Yesterday would’ve been my grandfather’s 106th birthday. In 2018, his birthday fell on a Friday and I wrote about him in the introduction to that week’s legal ethics quiz. I try to remember to re-post the blog every February 1. This year I forgot. So, I’m posting it a day late. It’s no big deal. I guarantee that Papa knows me well enough to know that that if he was still with us, I’d be calling right about now to wish him a belated happy birthday.
Happy Birthday Papa!
Here’s the original post.
Welcome to # 105!
Today I’m going to write about Eddie Bonneau. Eddie was my grandfather, my mom’s dad. I called him “Papa.”
How am I tying this to #105? Good question.
My grandfather isn’t 105. His birthday was February 1 and, if still alive today, he’d have just turned 102. It only feels like 105 years since I’ve seen him. So, there’s that.
Plus, using a prop to which I frequently resort in this column, the final digit in 105 is, well, 5. And VT Route 5 runs through Bradford, which is where my grandfather lived for the final 50 (or so) years of his life.
Good enough for me.
I’m going to share two stories about Papa. But first, some background.
Eddie Bonneau was born in Chicago. Somehow, his family ended up in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Papa dropped out of Lebanon High School after his sophomore year. Like many of French-Canadian descent, he went to work in a woolen mill.
When he was 21, he married my grandmother. She was 17 and had recently graduated from high school. She was the breadwinner: Nanny made $7 per week, Papa $5.
Within 10 years, they’d had 4 kids and moved across the river & up the valley to Bradford, Vermont. My grandfather opened a grocery store.
The grocery store lasted only until the early 1950’s. My grandfather was deep in debt. His creditors took over. Papa decided against bankruptcy, concluding that it was morally and ethically wrong.
Over the next few years, he and my grandmother had 2 more kids. For the rest of his life, my grandfather worked here and there: some jobs as a door-to-door salesman, one as a butcher, another as a clerk at the 5 & Dime.
I remember him as being the smartest guy I knew. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, you listened. What he didn’t have in school smarts, he had 100 times over in common sense. He was a voracious reader & keen follower of current events.
Papa loved cribbage. And cards. He dutifully played endless rounds of pinochle with my grandmother and various family & friends, even though my grandmother usually whupped him, no matter their respective partners.
Papa wasn’t active. I don’t think I ever saw him in anything but dark pants and a button-up white shirt. That’s how he dressed even when he & my grandmother took us to Lake Winnipesaukee, where he’d sit on a bench reading a newspaper while we swam. Another time, he wore his clothes into a boat. We were staying at a camp on the beach at Niquette Bay on Lake Champlain. He helped me catch my first fish. A little pumpkinseed.
Besides not being active, Papa smoked. He was an equal opportunity smoker. He smoked for breakfast, he smoked for lunch, and he smoked for dinner. He smoked on the bench at the beach. I vividly recall mornings at his breakfast table, where we’d pretend not to hear his daily coughing fits that he thought the wafer-thin bathroom walls muffled.
Emphysema eventually killed him in 1994.
Before it did, my brother and I have an enduring memory of visiting our grandparents for a family event, only to have Papa disappear. We went to find him. He had wheeled his oxygen tank to the barn to sneak a cigarette. By then we were in our late teens, maybe 20’s. We didn’t feel compelled to make a mandatory report to our grandmother, mom, or aunts.
You see, one thing Papa loved, but lacked, was quiet. My mom has 4 sisters and a brother. Unlike my grandfather, one might accurately describe my grandmother and her 6 children as the sharing type. As in, they’ve always shared pretty much every thought that ever entered their heads. So, if Papa wanted a smoke in the quiet of the barn, who were my brother and I to stop him?
Now, the stories.
First, like I said, my grandfather was super smart. And he was proud. Not vain, but proud. I visited my grandparents during the holiday break of my first year in law school. Once we sat down, he said, after a long drag, “so Mister, tell me a law.”
I had no ready answer. He wasn’t impressed.
Next, for special occasions, my grandmother would send me, my brother, and our cousins checks. Sometimes $3, sometimes $5. She’d include a card with a note to “buy yourself an ice cream!” Once, in law school, I lost one of my $3 checks. I was too afraid to tell her, so I let the Irish side of me take over. Meaning, I just ignored it, figuring that ignoring it would make the issue go away.
Epic fail. Eventually, my mother called to ask why I hadn’t cashed Nanny’s check. I had to fess up. Again, Papa wasn’t impressed with someone who cared so little about $3 as to lose a check.
A few months later, Nanny & Papa gave me $300 as gift for my graduation from law school. For people like them, it was an astonishingly staggering amount. Think about it: it’s 25 times as much as their combined weekly income as newlyweds. I cashed the check immediately.
About a month later, I was back in Vermont and went to visit my grandparents. First words out of Papa’s mouth: “guess you didn’t lose that one.”
I don’t how to end this post. I’m not sure how it ties to 105, other than it doesn’t. I just felt like writing about my grandfather. I miss him. He was a good man. He had nothing, but made sure that his kids had something, which, besides my parents, is one of the main reasons that I have anything.
Thanks for indulging me.
Blogger’s Note: This story was originally posted on February 1, 2018.