathdee, and raised by his grandmother, Jane Garrow, who formally adopted him in 1934. Jane was a pub keeper in Dufftown, Scotland, and her second husband, James Henderson Reid, was a local policeman. This is the most I can piece together about my grandpa’s early life. My uncle started a family tree but discovered most of our family’s records were destroyed in a fire.

My grandparents married in 1942 in Scotland. My grandpa was a medic posted in Africa during World War II. I don’t know much about his time there, although he did like to talk about his “boy,” a young African who served as his helper. (If the “boy” doesn’t say it all, my grandpa held the colonial opinions about other cultures typical of the time.)

After the war, my grandpa worked as a travelling salesman (candy and Fownes gloves are the items my mom remembers). I don’t know much else about him, other than the bad. He was an alcoholic. The running family joke (which I’m sure was not so funny at the time) was that he would stumble home drunk from the Black Bull demanding that his supper be on the table waiting for him. He verbally abused his family and at times became physically violent, even chasing my grandma, uncle, and mom with a knife until they locked themselves in the wash closet.  He pressured my bookish uncle to be more masculine and pushed my mom to excel in athletics. He was an angry man.

My grandparents immigrated to British Columbia, Canada, in the 1970s. My grandpa worked for BC Hydro for many years, made a little money in Vancouver’s booming real estate market, and retired early. When I was born, my mom made the difficult decision to move back in with her parents. As a single mom, she wanted to make sure that I had a better quality of life.

I have mixed memories of my grandpa. He was the father figure in my life at that time so I remember looking up to him and hoping for his praise. He had a certain charm when he wasn’t drinking and made friends easily. He could talk to anyone and even achieved minor “celebrity” status as a reporter on a local television show in Delta. He was President of the Lion’s Club and a lawn bowling aficionado. He survived triple bypass surgery in the 1980s.

I remember that he liked to spoil me, but it always came at a price. After his abusive drunk spells he would always buy me something; it was his way of asking for forgiveness. Like my gran, he somehow managed to accept my uncle’s coming out, but the fights didn’t stop and my uncle often stayed away. He took my mom, gran, and I on vacation but always ruined them by getting drunk. Nothing was ever good enough—if I was getting A’s in school, there was something wrong. A+ was the only acceptable mark. In his own way, he wanted the best for me and I loved him for it.

The greatest tragedy in my grandpa’s life was discovering too late that he had unknowingly met his biological father. During the war, he nursed a soldier in Africa who later died of his injuries. Just before my grandparents left Scotland, my grandpa’s family revealed to him that the soldier had been his father. My grandpa was devastated.

I wish I could say this is what formed his character, but that was established long before. Being a “bastard,” a serious stigma for his generation, likely played a role, as did the horrors of the war. I like to think that my grandma fell in love with the charming man we sometimes glimpsed over the years. Dashing, confident, always ready with a joke or story. She couldn’t have guessed what he would become and—another misfortune of that generation—was powerless to leave him when she learned the truth. My mom believes they loved each other despite the difficulties of their relationship.

Sometimes I miss my grandpa, or miss what might have been. He died in 1993 when cancer rapidly spread throughout his body. He went mad at the very end when the cancer hit his brain, running out of my grandparent’s condo in a fugue. He was 76 years old.

I was deeply upset by my grandpa’s death, even surprising myself by breaking down at the funeral. At the time of his passing, my parents and I were living in a small house (a former office space) at the back of our new property while the previous owners finished moving out of the main house. My bed was in a loft area reached by ladder from the kitchen. The night after my grandpa’s funeral, I awoke to hear footsteps in the kitchen below. The steps moved relentlessly across the tile to the loft ladder and began to climb.

It was my grandpa. I shut my eyes immediately after his head emerged above the ladder and waited what seemed like hours to open them again. He was gone and I was left with a feeling of absolute dread.

Was he saying goodbye? Was I trying to say goodbye? In either case, the terror stayed with me for some time. It makes me sad that this is my grandpa’s legacy. He made his mark on this earth, but not in the way that any of us hopes for.

 

© Jennifer Bertrand, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

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