Sunday, February 05, 2006
Grandpa "Fritz", WW2
My Mom's Dad, born 1905. Named William Frederick after "Buffalo Bill". His last name was Miche, when I asked once, he said his family had come over from France to escape the Huguenot persecutions. He worked various jobs through the 20's and 30's, delivery routes, meat cutter, and then operating heavy equipment building the levee systems here in Kansas City under the WPA during the Depression. When WW2 broke out he tried to enlist in the Navy, but was told he was too old; he then went to the Seabees and with his experience they took him immediately. He spent the war building airstrips through the Marshalls, the Gilberts, New Guinea, and other Pacific Islands.
After the war he was hired by the Santa Fe Railroad as an engineer. I have a 16x20 of him taking the last steam locomotive out of the Kansas City railyards in the 50's. When I was 6 he took me down to the switchyards with him and let me ride engines, visit the different buildings and meet his friends. I also got to go to the "beanery" where all the engineers hung out for lunch...very fond memories!
Always a baseball fan, I remember him taking me to a Kansas City Athletics game; I didn't realize how big a deal it was at the time that they were playing the Yankees, or that Maris and Mantle were playing...I was only 7!
Grandpa was a Mason, and a Shriner, though he worked so much he wasn't "that" active as a Shriner. I remember him taking me to the Shrine circus here in the early 60's and being absolutely starstruck; Moe Howard and Larry Fine were there, I think with Joe Besser! Never did I think that I would actually see "The Three Stooges" in real life!
That was about the time "Urban Renewal" took their house, and they moved out of Argentine, into a new suburb further south. My parents bought a lot around the corner from their house, and we built and moved there in '65; the two houses were within sight of each other across a (then) vacant lot. My sister and I were around the corner a lot, and as I got a bit older I mowed and shoveled snow for them. They had a huge backyard that was where our annual 4th of July family get togethers began.
Grandpa always took all the hours he could get, putting his name on the "extra" board, working 18 and 20 hour days and having so many hours that he would get 3 days off in a row instead of 2. I remember him driving to Emporia to pick up freights and bring them into Kansas City, then take another back and drive home, making over 24 hours by the time he was done.
Christmas of 1970 rolled around and Grandpa decided to put in his retirement papers. Grandma wasn't working anymore then, and it was time to enjoy life. He planned on hunting some, and got a new 12 gauge Remington for Christmas that year. He put in his papers the first week of January, effective the 1st of February. The third week of January he had a stroke, a major one and he was paralyzed on his right side from then on. His arm never worked again, and it took several years before he could walk with a cane by himself. The inactivity combined with his Pall Mall "reds" gave him emphysema which he battled from the mid 70's on. They still took vacations, usually by train, and I drove them to California once to see his brother in Long Beach and then brought them down to San Diego where they stayed with us for a while, before taking the train home. In 1977 they gave up their house and moved to a retirement apartment.
He and Grandma stayed on their own (her story another time) and after she "left" in the summer of '79, we begged him to come live with us, but he said Grandma had made him promise not to burden the kids. We tried to convince him that meant Mom and her sister, not the Grandkids, and that he wouldn't be a burden, but he wasn't going back on his word, and put himself in a nursing home. His mind was still very active, and I bought him one of the early "pong" games because it was something he could do with his "good" hand, and he loved playing it with us, the rest of the family, or anyone else who happened by.
The nursing home was fairly close, but getting to see him more than once a week was hard with me working nights and weekends. The rest of the family, Mom, her sisters family, etc., all visited, but you could tell it wasn't the same. The emphysema had him on oxygen most of the time as his health slowly worsened, and in late 1980 he slipped away to join Grandma.
I still miss him...