Monday, October 08, 2012

Left Handed, Four Eyed, Small Town & Catholic - and they call me Lucky???


Note to the reader:

If you want to read these stories in order you can click on the following story links:

I had more than my share of mystical challenges thanks to my maternal Grandfather of the Irish Campbell clan.  Of all his grandkids, he picked me to be entrusted as the future custodian of the family secrets in the ways of magic.

Maybe he did it because I, like my mother Patricia, shared his Patrick given Christian name, my middle name and Confirmation name.  I might have lost the Campbell Irish/Scottish surname but at least I kept the Irish Patrick name.

As far as magic was concerned, in Grandpa Pat's world it was impossible to distinguish between the magic used in ancient (Pagan) days or the more recent Christian era.

What he taught me through stories, fables and fantasies seemed to transcend time as if it really didn't matter when it began, the magic was real if you believed in it.

Perhaps an unexpected benefit of the blending of the Campbell (Irish) and Putnam (English) DNA was my interest in both the ancient Irish and British Celtic cultures, which made me feel at home in Newgrange Ireland or Stonehenge England.  For that matter I felt the same up at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands when I was searching for Nessie.

When I think back of my Grandfather, I often wonder if he was really a Leprechaun in disguise or perhaps a magical wizard.  My first memories of him came when I asked him why he didn't have a thumb?  It seemed like a good question to me, even if I was only about four or five.

First his always smiling rugged Irish face broke into a mischievous grin.  Of course at that age he already towered over me.  Then he started laughing.  Then he just stared at his missing thumb for what seemed like an eternity.

Much later I would learn it was his tactic of stalling while he made up some wild Irish tale to spin on me.  At long last he shrugged, slowly shook his head, and admitted he lost his thumb when some nasty gnome popped out of the old clothes washer and grabbed his hand, pulling his thumb right into the clothes wringer looming menacingly over the washer tub.

Oh my God, I thought at the time, Grandpa must have powerful magic to fight off an evil gnome and only lose one finger.  He must be like my hero Merlin.

And that is one of the problems of bouncing freely between my fantasy world and reality.  I had no reason to doubt his veracity.  Even after he told me all good stories are only half true.

Don't think any other grandkids shared my strange world but my Irish grandfather most certainly did, as he was not a bit surprised I was so gullible.  So I passed the entrance exam to become custodian of the magic world of the Campbell clan et all and here I had no clue I was even being tested.

One of the reasons I'm sure he was a wizard was his ability to enchant me with his stories, as if I were under some spell.  I remember story after story of the world of the little people of Ireland but I have no memory of my grandfather telling me the stories, even though I knew I was with him at the time.

Sometimes I would have this faint recollection of having experienced the stories with him rather than being told by him and that was a most peculiar and unsettling notion.  I could just imagine the trouble I would be in if I could leap between worlds or dimensions at will.

From Alice's Wonderland to Tinker Bell's Never Land to Arthur's Camelot and back home again.  In truth most times it was hard to tell the difference between them.

Grandpa Pat made it okay to lose yourself in all those other worlds.  He also made it okay to create your own worlds as well.  There was one thing he was never going to lose and that was his right to his individual freedom.

There was a big difference in what those words meant between his grandson and his daughter, the grandson's mother.  Me and my mother in case you were confused.

I said it was a noble declaration of individual rights as well as a validation of the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution by my Grandfather whose very own heritage taught him the tragic consequences of being denied such rights!

His daughter just sneered at me.

Then she said don't you patronize me with your intellectual nonsense or your idiotic conclusions.  What my father and your grandfather meant was if you don't like the truth - then change it!

I never would have figured that out on my own.

So I accepted her interpretation as her interpretation knowing full well mine was far more concise and consistent with how he lived.

Old Pat had that Scottish resolve and that Irish flair for living.  He met a number of my "how to spot a wizard" criteria beginning with the missing thumb tale.  By now it had magically transformed into how he used his thumb to plug up the hole in the Holland dikes like in the fairy tale.

I was not about to question my grandfather.

To my absolute delight and amazement, both my grandfathers were world class pack rats.  It was in the DNA.  There was no rhyme nor reason to what they "saved" as they called it.  They taught me the greatest of all collections you can have are fond memories you have known.

To share their world was to leave behind all rules, regulations, laws and definitions.  That was the single most powerful gift I had been given.  To understand I could step beyond definition knowing it was just another mechanism to limit your perception of truth, was a great and lasting legacy from my grandfathers.

They also taught me how to lose and how to survive.

