25 February 2013

Two Big Steps in my Life

Grandpa "Doc" and Grandma at my graduation-1987
I knew very few kids who had step-parents.  The image of the wicked, unloving, step-mother has been ingrained in our minds though book and film....but it was nothing I knew personally.  But I did have "step-grandparents" but to put those two words together seemed odd and I don't know that I ever did except to better explain the relationship I had to the people that my grandparents married after their spouses passed away.  A few circumstances over the last few days made me a bit, well, circumspectful of these two big steps in my life.

After my mom's dad passed away in 1980, my grandmother was crushed and suffered from a depression even as a kid of 12 I could clearly see.  When Doc Bowen came courting her whole demeanor changed and soon her whole life would when they married in 1981.  Doc had known my mother's family from his time as their family doctor in Bremen.  Though not a Bowen baby myself, like my sister and mother, Doc came to the rescue when I tipped over boiling water on my 1 year old feet.  After his wife, Beth, passed away and his time as governor came to a close-he too was looking for companionship and he found that in my grandma.

And so grandma sold the family farm and moved to Indianapolis, and later Washington DC when President Reagan appointed Doc Secretary of Health and Human Services.  As his time in DC was coming to a close, they learned that grandma was in advanced stages of cancer.  They moved back home, but their time wasn't about enjoying the golden years of retirement, rather it was painful and filled with very short-term plans.  Grandma died in 1992.  Doc remarried again.  I was able to introduce my kids to their "step-great-grandfather" when we had breakfast with them two years ago.

I was reminded that Doc's birthday is tomorrow (26th) and he will be 95 years old.  He was Indiana's first two-term governor and clearly has enjoyed "favorite son" status all these years.  I was reprimanded once by our party chair to wit he added "you should have learned more from your grandfather".  I think the chair should have.  While I may be the first to attest we all have our blindspots......Doc was in no way like the Republicans of this generation.  I think his stomach would turn at Tea Party politics.  I was blessed to have grown up under the mentorship of the "old system" which seems to be out of vogue today, but never more needed.

Grandma Alice and Gramps at Christmas-1988
And then there was my dad's dad whose life was absolutely wrapped in my grandmother.  My grandma died way too young and was a saint by anyone's standard.  So he too sought out a companion to grow old(er) together.  She happened to have the first name of his first wife, which often led to confusion as we would try to explain relationships to the generations that followed.  I don't know that my "new" grandma Alice knew exactly what she was getting into.  My grandfather was cantankerous, mischievous, and several other adjectives that would warrant specific explanation...so I'll skip them.

This Alice was strong and giving and our family thought very highly of her, particularly considering we knew the gramps she married.  One thing I will never forget is the car grandpa bought for her.  She had driven a small Ford Escort and that bothered grandpa.  So he went out and brought home a Grand Marquis (back when they were large cars).  Alice was surprised.....and she didn't like it.  So she went out and bought another Escort and the Grand Marquis sat, brand new, in the garage for many years.  Grandpa called it "the funeral car" because he insisted that Alice should drive it to his funeral.  Gramps died in 1995.  Alice drove the Escort.  And our family continued to stay in touch with her all these last 18 years, though she had her own life that included several siblings and her grown children.

 Last Friday morning my brother called to let me know that she had lost her life in a car accident.  We certainly feel loss, but we really grieve more for her children, one of which pastors at the church my brother pastors.  It feels somewhat strange to, in some ways, be "reintroduced" to this  era of my life.  It is one before my children, before my wife, and seems like so long ago.....yet in many ways causes the feeling of loss of my own grandparents all over again.  A friend of mine recently lost his father...I can't even imagine going through the goodbyes of a generation only once removed.  Life goes on-until that eternal reunion.  God bless both Doc, and the memories of Alice both our and her family cherish.

3 comments:

Teddie said...

What a beautiful tribute, Kurt! I love knowing more about your family history. For me, a love of family history goes hand-in-hand with our love of our houses and old buildings. --Teddie Hill

Anonymous said...

What a nice tribute to your grandparents, Kurt. Very sweet and touching.
Aunt Pat

Jim said...

What a delightful set of stories you've told here. It sounds like you have a really great extended family.