My Granddad

Going for a Jeep Ride

It’s no secret that my character Linden St. Clair’s grandfather was modeled after my grandfather, in personality and mannerisms. Several years ago I wrote about my beloved grandfather. Since publishing Braha, I thought you might like to read about him again.

My sister and I came into my grandfather’s life at the perfect time. He was old enough to be well-seasoned in life, young enough to still have fun, and very, very cool. I always though of him as very dashing and debonair — he was the only real grandfather I knew who had a tuxedo in his closet. A former commercial pilot as well as a pilot during World War II, he always had exotic stories to tell of his adventures in faraway places. Most important, he knew how to relate to kids, he knew what made us tick, and he knew how to help us have fun.

My grandfather had a topless, old World War II Jeep as his main mode of transportation. He had attached  a vice to the right rear bench seat and used it as a dog leash holder for his best friend Perky. Whenever we visited my grandparents, first on our agenda would be to go for a Jeep ride with him.

As a parent, now, I shudder when I think of the safety issues no one ever considered back in those days. Considering we took the Jeep everywhere — on the highway, winding country roads, rocky unpaved roads, and amidst stop and go traffic in the city — we are lucky to be alive. No seat belts? Check. No roll bar? Check. Nothing for us to hold on to except for the back of the two front seats? Check. No canvas or light weight cover for bad weather? Check. No padding anywhere? Check.

As if to compensate for the extremely un-child friendly vehicle, our grandmother always made sure we were bundled up good and snug, presumably because it was a bit drafty with all that wind constantly blowing us about. It had the added advantage of offering us limited protection from street burn in case we ever lost our grip and were flung out of the back of the vehicle. Our bundling consisted of over-sized people coats — think of adult jackets on children under 12 — and either a cowboy hat or a scarf attached to a strange visor to keep our hair from becoming a snarled mess. For some reason, my sister always got the cool granddad plaid shirt jacket and cowboy hat; I was relegated the matronly grandma coat and gaudy print scarf. I suspect they used to laugh at me much like we laughed at the dog when we put rain boots on him.

Sometimes we would run errands, going to the grocery store or the post office. Other times we explored Bear Mountain and drove through Spooks Canyon, sneaking quietly through the spirit camp, imagining ghosts escorting us until we left the property. We also traversed unpaved fire trails in search of short cuts across the mountains, drove out to the Calavo packing plant, and visited the mushroom farm and the egg ranch. He kept us busy and captivated in other ways, too. We examined the patch of quick sand down the road from his home, picked avocados and cukes for ridiculously low wages, danced the polka with him at the local Bavarian eatery, and dined out at Lawrence Welk’s place, which excited my sister and I only because we were able to see the dancing Barbie and Ken dolls.

Patriotic to the bone, once he agreed to let my sister and I raise the American flag on the tall pole in front on his house, only to discover later that we raised it upside down, the universal flag signal for distress.  He would just laugh at us and our silly antics, as if we brought him as much joy as he gave us. Not even close.

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