It's funny the things you're not really aware of as a kid but which you learn about later on in life.
My Grandpa Ralph was the only grandpa I ever knew. He was my mom's stepfather. My dad's dad died four years before I was born, so I never met him at all (unless it was in heaven). Mom's dad died the year after I was born, so even if I met him, I certainly don't remember him. As far as I was concerned, Ralph was Grandpa.
Although Grandpa Ralph died when I was 6, I do have memories of him. I remember loving him a lot - probably because he spoiled me rotten. He and my Grandma lived in San Francisco, so I didn't see them too, too often, but they came and visited occasionally, and I remember once visiting them
Grandpa had nicknames for all of us. Mine was "Tiger," and that's what he always called me. I remember him giving me a stuffed tiger as a toy, and I had it for a few years.
Grandpa was very loving, affectionate, and kind. He bought me toys (including a train set when I was a baby or toddler and which my mom thought was completely impractical. I have several pictures of me with Grandpa Ralph.
I also remember being devastated when I learned he had died, which if I remember correctly, was a month or two after the fact, and I also remember being upset that no one had told me sooner (although I get the impression they did, but that I just didn't understand the magnitude of what it meant).
That's what I remember. All memories I have of Grandpa Ralph are good ones. I remember nothing bad about him.
But as I've read Mom's journals and talked with family members and friends and read letters and as I think of things Mom has told me during my life, her experience was different as was that of her brothers. Apparently Ralph was domineering and could be very childish if he didn't get his way. He was overly sensitive. He was a control freak, and although I don't think he would ever have hurt anybody purposefully, I understand he had a bit of a temper and could say hurtful things when under duress. I get the feeling he was manipulative. I think he thought he could buy people's love and trust with material things. He had to have his fingers in everybody's business.
As Mom has told it, Ralph married her mother when Mom was 16, and that was tough. Ralph insinuated himself into Mom's life, trying to replace her father (that's how she saw it), and Mom was of an age when she resented that. She resented Ralph's intrusion into her personal life and trying to tell her what to do. She resented his unsolicited advice and nagging. Mom also thought he was a bit ethically-challenged (little acts of dishonesty that didn't seem a big deal to Ralph, but which upset her). From all Mom has ever told me, it was a very difficult time.
When she was nineteen, Mom got so fed up and found the situation so unbearable that she moved out and into an apartment of her own. I think this hurt both Grandma and Grandpa, but Mom couldn't take it.
I have been reading my Dad's love letters to Mom, written during this period. I only have Dad's side, though (he, unfortunately, didn't keep Mom's letters to him), and it doesn't reveal much about the situation...yet (I'm still reading them), but I did find a letter to my mom from her grandfather saying some not so nice things about Ralph and pleading with Mom to stay with her mother even though things were rough. Mom apparently ignored that advice.
I also learned that Ralph alienated the whole family for some time. Both of Mom's brothers left home when they got older, and neither had anything to do with Ralph even up until he died. Mom's younger brother didn't speak to either Ralph or his mom for three years, as I understand it.
While I knew life with Ralph was not happy for Mom or her brothers, I did not really understand the extent until I started reading journals and letters and listening to old tapes. And the Grandpa Ralph I knew does not fit the image presented to me now.
I do get the impression that Ralph was a man with good intentions who did some good things, but who was also deeply flawed.
I have some old tapes of Grandpa talking. He sounds so kindly and loving to me, just as I remember him. The fact that I know more details about his life doesn't change that. But it's true that the idyllic picture you have of someone as a kid can be altered drastically by a reality you never recognized.
I also have a tape of my Grandma a week after Ralph died. One can tell there is still tension between her and her sons (by that time, Mom had basically reconciled her differences with him and had remained close), and she sounds so alone. It makes me sad to hear her pain.
I also discovered that Ralph's wishes were to be cremated and that no one was to know about it until after the fact (another manipulation?), but that didn't end up happening. Grandma called Mom the day after he died and told her, and Mom informed her older brother, who informed the younger one. Much to Grandma's surprise, both boys showed up to the service, whatever it entailed. Mom wanted to come, too, but Grandma told her "no."
Anyway, it's just weird to find out all sorts of things I never really knew. It's kind of like when I found out Dad's mom was a bit of a racist.
Reading Dad's letters has also made me really how witty and romantic he was. I can see why Mom fell in love with him. But the young 22 year-old in the letters bears little resemblance to the man I knew as my father. He probably expressed himself better through writing than speaking, which is ironic since we have so little of anything he may have written. Dad was quiet, serious, and didn't express himself too much. I kind of wonder what happened to the goofy, funny, smitten guy I see in these letters.
Anyway, it's been educational.