Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lockheed and Bread Runs

I met the guy a little over ten years ago, when I was courting Catherine.

He was the quintessential grumpy old man, his opinions stated as facts, his dislikes and prejudices along with his delights worn on his jumpsuit sleeve, his religion less an organized affair as an “understanding” between himself and G-d.

He would always greet Catherine as he had when she was knee-high: with a bear hug that would lift her off her feet, followed by a statement to the effect that she had gained weight since their last meeting. A cute ceremony when she was five; one that appealed only to Otto himself when she reached adulthood.

That is, until he fell too weak for the ritual; I think Cath instantly missed the much griped about way a life-long stoic had of saying, “I often think of you.”

He had a near century of stories, although I don’t think he knew it. His generation of people didn’t tell stories so much as relate facts. The year so-and-so got out of the army and moved to California; the route the trains took from Rapid City to Denver; the changes in Pasadena from the fifties to the sixties.

But in between the data, oh there were some grand stories.

As a boy, he sold pop outside the factory. One sweltering day, a customer wanted the last orange soda – the hot drink that had been on display in the sun. Shoving the searing glass bottle into ice caused an explosion – one that severed a tendon in his hand.

To his dying day, Otto couldn’t bend his middle finger, causing his hand to display a permanent and appropriate bird flip.

Deemed unfit for combat, the military asked him to serve as one on only two men at his Lockheed warehouse during the second war to end all wars. He was the cute one; the other guy, the geezer.

He rode the rails between Nebraska and California old-style, sitting on top of the cars, hopping off at slow curves. A picture straight out of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS.

He filled retirement by volunteering at missions and soup kitchens. He put his forceful demeanor to work, bullying supermarkets into donating bread that Otto would then deliver to the ministries every morning.

As I said, stories.

I wasn’t able to collect anywhere near all of them; he required a bit of cajoling to convince him that his yarns were of more interest than the best route to travel to Modesto.

Catherine and I spent last Saturday at her folks’ place, memorializing her grandfather’s passing. We then drove down through gold country, as I learned of his cabin there, and the times the family would vacation together.

More stories.

Here’s to you, Otto. And don’t give Peter too hard of a time; I’m sure by now you’ve browbeat him into allowing you to do a bread run down to the less fortunate.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

1 comment:

Maureen O'Grady said...

Sean,

I miss him already.

What a great tribute. My condolences to you, Catherine and your family.

Maureen O'Grady