Robert Spofford, 1925~2006
November 15, 2006
My Grampy. It makes me so sad to see the fire quenched in his eyes, the sparkle
of eternal fun gone blank. He was a ladies man, always so proud of his 13 girls-
2 daughters and 11 granddaughters. He loved the boys too, of course, but it was
obvious in the hospital how ecstatic he was to see us girls, blonde and
blue-eyed and looking like sisters. Trouping into his room, or hoarding in the
hall, and laughing quietly.
He grew up on the beach, where we all grew up, with his older brother Hugh. I can just imagine them, two blonde boys in bathing suits that look like basketball uniforms scrambling over rocks and running in the soft sand. Grampy used to tie his boat to one of the rocks, separated from the rest a little and shaped like a dome. You can still see the bolt, sunk through a little metal ring and rusting a bit. I used to wrap my index finger through it, as the tide rose and ice cold water slapped at my legs. It was Hugh that named it Bobby's Tent, for my Grampy, and then at 18 he died of Hodgkin's Disease.
World War II came along, and they asked for volunteers. Grampy had always loved the sea, so he signed up immediately for the Navy. On the questioneer he had to fill out, it asked "Do you sleep walk." He checked "Yes" because he used to when he was little, though he hadn't in years, and they turned him away. A year or so later, he was drafted, checked "no", and was stationed on a ship moving floating dry docks from San Francisco to Florida.
They were based in Marin on a little headland across the bay from the big city. There was nothing in Marin, only a main street as long as a small city block, and of course the Naval Base. They hung out at Sam's, in the center of Main Street, with a beautiful view of the city across the sea. Some days they'd catch the bus to San Francisco and have to walk back to the base, pulling on their pea coats and traipsing over the golden gate bridge as the fog rolled in at four in the morning. It was aboard ship that he learned Morse Code, operating the ship's communication center.
He worked for the railroad for a while, in the telegraph office. I don't know if this was before or after he met my grandmother, but I think it must have been before. I remember being at Disneyland with him, waiting for the train at New Orleans Station where they play the opening speech in Morse Code. "Do you know what it says?" My mother asked, and Grampy read the whole thing off to us.
My grandmother, Virginia Twist, was working at Kennebunk Savings Bank when a mutual friend introduced them. She was a beautiful woman, slightly rubenesque, with a baby face and a sparkle in her eye. They were married at the South Congregational Church in Kennebunk, and when they tried to leave for the honeymoon they discovered that her father had put the axles of the car on cinderblocks so they couldn't drive away. There's a picture of Grampy in his tux, kneeling down to peer under the car, with a great big grin of appreciation on his face.
They moved into a small apartment on Summer Street, the main drag in Kennebunk, where they had David, Nancy, and Kathy. Grampy started working for the Post Office as a letter carrier, and Gram started her role as church mother and general beneficiary to the community at large. Pretty soon they decided to buy the house across the street, though it was a little out of their budget, and Grampy picked up a paper route at night. They had Rob then, and several years later they had Steve. Some nights Grampy would wake up David or Nancy, bundle them into their coat, take them to Rapid Ray's, stuff them full of hot dogs, and they'd do the paper route together, creeping home in the early morning light.
In the summertime, the family would pack into a little red cottage in the marsh, right across the road from the house that Grampy's father built, the "Juanita", and another generation of blonde haired kids scrambled over the rocks and ran in the sand. Grampy lobstered sometimes, taking out his boat and checking traps. My mother used to like to go with him and lay out on the bow for a good tan. Grampy built a tiny two bedroom cottage on the back of the property when they were little, letting David pound extra nails into the sub floor to keep him busy while Grampy worked. They painted it red, with a giant window in the living room facing the ocean. Small spiders would cover that window in the summertime, swinging towards the sea in the wind.
Gram died when most of the kids were in their twenties. It was cancer, and it was everywhere by the time they figured out why she wasn't feeling so well. Steve was the only kid still at home, just starting high school. Grampy was lost, all by himself, and he was grateful when Win came over and kept him company, making meals and getting him back on his feet. A few months later they were married. They moved into Grammy Win's tiny house in Buxton, where a big red barn housed brown horses, standing in the sunlight and flicking their tails, and a still pond pooled to the west, it's cat-tails reaching their arms to the sky.
In the winter, he and Grammy Win would make the trek in their RV to Florida, returning home in the spring, and spending weekends at the beach house in the summer, where another generation of blonde haired blue eyed grandkids was growing up. He asked us to stay with him in the big beachfront house that was his mother's one summer, installing a toilet in the basement so we wouldn't get the house sandy. I was certain that the creaking of the house settling at night was ghosts rumpassing in the hallway, so Grampy spent most of that month WD40-ing the entire house to make me feel better. There was a giant thunderstorm that year, which woke us up as we scrambled to close all the windows in the pouring rain. Us three girls huddled up on the couch in front of the picture window to watch the storm over the sea, with Grampy close by. Grammy Win would cook us Sunday dinner, which we had never heard of before, and we'd fall asleep to the crash-hush of the ocean while humming the Jeopardy theme song.
My mother thought it was a little much for Grampy and Grammy Win to take, with all those little kids running around, so we stayed in the little cottage Grampy had built after that, with my two cousins. Four girls sharing two twin beds and not getting a whole lot of sleep.
He had a heart attack one winter, shortly after our summer stay. My father told me the news in our kitchen one day as I sat on the countertop, but it didn't really register. The only change I ever saw was the scars running down his chest and legs when he wore his bathing suit in the summer, he still did everything he used to with as much vim and vigor.
Friday nights, Grampy would have the local church people over for drinks and good times at Bob's Bar. He made the sweetest Shirley Temples, almost half grenadine with plenty of cherries for anyone who didn't want, or wasn't old enough to drink (my sister, me, and Grammy Win), killer martinis for my mother, and vodka tonics for my Aunt Nancy.
When my mother called me at work and said "Aunt Nancy says to come now. Are you coming with us?" I found myself on a plane a few hours later. We had been told it was a heart attack again, but it wasn't really. His heart just wasn't able to process the Leukemia in his blood. It was strange seeing him in the hospital, he was just the same as he ever was... joking around and charming the nurses. He was very tired, though. That's mostly how the trip went, Grampy getting more and more drowsy as time went on.
I held his hand on the day before he died, his grip just as strong as ever it used to be, his eyes staring beyond anything in the room. As I watched him fall asleep, the room faded away before me and I saw the tall, youthful silhouette of a man in navy blue, bravely walking alone across a red bridge, and into the fog dusted silver by the moonlight.
I love you a lot, Grampy, and I know that scores of others feel the same.