The Lights Are Much Brighter There

Two things reminded me of my maternal grandparents lately.

Which was funny, because it felt like I hadn’t thought about them much in a while. Both have been gone from us for quite a while now. Papa died about thirty years ago and Grandmother followed him not quite fifteen years later.

I’ve written about them some – how Papa educated himself in the public library and became the youngest movie theater manager in the country. How he was even younger than they thought, because he’d lied about his age to get the usher job in the first place. Grandmother left the farm in Texas and taught herself how to be a lady in all things. The stories are full of post-depression glamor. She was his secretary and they both divorced to be together, then fled the bright lights, high-roller lifestyle and the scandal, exiled to the backwater of Denver.

I have the book all outlined, in fact, though it’s been sitting in a drawer for a while now.

At any rate, someone on Twitter mentioned that she’d bought See’s Candies. I know the stores are all over the malls still, but somehow her mention brought back vividly how Papa brought Grandmother a box of chocolates every week, all soft centers, no caramels. It was a courtly gesture that I puzzle over now. In their later years, relations between them were strained. I wonder now if buying the candies were a habit or an offering of perpetual repentance. There was always that white box though – unless it was a special color for a holiday – sitting on the table between their armchairs.

I can’t recall now if she ever bought them for herself, after he was gone.

(Since the “gone” involved first a mistress in California and then death by drinking, perhaps not.)

Then, a day later, another friend asked if anyone knew anything about Galatoire’s Milk Punch, and I realized that I did. Galatoire’s is a wonderful old restaurant in New Orleans. Papa was stationed near the city during the war and Galatoire’s became one of his favorites. I’d always known that. I also knew that Papa made “punch” every Sunday after mass. I even described it in an early writing exercise – the vanilla ice cream and milk frothing in a blender. He’d pour some for me, the ice cubes clinking in the tall glass, nutmeg sprinkled on top, the sparkly gold cocktail holder. Then he added the bourbon for theirs. No luck for me if I wanted seconds.

I only realized years later that not everyone’s grandparents started drinking on Sunday morning.

But my friend’s question made me realize where he’d learned it, in the city of languor and partying.

We live in a more ascetic time now. A box of candy every week is over the top. Spending Sunday drinking bourbon questionable.

And yet, thinking of them, seeing those old logos, makes me think of how handsome they were. For a while they were stars of their own world, a place of movie stars and theaters that looked like palaces.

I miss them all over again.

9 Replies to “The Lights Are Much Brighter There”

  1. Very nice tribute post- even the flaws make us love our family, right? The best place to be accepted warts and all is in the home!

  2. Even the brightest memories can be a little tarnished by the realities of the past. Still, I think you should appreciate what glow there is. 🙂

  3. Yes, Sherry – flaws make us who are more than the virtues do, in many ways. They had a lot of glow, Linda. I've never failed to appreciate that.

  4. I'm pretty sure Mom never bought a box of candy for herself after Dad died. We did try to remember to do it on special occasions but, although she always thanked us, I'm pretty sure she didn't enjoy the tribute nearly as much. Betrayal can often taste like soft-centered chocolate.

  5. Wow, Mom – what a great line. I'm totally stealing that. "Betrayal can often taste like soft-centered chocolate."

  6. Isn't it interesting that in this age of purported overindulgence, a pair the product of the Great Depression seems so over the top?

  7. What beautiful, vivid memories!

    My grandmother met my grandfather when she passed an auto repair shop and saw a guy trying to rebuild an old car. "If you can do it in a week," she boasted, "I'll marry you." He did, and she did, and that's the beginning of a 50+ year love story.

    At least, that's one version of the love story.

    The other version involves his violent alcoholism, her struggle with breast cancer and dementia.

    Stories can be as simple and sweet or as complex and dark as we want them to.

    Love the post!

  8. Hmm. Most of the 'love' stories in my family are stories of regret and of dreams pushed aside. My mother's parents had a good and loving relationship, but the price was very high and I never had the chance to ask either of them if they thought it had been worth what they'd given up. Maybe I didn't want that answer. Then there was the great grandmother on my husband's side of the family who took exception to her husband's extra-martial affair and whacked him upside the head with a cast iron skillet. Yeah. Happy endings…I wonder.

  9. Marin – I find it really interesting, too. I think the take-home message is that ideas of "too much" change as much as fashion.

    Thanks Tawna. You see the same things I do. There's the fun and happy story of timeless love and it's painful underbelly. Marcella points out the same thing. Is that something we leave out of the happy-ever-afters, the eventual price?

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