Harold Harms, my grandfather, went to his final rest this morning.
Whenever I have talked of him, or think of him, I always see his life in the context of the Great Immigrant to America story. His life was started in the melting pot German / Italian immigrant neighborhoods of Brooklyn. There he suffered the castigations of “du bist dumm genug” of his oma and the privations of the Depression.
Like most self-made and ambitious men, his work ethic manifested early, gathering (I told you, this reads like The Great American Story) bottles for resale at the local grocery.
His work would eventually earn him a spot at a desk, by a window on Wall street where he would learn the world of accountancy and financial management.
When the war came and he served his country as a radio operator in Brazil and at English field in Amarillo, Texas. His keen ear for tune and rhythm could often be sampled when he, even in his later years, could hum jazz standards effortlessly. Perhaps this is why he was handily mastered the binary dot and dit chatter key to his post.
Eventually his sensitivity to rhythym and timing led him to pass a certain evening in the USO where he met a certain intelligent young lady from Tennessee who had a love of reading, dancing, and exploring the halls of the medical facilities of NYU.
As their life together began post-war era, they established themselves in the dusty plains of northern Texas, Amarillo to be precise. As the midpoint of the twentieth century passed, they joined the rest of the post-war population and had their first child, my father.
He raised my father by the strictures and the mores of the day. I recall a wonderful black and white picture (my grandmother is a consumate artist) of my grandfather and my father sharing a magazine, reclined in one of their beds - both in vertical striped pajamas, my grandfather’s hair still neat from the day, and his thick black rimmed 50s glasses resting on a hawkish nose and my father leaned against his father’s chest, and while my grandfather held the magazine open.
His optimism and plain decency as a man is something I shall always remember and are qualities I still strive to emulate.
Their home, located on a small rise of a hill in Amarillo, was a special place to visit and was always the victim of his tinkerings and gadgetry. From hidden garage door openers, to handy gadgets to help turn sprinklers on with less work, to his neat maintenance of the grounds, his presence was to be felt in ever corner, every room - but always insinuated subtly, he let his wife have the artistic reign of the home.
He always had new toys and new, in the language of a computer guy, “hacks” for making life run smoother. His alarm clock would project the time to the ceiling, he had lightly glowing green reflector nightlights everywhere, he adopted computing happily at an older age, and was never afraid to learn something new.
And here are my memories of him…
In the garage there was a special smell of oil and laundry machines, a workbench and a lawnmower that he would patiently push around the trees and flowerbeds. Next to the titanic Lincoln we could find a doorway to a recessed garden that their living room would look out upon and that he kept immaculate.
He spent most of my childhood playing tennis - I remember his wearing the John McEnroe hilt of fashion as he headed up the road to the school to play a few games, hair held back by a white prince headband.
I recall him taking my sister and I out to the country to pull cold, painful draughts of well water, brought to the surface by windmills.
I recall him taking us to a rec center where he taught us to bowl, played air hockey with us, and bought us junk food snacks for in-between frames.
I recall him bringing us ice cream sandwiches to the poolside when we went to the country club.
I remember his coming to visit my 5-year old home fresh from a convention in Disneyland where he brought me a Mickey Mouse sliderule and a spoon with Mickey pressed into the end. That night we had Blue Bell Cookies-n-Cream ice cream (he many scoops more than I - he never met a helping he didn’t dispatch with joy and verve) on the back porch. I remember thinking of that spoon as my ice cream spoon from then on out.
He gave me a typewriter that I loved (men of my line are disposed to putton pushing). It was a slate gray Underwood that used that luxuriantly silky ribbon to ink those Siberian vast white sheets of paper. He was a fanatic about typeprint - notecards with how to make a call were typed and laid next to the phone in the guest room (in case any guest had never become acquainted with this telephone contraption).
I remember there was a globe chandelier in the guest room he had hooked up to a dimmer, when you hit just the right pitch of current it would turn the white globe into an amber harvest moon - as kids we would always get to enjoy the thrill of sleeping under this magical moon only he could properly conjure.
He was a good neighbor, he was always willing to talk to adults and kids and see what they were up to.
He was decent and good and treated people with respect.
I repeat, the man loved to eat. Once this got the better of him as he reached for some red gummy raspberries in a dish on the cofffee table and popped them in his mouth – but moments later he realized that they were scented wax raspberry simulacra! After a cough and a rinse in the bathroom he had a good laugh at the misapprehension!
And my sister and I would revel in his yankee accent that never allowed him to say “beer”, but “bee-uh”. When we would ask him about this his good nature and knack for wry self effacement would toss a rogueish grin about his face and he would laugh.
He took care of my grandmother and desperately needed her at the same time. To love like that, that your efforts should be for anothers contentment - happily – it’s been a strong influence in my Romantic ideals.
I remember his large wooden office at the American Quarter Horse Association, he had a medallion in a little brace that spun on its axis. When it spun fast enough, the two horses (imprinted on either side of the coin) would visually blur into one horse running. It had such a solid metallic “ping” when he flicked it into motion for us.
I am to leave for Amarillo this weekend.