Saturday, May 03, 2008

Finishing the Bubs Interview

My grandpa Harald is on the left. Apparently he made extra money as a Herb Ritts model.

logger legend Bubs sent me five interview questions on May 28, 2007. It took me a while to get started, but since the first question was about how Poor George and I met, I felt compelled to tell the story in its entirety which took six installments over a period of time. (See here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 of the CP+PG story.)

Only after that was I able to get to his second question, which centered on the inimitable Mama Gin (video included.)

Finally today, Thanksgiving Day (where incidentally I am bundled up on my couch sick as a dog) I have decided to give a crack at the rest of Bubs' questions. (editor's note: Today is actually May 3, 2008. I procrastinated yet another five months.)

In case you are feeling slighted by my taking six months to answer your questions, Bubs, be assured that you are receiving a quicker reply than the majority of my colleagues do at work, although that's mainly because they are annoying. With you I can only fall back on my laziness, which I do cherish by the way so let's keep the nasty comments to ourselves.

With that, let's get on to Bubs' third question.

3) You have a free weekend coming up, and you can go anywhere in the world on the condition that you throw a small cocktail party once you get there. You can ask any 5 or 6 people (living or dead, famous, not famous, whatever) to help you host it. Who do you get, and where will you be hosting this party?

I already blogged about my ideal dinner party list after which I was flamed in the comments on account of a snide remark I made about Robert Downey Jr.

(Mindy says it was probably RDJ himself flaming me, and I'd have to agree.)

So, I think this cocktail party is going to be a family affair so that I can get to know some of my ancestors better.

1. My grandpa Harald. Grandpa Harald was a crabby old Norwegian who died when I was a junior in high school, so I didn't get enough time with him. He was a neatnick (may be where I got my gene from) who would come to our house and take it upon himself to spiff up our lawn.

This is Grandpa Harald wooing my grandmother. He was 21 years older than her. Hmm, shotgun wedding, much?

One day I came home from school to find that my favorite tree in front of our house had lost all its lower branches, the ones I would use to get started on a good climb, because Grandpa didn't think it looked "neat" enough. I cried.

Grandpa in his minimalist yard design. I'm surprised he allowed those three leaves in the foreground to stay there long enough for someone to snap this photo.

Another time he decided to mow the lawn and used the mower to run roughshod over a climbing vine that had been growing nicely on a small hill in front of the house. "Yew don't need all dose leaves growin' all over da place like dat!" he said when my mom politely asked him what the fuck he was doing.

Grandpa was also very particular about what he ate. He pretty much only ate meat, fish and potatoes; any kind of greenery or crunchy raw vegetable would be shunned as "rabbit food."

Grandpa and Grandma were a great couple because they were both neatniks. Grandma made him wear a bib during his later years. He also had such particular food tastes and requirements that I would not be able to be his friend if I knew him today.

He married Grandma when she was quite young, so his Norwegian relatives taught her to make all his favorites like meatballs and that sort of thing. He was particularly fond of all the different types of herrings and sardines that you will find if you ever go to a breakfast buffet
in Scandinavia. Regardless of what he ate, however, he would invariably top the meal off with a cup of coffee sucked through a piece of coffee flavored Brach's candy that he would hold between his teeth. And when he was done with that he would pat his belly and say "dat wasn't much, but it sure was gud!" and then laugh like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.

Grandpa visiting Tijuana.

Grandpa Harald was really cute. I loved him and miss him a lot. This is him with my mom and my uncle.

2. My grandpa David, my dad's father. I don't know squat about this guy because he died before I was born - and my dad rarely talks about his family. From what I gather he was a crabby ass with a mean streak. Ran off and joined the Seabees during the War and left my grandma at home with a bunch of small kids, at which point she took to her bed and left the household under the care of my dad's older sisters (who, thankfully, are good people.) The only reason I know any of this is because I sat and grilled my Aunt Lura for a few hours one time - she is the oldest sibling who probably remembers more than anyone else.

So why would I want this guy at my party? Well, he is my grandpa and I've never met him. It would be nice to see what he was like for myself. (picture below)

3. My great-grandma Jeanette. Great-Grandma Jeanette was an Indian, at least that's what some people have said. My mom said when she was growing up there was always all this talk about "an Indian in the family" but that her mother would always shut it down whenever it was mentioned. I always thought something looked very Native about my grandma's face, although my mom told me in no uncertain terms that was never to be uttered out loud in Grandma's presence.

A few yeas ago I went out to dinner with some Native American friends who live in New York. I brought along some pictures of my great-grandma and said "do you think she has native blood?" They both took one look and said "Oh yeah, definitely." One thought she may have been full blood from some tribe like Sauk and Fox or Miami, and the other friend ventured she was probably half white.

