Thursday, June 29, 2017

Two Men

June 29, 2017

We said goodbye to him nearly forty years ago, but he still lives on inside me and in the presence of God. He was slight of build, but loomed large in the development of this young boy. When he was a young man, he played semi-pro baseball, but settled into his job as a Linotype operator for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. In the days before computerization, the Linotype was a huge, clackety machine that set the type for newspapers. Molten lead was fed into it as the operator banged away at the keyboard. Letters were essentially soldered together into words and phrases which were fed into the drums that printed the paper. It was hot, somewhat dangerous work. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come home with burns on his arms from lead that had slightly missed the feed and spattered over him. Today, anyone who had ever worked on such a machine would probably be hounded by lawyers itching to sue the company for lead poisoning of its employees. The lead didn’t get him; neither did seventy years of smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. It’s a good thing marijuana wasn’t in vogue back then; he’d probably have puffed on that, too. 

His job made him a formidable opponent in Scrabble. He and his English teacher cousin would play by the hour, going at it tooth and nail. Poppa had the advantage of being able to read as easily upside down and backward as I can read normally. It came with the territory of his job, reading type in reverse all day long.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, he was one of the few men on his street who had regular work. He considered working to be a privilege, and quietly supported a number of those families from his earnings until things picked up enough for them to once again support themselves.

He loved to bowl and to fish. He counted more than one 300 game racked up with his old two-finger ball. Countless Saturdays, he would join my father, my brother, and myself as we towed the small fishing boat to Braddock Bay or Long Pond, where we launched and puttered our way along the weedy shoreline where we hoped the bass or pike would be hiding. After a few hours spent bobbing on the ripples, we would break out the bologna sandwiches we had prepared earlier. Slathered in mayonnaise, it’s a wonder we didn’t get food poisoning after they had sat out in the sun all morning. When it was time to head to shore, we did so reluctantly, only to finish out the day with dinner at his house. 

In the evening, he would sit on the front porch listening to the ball game on the radio, leaning forward so he could watch Lawrence Welk on the old black and white television at the far end of the living room. He lived long enough to meet his great-granddaughter, but in the autumn of 1979, he wanted to visit Sodus and North Rose, NY, where he grew up. I took him to his boyhood home, the cemetery where his baby brother was buried, learned about his grandfather who had built the bell tower for the Methodist church. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was closing up shop. He died the following January.

He was my grandfather, Harry Bailey, and was born on this day in 1892. Funny, but although I remember all four of my grandparents, his is the only birthday I can recall. Perhaps it’s because of another man born on this day; my son-in-law Todd. I can’t tell the same kind of stories of Todd as I can my grandfather, but I will say this: I am deeply grateful for him. His love for Christ, for our daughter and grandchildren, his character as a Christian, his compassion for the poor, and his passion for the unborn are just a few of the qualities that endear him to us. When Jessie married him, we all hit the jackpot. Two special men in my life, born the same date nearly 90 years apart; who’d have guessed? I am thankful for both of them.

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