Emil was my maternal grandfather for whom I feel nothing but pity. He was an alcoholic and a pedophile and I wish I could totally discount him, but I cannot. He was, after all, my mother’s beloved father. Is love blind or do we only see what we need to see?
My grandfather was born in 1900, the year one of the worst storms in history all but wiped out Galveston Island. As this was before hurricanes were named, it has always been referred to as “The 1900 Storm” or “The Great Storm”. Galveston Island is located approximately 50 miles from the town of Alief where my grandfather was born. Could that be an omen?
September 8, 1900, hurricane. Texas State Library photo
Emil’s family immigrated from Bohemia, now Czechoslavakia. My grandmother, Anna, always told me to never marry a”Bohunk” (slang for Bohemian) and though she never gave me a reason, I think even as a young girl I understood. I don’t have much information on timing but at some point, Grandpa followed his brothers to Galveston Island when they went there to work for the newspaper (he took a job but I cannot recall what it was.) In Galveston, he met Anna and no one still living seems to know how they met or anything about their early marriage. One of Anna’s sisters did often say that my grandmother got pregnant “every time Emil hung his pants on her bedpost”. Emil and Anna were always poor and lived in a small house with 2 bedrooms. One of the bedrooms was a passageway to the bathroom from the living and remaining bedroom areas so it was the kind of house referred as a “shotgun” house. The house was on stilts, typical of Galveston homes, in order to prevent high water damage. They had five children, all of whom they raised in the little house.
Grandpa once worked as a mechanic for the historical Galvez Hotel until he was fired for being drunk on the job. As the story goes, he let his supervisor know that he had been drinking and was told to come in anyway, hard for me to believe. He also took in appliances for repairs and had a shed in his yard where he did his work. When I was a teenager, he worked at a full-service gas station. I was on my way to meet my mother at my grandparents house and stopped for gas. I didn’t know that my grandfather worked there until he approached the car to pump my gas and clean my windshield. Later at the house, he told me that I shouldn’t let men working at gas stations clean my windshield because they look up dresses. It didn’t take much to figure out that he was talking about himself. He and his oldest son, his namesake, had a shrimping business. They lived about a mile apart and were had a close relationship but my uncle never knew that his father molested his daughter, only my sister and I knew.
I never felt any love or affection for my grandfather, he just was. I never felt any animosity toward him either because sometimes a child’s mind has a way of protecting them from the truth. Most of the memories I have of him are pretty mundane even though we were around him quite a bit. What I remember follows
- He told me to hold a spoon full of sugar in my mouth to get rid of hiccups.
- When he passed gas, he said he stepped on a frog.
- He had rabbits and Beagles, the rabbits became dinner.
- He once let the grand-kids ride on the running board of his truck and my grandmother yelled at him for it.
- He helped my father work on cars and other projects.
- He would sit me on his lap and bite my cheek. I have read that cheek biting is something that pedophiles do for whatever reason.
- He called me “Pat”, a name for which I have an intense dislike to this day. When people call me “Pat” or ask if I am called “Pat”, there is an unreasonable anger that wells up in me and I have to work to keep it from showing in my tone of voice.
As the story is told, my grandfather lost his mother at an early age and his father never remarried. My great-grandfather was rumored to have been a bit of a tyrant. Two of grandpa’s sisters,in my mother’s opinion, were distant and introverted. Family lore has it that my great-grandfather physically abused my grandfather and Mom suspects that he molested at least some of his daughters. One of my grandfather’s sisters ended up in a mental health facility; I am not aware of the diagnosis. My mother’s observation of her grandfather is that he was stoic and unfriendly. One of my grandfather’s sisters was a constant in my life. She was a very strong and independent woman having the opposite personality from her two sisters. My great-aunt called my grandfather, “Brother” and he called her by her last name, “Fenack”. My uncles called her “Aunt Fenack” but the rest of us called her “Aunt Louise”. I asked my mother why Aunt Louise was so different from her sisters and my mother said she thought it was because Aunt Louise married “up” meaning that she married “money”. Aunt Louise raised her granddaughter as her daughter was shot and killed by her husband who ended up in prison. Aunt Louise was very strict with her granddaughter, parenting possibly learned from her father or possibly because she was afraid her granddaughter would follow in her daughter’s footsteps. Aunt Louise late, late in life married my grandmother’s brother when they were possibly in their 80’s. Aunt Louise had Colin Cancer and would not marry him until after her cancer surgery. When she was cancer-free, they married but the cancer came back. They were in their 90″s and his family had to remove him from the home he and Aunt Louise shared and take him to live with them. Aunt Louise and Uncle Johnny had opposite medical needs; she had to have the house hot and he could not tolerate the heat. Aunt Louise eventually died of colon cancer.
See Continuation in “Emil” Part Two
September 8, 1900, hurricane. Texas State Library photo
Description: Historical map of Bohemia (Bohemia proper – pink, Moravia – yellow, Austrian/Bohemian Silesia – orange), Source: German Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon, 1892, Author: Photo made by User:SebastianBreier, License: Public Domain, because copyright expired
Description: Hotel Galvez and Spa, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, http://www.wyndham.com/property/GLSHG/Images/18122_x1.jpg.