Sunday, January 06, 2008


This is another post about one of my grandfathers.

My maternal grandfather's name was Bertram Trowbridge Willis. He lived in Salt Lake City, in a big old house in the avenues there. He was one of the most gentle men I think I've ever met. Once we moved from Georgia to Utah (in 1977), we used to see my Grandfather (and Grandmother) Willis several times a year, right up until he passed away in 1997 . In all that time, I saw my grandfather get angry only one time. Oddly enough, it was over something relatively small. My brothers and I were bouncing a ball in the basement of our home (something that was forbidden), and the ball bounced higher than we were expecting, hitting the light fixture and almost breaking it. At that point, grandpa gave us all the most stern look I'd ever seen on his face, and said, "That's enough of that."

He was right. The ball was put away, and I don't remember what we went off to next. Anyway, that was the only time I saw him upset about anything.

Here are a few facts about my Grandpa Willis:

He married my grandmother on a short leave (like 3-day) that he had from the army. I think he only gave her about a week or so of notice, but she was glad to do it. As it turns out, I was born 25-30 years later, on their wedding anniversary. I always thought that was kind of fun.

He served as an officer in the army during WWII, and spent most of his time guarding a POW camp in Rheims, France. He became close to some of the French soldiers there, and kept in contact with some of them throughout the rest of his life.

He was a student of languages. He would study languages (on his own) pretty much every morning. When he became fairly proficient at one, he would request that he and my grandmother offer the blessing on their breakfast in different languages, depending on the day.

He was just a little bit quirky (like someone else you might know). One day, several years ago, I was talking to my mother about clothing, and how we each choose our clothing for the day. While I was in high school, I had devised a method for this, that I still use to this day. I don't like trying to remember what clothes I've worn recently, and I don't like spending a lot of time each morning trying to decide what to wear (when I could be sleeping instead). So, I line up all my shirts/blouses/sweaters/jackets/vests/etc. in the closet, and I basically take the first thing on the hanger each day and wear it. When I'm finished with that article of clothing, it either goes into the clothes hamper for laundering, or it goes to the back of the closet, where it works its way up to line again. If a shirt comes up that I don't want to wear, I can skip it once, but if I don't want to wear it the next time it has "its turn", then it's off to the goodwill pile.

As I told my mom about this, she got really quiet, and just looked at me with great big eyes, looking more and more incredulous the further I got in my explanation. Finally, I was becoming a little unnerved, and I asked her what the big deal was. She then explained to me that my clothes system was almost exactly the same method that my grandfather used to use to choose his clothing in the morning. Isn't that odd?

Since then I've learned that there are other quirky traits that I share with my grandfather. Rather than go into them all though, I'll just briefly share a few memories I have of him, and that will be it for today.

When I was little, grandpa would take me out on our back porch and point out the different constellations to me. I could NEVER see any of them in the sky, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings, and so I always pretended that I knew exactly what he was pointing out.

One year, my grandparents came to our house for Christmas. For our annual Christmas Eve talent show, grandfather played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata for us all. Although I'd heard the piece on cassettes and the radio prior to that, this was my first time actually watching someone play it. It was awesome.

My grandpa used to always give me a kiss on the cheek, followed by a hug whenever he would see me. Unfortunately, I'm more of a hug-but-no-kiss kind of a person, and it took me awhile to remember about that kiss. What would usually happen is that I would go straight for the hug, and grandpa would get a mouthful of long brown hair. Eventually I remembered though. That was a nice development for both of us, I'm sure.

Less than two months before he passed away, I was at my grandfather's house for Thanksgiving. One day during the afternoon, I sat down at the piano, and started working out the piano accompaniment (such as I could) for some Christmas songs that I was learning to sing. I worked on them for the better part of an hour that day, and then I went on to something else. As I was leaving for home the next day, I went in to give my grandpa a goodbye hug. As he hugged me, he said, "I want you to keep it up with that piano playing, okay?"

By then my grandfather was quite ill, and I knew that I wouldn't have many more opportunities to see him. That's probably why I remember that hug and those words so well. That is also probably the biggest reason for the fact that I am the only thirty-six-and-a-half-year-old that I know who is still (or again, depending on how you look at it) taking piano lessons.

Maybe I'll see if my teacher will let me start on the Moonlight Sonata this year. I'm sure my grandfather would have liked that.


Harmony said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories about your grandparents. It's good to remember those we've loved who have gone before, but it's even better to write those memories down!

Bamamoma said...

Cool post. I had no idea that the clothes rotation was genetic.

btw: did you know my mom is taking piano lesson (at 65!) so if you ever get feeling to old for practicing the piano, just think of her. She loves it and practices for two hours most days. Nice.

Jake said...

Well that brought some chills, I use the same system for choosing shirts when I have to wear a tie to the clinic.

Tim said...

My only memory of Grandpa getting mad at me was (I think) during my freshman year at BYU (fall 90). I went to G&G's house for conference, which we watched in their green bedroom-cum-family room (that was the only room with a TV, right?), and started making some of my trademark smart-alecky comments during one of the talks. (It was one of those unbearably cutesy primary general presidency talks where the speaker just showed a sequence of "artwork" submitted by primary children from around the world and marveled about what remarkable testimonies all the little children have -- fortunately, we don't get a lot of talks like that anymore.)

Anyway, so while I was being a smart-a**, Grandpa just stood up, calmly walked over to the TV, turned it off, stood in front of it, folded his arms, and just stared at me. He didn't say anything, but the look in his eyes was clearly, "Are you finished?" I apologized and he turned the TV back on.

There were probably other times he got angry with me as well. But that's the only one I remember.

What a guy!

Tim said...

Sorry for cluttering your blog, Charlotte. After leaving the comment above, I went and looked up the talk I must have been making fun of. I can't believe I actually found it (Ensign, Nov 1990):

It's a wonderful talk (of course) and I was a jerk for making fun of it (a second time).

Grandpa wins again.

Charlotte said...

Tim--you go ahead and clutter up this blog anytime you want!

I'll have to check out this talk.

As to the bedroom-cum-family room, I love to think of that bedroom. I mean, how many people would take their bedroom, fill in the fireplace, and turn the wall into a photographic genealogy display? And how about that cute little corner office right by the (tiny) bedroom closet? And, do you remember the family letter where grandma wrote about how for a special Valentine's day treat, grandpa took her out and they bought a new television and VCR, on the spur of the moment, without any price checking or pre-meditation? That must have been a once-in-their-lifetime experience.

Good good times.

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