Today is Grampy Duke’s 90th birthday! Because of Covid19, we were not able to have the big party we were planning, and will have to settle for the online version. In the meantime, let’s learn about this man who produced 4 children, 9 grandchildren and 7 (almost 8) great-grandchildren.
Many of my father’s great qualities have passed down to us. First off, is good looks. Grampy Duke is quite handsome as is evidenced in photos and in that, not too long along, a comment from one of my single girl friends suggesting that she could date him. Alas, he is happily married to Grammy Kathy.
The second quality is his intelligence. His career was in electronics and he was always a high scorer on tests. He has a “math brain” and can figure out how to build or fix anything. He doesn’t just do house projects, he built his own house! Also, my Dad is the only person I know who can complete the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle with ease.
Grampy is patriotic and honorable. He was deeply influenced as a child by his oldest brother’s heroism and ultimate sacrifice in WW II. Ray served our country in both the Navy and the Air Force which was exciting when we were children as we got to travel and live in interesting places including the country of Iran. While in Iran, he was doing something top secret for the government. As kids, we were sure he was a spy. As an adult, I am pretty sure this is true. As he always and to this day has joked, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Grampy has some amazing stories about what life was like flying missions, the pressure of his job and the scrapes they got into. I can say with assurance that my father is exactly the kind of person we need and want in our military.
After he retired from the military, he worked in the electronics department at the Post Office. When my husband and I got engaged, we sent out wedding invitations with bright blue lettering. The RSVP cards were easy to spot, so when working Duke used to pull them out of the mail sorting machine and bring them home. This was perhaps a violation perpetrated by a very law-abiding citizen, but I loved it.
Handsome, smart, patriotic – I forgot to mention athletic! Grampy Duke played the big three (baseball, basketball and football) in high school. His nickname Duke was a reference to the great Brooklyn Dodger center fielder Duke Snider – a left-hander like Grampy (and my sisters and me.) Grampy continued his athletics in many men’s leagues and, to this day, on the golf course. His passion for the Boston professional teams is lifelong, and having heard it all my childhood, I will always find the sound of a Red Sox broadcast to be a comfort.
When my siblings and I were growing up, Grampy was a very involved father. We were raised to well behaved, to bring home good grades and to do our share of chores. I remember that at one point growing up, Grampy would have a “word of the week” for us. The word that stands out for me is “rapport,” which I recognized as Grampy’s thinly veiled hint for us kids not to squabble so much. I still like that word.
Though my Dad was strict, he also was a top-notch playmate. He was always up for a board game, some wrestling, a round of whiffle ball or, occasionally, allowing us girls to style his hair. But my favorite was the epic, extended nightly games of frisbee in our backyard in Sacramento. Though repetition and the desire to extend this time with my Dad, I actually developed a modicum of skill. (I did not inherit the athlete gene.)
My dad moved to Florida when my children were small. It is hard to make up for physical distance (a lesson of Covid, for sure) but we have enjoyed visits, north and south. Jonas and I visited when he was 9 and Grampy took us to all the sights including our first spring training game. He also spent time every evening playing catch with Jonas to get him ready for the upcoming important Little League tryouts. It was a success – Jonas made the major league. He also enjoyed his special sleeping accommodation at Grammy and Grampy’s house: Grampy’s den which was filled with sports memorabilia.
My daughter and I visited when she was around the same age. Grampy tailored the visit to Sally’s interests: the pool, the beach and driving the golf cart! (And, of course, spring training.)
Although I am sure the experience was better for a child than it was for the driver, my Dad instilled in me the love a road trip. Like the sound of baseball on the radio, falling asleep in a car is a childhood comfort that sticks with me. As a family, we would drive every summer from wherever we lived (California, Colorado, Cape Cod) to New Hampshire. Four kids, a dog and turtle – we’d pass the time fighting, singing, playing games, complaining we were hungry or had to pee. As the driver, this could not have been easy, but he pressed on. We stayed in motels and jumped on the beds. We ate breakfast in diners and cracked ourselves up by mixing cream and lemon in tea and watching the curdled chunks rise up. On one trip across, we were also pulling a boat on a trailer which somehow became unattached and rolled off the road. This was hilarious to us but, again, probably not as fun for the driver. No problem- Grampy Duke could fix it.
The nice thing about being a grown up is being able to look back on one’s childhood with perspective. There is no doubt in my mind that I was not the easiest teenager. There were times I was resentful of not getting what I wanted and having to do more chores than I thought was fair. (Also, that time I was brought home, drunk, in the police cruiser.) Of a different generation, my Dad was not as demonstrative with his affections as current generations are. But, I can see now that my Dad quietly (well, sometimes loudly) instilled values in my siblings and me that make us who we are today. We know that family matters (and being a Martin is a very high standard), that meeting your responsibilities is important, that there is joy in being self-reliant and accomplishing things. I am also assured of his love for us, both currently, and in my memories. When I went away to college, it was a rocky adjustment. Not only was I the proverbial fish-out-of-water at my college, but my growing know-it-all pretension was a source of conflict with my parents. That said, come February, my increasingly lonely self was surprised: it was my Dad who sent me a valentine card and reminded me that I was loved.
So, to my siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews: Savor the relationships, value the lessons learned and the moments shared. Indeed, I have learned that that there is no better time than a summer evening, fading to darkness, having your Dad completely to yourself, gently teasing you and tossing a frisbee over and over.
Happy Birthday, Grampy Duke!