I'm sure there are a lot of things they taught me I should not have learned but that remains to be seen.

Whatever else it was they shared, when Grandpa Pat said to never, ever tell my mom or anyone the things he shared with me I was marked for life.   Throughout his life and beyond his death my mom and her sisters never quit trying to get me to spill the beans on their father.

They were convinced because I spent so much time with him over the years that I knew everything about the "secret" life he kept from them.  Convinced I was a co-conspirator to hide assets and protect people in his life he did not want them to know about, they could never accept that someone like me could go through life without spying on people.

Oh there was a lot I did know, learn or observe over the years but nothing like they wanted to hear.  He did take me to obscure places in Texas to see cotton fields and citrus fields he owned, or a motel in Springfield, Missouri he owned, or farms in Iowa and Nebraska.

It wasn't my fault he didn't want to tell his own kids.  Besides, I was sworn to secrecy in a pact with a wizard.  You do not violate such confidences.  And I had no desire to wind up a frog or something.

Grandfather Putnam was equally eccentric and just as fiercely independent.  His life was a whirlpool of constant activity built around his many business ventures all connected to his long lineage of engineers, inventors and members of secret societies.

There was the Loyal Order of the Moose, the Masons, his own Moose Club Orchestra, the car dealer, tool and die shop, welding supply business, machine shop, beer distributor, apartment owner, nursing home owner and inventor.

I got to use his machine shop.  And his beer distributorship long before I was of legal age.  And Grandpa Put gave me my first American car, in a way.  He had a '49 Chev with a blown engine sitting behind his distributorship and I asked if I could buy it.

He said I could have it if I could drive it out.  Of course I was still a year from getting a driver's license and by then my family had been banished from the hometown and sent to live in exile in Southern Iowa.  Boy does that story sound familiar.

The exile left me 80 miles from Iowa City where the dead car sat behind the mountain of beer.  It took me less than month working on weekends with the help of my good friend Turtle and thanks to the genius of a son of my uncle's brother, or something like that.

Bobby, my relative and about ten years older and one hundred years wiser knew how to get anything done as fast as possible with the fewest questions.  He was a legendary fixer in Iowa City and his was the first place I headed when I got to town.

One time I broke a windshield in a borrowed car and he got it replaced in the middle of the night and no one knew it was ever broken.

This time he guided my repair of the old Chev and one Saturday my Grandpa stopped by the shop and the Chev was gone, eleven months before I turned 16 and got my license.  In a quiet town 80 miles away the Chev was parked two blocks away from my house where it remained a secret until I got my license.

Grandpa Put was not a bit surprised.

One night when we were working on the Chev Bobby, my somewhat wayward relative, told me if I really wanted an interesting care I should ask his dad, Frank, to give me an English Austin he had given Bobby for high school graduation years ago.

That got my attention.

Seems his day Dad was an electrical contractor who helped keep the lights on in London during all those years of bombing by the Nazis.  As a token of their gratitude, they gave him an Austin from the first production of passenger cars after World War II.

That would be 1946, the year of my birth.  Bobby hated the little European car.  Called it a sissy car.  Bobby would know, he was a grease monkey with an attitude.  A dead ringer for Jimmy Dean who had recently died.

As for the Austin, of course it was not the sports model he might have liked but the four door sedan that looked like an English taxi.

Bobby drove it less than 3,000 miles then permanently parked it in one of their garages, his dad owned several homes and properties.  One day I found it in the garage on a farm, again when I was 15, and though it had not been moved in 14 years I wanted it.  I of true Rothschild lineage was destined to have and to drive a vintage English classic.

So I asked Frank, Bobby's dad, if he would sell me the strange little car I found in his garage out on the farm by Indian Lookout Mountain.

He asked why I would want a car like that?  His own son called it a sissy car.  Fourteen years later and it was still a sensitive issue between Bobby and his dad.

When he said he would let me know sometime it sounded like a complete blow off, I would never be able to afford or get the car.  Later that year I got a birthday card from Frank.  Taped inside the card were the keys to the car.  There was no note.

The Putnam's were like that.  If they thought something was right they just did it.  No fanfare, no notes, just the keys taped in a card.  Within months of first getting my driver's license I had two cars licensed and running and paid for neither.  Yet another reason my mother said I was always lucky.

Of course she never considered the fact I had searched out the two cars, checked them out and pursued the owners to make a deal.  Then I had to fix them up.  Initiative was not her strong suit.  Of course it had to be luck.

Then again she was the one empowered to change the truth if she didn't like it.   We just never saw eye to eye.

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