Either way, they explained to me that during the homesteading days, there were a lot of Indians who could pass as white and more than a few of them tried to because that was the only way to be able to homestead and own land, since Indians were usually precluded from that. So it's not surprising at all that many people in this country who have had relatives here for any length of time probably have some Native American blood; and to the extent that people have any, it was probably well hidden for political-economic reasons. Still, I was surprised to think that mine could have been so close in my mom's bloodline.

My great-grandma, the alleged Indian, is on the right. My grandma is on the left. Great-Grandma married a guy with stickey-outey ears, who is holding my Grandma's twin brothers. Great-Grandma was supposedly a hoot, and she got divorced three times in the 20s and 30s. Bold woman for her day. Grandma was embarrassed by her and no one was allowed to bring up the Indian thing around her.

Great-Grandma in later years. I really wish I'd had a chance to know her. That's why she's invited to my cocktail party.

4. My Aunt Doris. She died when I was in college so again, not enough time with her. She was one groovy lady who liked to party and was always good at coming up with a whopper of a lie. She was known to have a little too much fun with the bottle and would do things like agree to bring over the roasted turkey for Thanksgiving but then would get drunk and forget. Good times.

Bubs, finding these pictures is what took me so long with this post. This is the only picture I currently have in my possession that pictures my Aunt Doris (cute blondie in the middle.) From left to right are Aunt Lura, Uncle David, Aunt Doris, Uncle Ray, and my dad.

5. My grandma Lida Mae, my dad's mother who died when I was nine. I remember her coming to visit for days or weeks at a time when I was a kid, but don't recall anything in particular about her except that she seemed like your basic nice old lady. For some reason I used to take great pride in showing her my cats' food whenever I was ready to feed them. She must have thought it was disgusting.

My mom hated her for reasons I have only recently begun to sort out.

Grandma Lida Mae and Grandpa David. I barely knew her, and never got a chance to know him.

I guess I'll host this party in Spain because I've never been there and have always heard it's nice. Probably Barcelona.

4) Tell me more about this "secret eating listener" fetish. I looked in DSM IV but I couldn't find it.

I can't really tell you much more about my secret eating listening beyond what I've described here. I guess it's because I have very sensitive ears (not in that I hear well, but more as in they are ticklish.) Poor George and I have a dumb new trick where we get our cat Ava to eat treats out of our ears. It's really cute; she grabs the little treat and then crunches it right by your ear - I squeal like a little girl every time.

We're sick bastards.

5) There's a glitch in the time/space continuum, and Tom as he is now, sage urban sophisticate, finds himself standing there holding a plate of cold cuts and jello salad at the high school graduation party of Tom the 18 year old. What do you say to that boy, and do you think he'll listen?

For starters, Bubs, let's not throw around this "sage urban sophisticate" label with too much wild abandon. While I would never describe my upbringing as "white trash," I still harbor a fondness for the four basic food groups of the Midwest: hot dish, jello, deviled eggs and bars. But I digress.

The four food groups of the post-modern Midwestern urban sophisticate

Hot dish. Tater tots optional. Arranged in whichever pleasing design you prefer.

Deviled eggs (plus relish tray)

Bars. A plethora of varieties from which to choose. The only prerequisite is that your preferred variety should be featured prominently in at least one church recipe book.

Jello. Preferably in molded salad format.

I was a complete mess when I was 18, Bubs - you wouldn't have wanted to know me. If I really could go back and talk to myself I would say "calm down, nothing is worth getting so upset over. You're just imitating your mother and you don't even realize it." I would also give myself some advice on what kinds of classes to take in college. I regret not trying more subjects on for size in an attempt to find an area of study that I really loved.

I don't know if I would have listened. Probably.

Done. Only took me six, um, make that eleven months!

(Dale, yours are day.)


Dino aka Katy said...

great answers I love those old pictures. I too would pick ancestors including the father I never met

Grant Miller said...

Your description of Midwestern cuisine is spot on.

I love tater-tots.

Doc said...

Thank you so much for the intro to your family. They sound like facinating people. I'm tickled that you finally muddled your way through the rest of Bub's questions, as I started reading your stuff at about installment four of meeting Poor George.

And I'm not so sure that you should shrug off the "sage, urban, sophisticate" label too soon. While my knowledge of urban sophisticates is somewhat limited from growing up in the sticks, I have had the priviledge of meeting a few sages in my time and I would say without reservation that you qualify on all counts. Take the compliment from Bubs and I both.


Bubs said...

Ah, this made my day! Thanks for finally bearing down and getting the job DONE.

First, I'm laughing my ass off at the idea of you dragging your cranky Norwegian ancestors to Barcelona, where they will doubtlessly complain to you about your making them go there.

