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Family Portrait
Courtesy of Anna Claire

Wouldn’t Change a Thing

I have a special relationship with my grandparents. It was never just the typical visits at holidays. I grew up with them by my side, just a ten minute drive away. Throughout the numerous afternoons spent together after school or sleepovers on the weekends, I was reinforced to believe that every moment in life has the opportunity for growth. My grandpa’s favorite phrase to ask my brother and I is, “Did you learn anything from this?”


I have always viewed my grandfather with great admiration, as an adventurer, as a strong and resilient man who would do anything for his family. Quite honestly, a whole book could be written about my grandpa’s life. So, I wanted to flip the narrative and ask him: “Did you learn anything from this?”


What are your most memorable events of your childhood and teenage years?


As a child my most memorable experience is moving up to the ranch up in Oregon in the second grade. You could imagine coming up from the Los Angeles area into Oregon. We had cows and horses. Mom had a wooden stove, we had the old crank up phone on the farm. I went to a country school where we had a potbelly stove and we had outhouses. Could you imagine going to school with outhouses? There was a boys’ side and a girls side. It was right next to the saw mill…  


He looked it up on the internet and saw that the location is now called Old School Road, the school is gone and so is the saw mill.


Being up on the ranch, there was always something happening out there. We had three horses: Big Bill, Little Bill, and Kate. My grandma and I couldn’t help but laugh at this. 


“Two Bills?” I asked. He also had “John the Bull.” 


He spent his childhood helping his dad on the farm. The one thing his dad would not let him do is get near the pigs. He claims they could get up to 200 pounds and they could eat you! 


There was an accident one day on the farm that resulted in horses running away and hay flying everywhere. His uncle had to chase after them all, and my grandpa saw it all first hand.  And oh boy that was exciting. I was only in the second grade..it’s one of those things you don’t forget, you know?

Flash forward to his teenage years where he eventually went into the army. He was medically discharged after nine months. Naturally with bad feet and a bad back, you wanna go into construction, he chuckled. He started an apprenticeship to become an electrician when he was nineteen.


He got a job working as a tile setter. He claims he was doing well,  but then he really messed a job up and tried to do it too fast..It was all screwed up and I knew it was all screwed up so I came in and quit. I had enough money and bought me a surfboard and went surfing the rest of the summer!


What was your biggest adventure in your 20s and 30s before you became a parent?


After asking this question he responded, that could be a whole book— my grandma interrupted saying– GIRLS! And they laughed and laughed. 


In his 20s, he moved down to Sunset Beach on a little island by Huntington Harbor, right on the Pacific Coast Highway. Later, he moved to Surfside Colony which was right on the water..the sand was right out of our door. My grandpa was constantly moving but [he] can’t remember all the reasons for it.


When he was 29, he went to Africa for work. Within a year he met my grandma, but went back to Africa, jokingly saying that he went back to get rid of her— a long running joke between my grandparents. Upon reflecting on his time in Africa, he realizes that it gave him the money he needed because it had been a reoccurring thing for him to be broke. Saying he spent his money on: wine, women, and song. My grandma chimed him calling him the ultimate bachelor.


At this point, he realized that he forgot to mention his days spent in Vegas during his 20s. One of his memories revolved around one of his friends saying they should all go to Mardi Gras and that sounded pretty good to [him]. So, as a 25 year old, he worked in Houston, Texas until it was time for Mardi Gras. We went all through the Mardi Gras, got to see the parades and all the stuff. 


From there, he moved in with his friend’s family. Again, he relocated to Ohio where he worked alongside “Fruitjar,” a man who brought moonshine to work in a jar everyday. He did not like this job at the steel mill so he quit  and took a bus to New York.


I had never even heard that my grandpa had gone to New York at all. He claimed he didn’t do much. 


I had some time to kill so I went to Macy’s Department store and then went to the top of the Empire State Building — that was pretty cool. Then came down and went on a bus to Philadelphia. 


One day after work, one of his buddies asked him to go get a beer. He was able to take the El there. Unfortunately, he had one too many drinks and ended up falling asleep on the El on the way back– and damned if I didn’t wake up in Camden, New Jersey. Realizing that it was the end of the line, he made sure to stay awake on the trip back.


Shortly after that, he met a girl from Camden, New Jersey. Imagine that! He knew this wasn’t going to end well. Young and broke, he ended up buying a bus ticket back home to LA and never called her back. 


At this point, my grandma called him a bum which he responded with:  I was. 


He said that was such a long bus ride. It was terrible until we got to Oklahoma and this red-headed guy that was some sort of comedian got on and entertained us.


What was one of your fondest moments as a parent?


Kimmy– she was the first born and carrying her. Kimmy is my mom. My grandma said he carried my mom like a platter. He had never held a baby,  and he was 35 years old. He did not let his dad see the baby because of germs. When his friends heard about this, they showed up in masks to visit.


He joked that he went to work in Alaska because Kimmy was a rascal..she caused it. My grandma and mom (1 year old) went to visit him for 3 weeks which was a struggle in the extreme cold with a baby who needed a snowsuit to go outside–even for food. 


During the period that my grandpa was in Alaska, my mom had two seizures and later fell and got stitches on her forehead. My grandma was stressed being alone raising my mom. So, he decided to come home. He chose to come home for the sake of his marriage rather than money– he said he made the right choice.


Even though he doesn’t consider himself religious, He took his two daughters to Sunday School every Sunday. He even got baptized because his two girls wanted him too. 


How would you describe the differences between being a parent and a grandparent?


How come grandparents want their grandkids to do well?— My grandma said: you care about your kids so you care about your grandkids– you love them.


My grandpa responded with I’m not responsible for you but he educated my mom and aunt so that they could be good parents. He wanted the best for them and he wants the best for his grandkids.


You’ve lived more than eight decades, did you learn anything from this? What advice would you give your younger self?


If I was starting over again? I was starting out at 19. I enjoyed being an electrician– later in life life was more of a hassle. How would I change things? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change anything. 


My grandma said:  you would have changed waiting till 32 to meet the love of your life.


Ok. The most memorable time of my life was going to Rochelle’s (a local bar where my grandparents met ) and his friend pointed out a nice looking chick and the rest is history.  


Interviewing my grandpa was a special moment for me. As I rewatched the video footage alongside my mom, we both heard stories for the first time. I went in to the interview with the intention of finding out more about my grandpa’s life and to ask him what he learned from his eighty three years. Of course, he ended up teaching me new things along the way. 


Not only were his stories so entertaining that they sound fictional, they also embraced values of spontaneity and risk taking, hard work and dedication, independence and most importantly a commitment to his family. Despite all the chaos and hardship, my grandpa has no regrets  because he chose to love selflessly. I will always remember my grandpa as the man who would do anything for his wife, kids, and grandchildren. With a life as exciting as his, my grandpa is truly unforgettable. And for that I am grateful– I wouldn’t change anything. 


Anna Claire is a second year at UCSD, majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in American Politics. She loves to read, write, go on hikes and is passionate about social justice. Her favorite places to be are the beach or in the desert surrounded by Joshua Trees and a starry sky.
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