I love those family photos, and I loved your descriptions of your ancestors. You really got me there--I started thinking of all the people in my family who either died before I was born, or when I was really young, and what it would be like to talk with them all. Wow.

Finally, the food. Oh, the food. Have you ever read any interviews with Alton Brown where he talks about his "Feasting on Asphalt" show? He says, in so many words, that the food got a LOT blander and less interesting once he ventured north into the midwest. Still, there's something to be said for anything that calls for Campbells cream soup as a starter.

What a brilliant interview subject you are!

Writeprocrastinator said...

When I mentioned that your father modeled for Ritts, The Missus thought that I was talking about a wigged out celeb with the same first name as you and she said, "why can't he just shut up for a change."

Harald reminds me of the late actor Jeff Chandler in that T.J. pic.

lulu said...

I knew you at 18 and thought you were charming, although you did complain a lot.

I have been thinking about throwing a Midwestern party here, making tatertot hot dish, jello etc. I actually made jello for a book club potluck recently (the orange kind, with carrots and pineapple in it) and the midwesterners went crazy for it while the coasters turned up their noses.

(I have a Native American relative as well. her name was Dakota Snow, but my grandmother pretty much refused to talk about her)

Some Guy said...

Great post, CP. As someone who was raised in the classic midwestern Scandinavian Lutheran traditition, I remember very well the church basement potlucks with folding tables full of the cuisine you described.

Beth said...

I want an invitation to your dinner party. You have quite the interesting family, CP.

Dale said...

Can I come too? I'll take notes to free you up for grilling everyone in depth.

Great interview questions to start with and excellent answers to finally finish with CP. Quality's worth waiting for.

BeckEye said...

I'd love to have met my grandfathers. Well, at least my Dad's Dad. By all accounts, my Mom's Dad was kind of a grump, and a little scary.

Anonymous said...

He does come from an extremely fascinating and colorful family!

Oh, the stories I could tell about Aunt Doris! I have some of her things, such as her sewing kit (I still use the thread sometimes)and a blazer she made. She was so talented! I gave a sweater she knitted to my niece Rachel, Ted's daughter. Rachel's middle name is Doris, after Aunt Doris.

You grilled my mother about her father? What we heard about him was mostly that he beat the kids, especially Doris. Mom apparently knew how to get out of the way. I may remember Grandma Houck better than you do, because I was 17 when she died. Dad flew us to Oklahoma in a four-seater Cessna (I navigated!), but he had diarrhea and had to stop at every single small airport between Williamson, NY and Tulsa. He would barely get the plane on the ground before jumping out and making a dash for the men's room!I vaguely remember Grandma's house.

Did you ever hear the story (highly fictionalized by my mother) about how one of our ancestors was Catherine Howard, the wife of King Henry VIII? When she got in trouble, the whole family also got in trouble, and made a run for America. To preserve anonymity, they removed the "W" from the middle of their last name, and there are some Hoards buried in the cemetery in Stillwater who are supposedly our ancestors.

I didn't recognize any of the pictures, except for the ones of Grandma and Grandpa Houck. But it was fun to see them all! I haven't looked at Mom's scrapbooks in years.

Your Cousin Cathy

vikkitikkitavi said...

Your relatives sound like my relatives. For one thing, I'm pretty sure I had a great aunt Lida Mae. For another, they were big fans of the utilitarian front yard.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Oh, and you didn't mention which bars are your favorite. Mine are my late granny's Heavenly Pecan bars.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Well, when you finally get around to it, you post a doozie. There's so much in here to comment on but I liked the story about how you and PG met the best.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

I'm a sucker for old timey family photos and colorful relatives. Great post.

I've never had hot dish but it looks a lot like a casserole and if it's got tater tots - I'm all for it.

Jake's Mom said...

You do have Grandma Ruth's nose, kimosabe. :)

Gifted Typist said...

You great gran was very beautiful both as a young woman and in the latter picture.
It's fascinating to tour someone's family history like that.

Thanks for sharing it.

Tenacious S said...

Perhaps my own father inherited the Scandanavian lawn mowing gene. It borders on a religious experience for him.

Old Lady said...

That picture of your grand father with his wife of native american origins looks like me hubby!!!!!!
As you well know he is from the Cities area, Crosby-Ironton. Tall, big ears, big hands, big feet, droopy blue eyes, strawberry blonde Irish Swede.

But what fascinates me is the deformed bodies of the men who obviously wore those man corsets way back when. They must have had some blue in their blood!

Don't you just love old pictures?

Old Lady said...

Oh, and from my visits to the mid-west I now understand hubby's distain for veggies. The food names are cute, hot dish(used to be an attractive woman) hot rice(good ole hamburger rice)which I thought interesting. My secret is bring shrimp, you get wild rice.