November always makes me think of Dad, and for some reason, George — which makes me smile.
Nope, not an old beau or pet — well, not really.
George was the gorilla who lived in the closet of my father’s den in their home in Florida. At least, that’s what we were told. The kids were convinced over the years that they’d caught glimpses of him. George, we were told, was quite shy. When our clan headed south for a visit, George usually packed up and went to visit his brother out West, Dad said. He always tried to make it back before we left for home, but it never quite happened.
“How’s George, Grandpa?” was one of the first questions the kids would ask when they got my dad on the phone. A shaggy dog (gorilla?) story would follow about the ape’s latest adventures, and they were stories that always thrilled.
George was a surprisingly good correspondent. He wrote letters to the kids, inquiring after their grades and activities. He had nice handwriting, not unlike my father’s elegant script . . . and for some reason, I always envision a gorilla wearing a beanie with a propellor sitting at a school desk, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he labored over a letter.
George was something of a surprise to me, as my dad wasn’t much for children or whimsy during my own early years. The potential for it was always there, but it was never realized until Gabrielle came along in 1991 and Daniel four years later. Whatever mistakes or omissions Dad made during my childhood he made up for with my kids. No, he never changed a diaper, but he sparked their imaginations in so many ways.
“Remember George?” the kids still ask each other at times, and it’s always followed by grins and giggles and more Grandpa stories.
George faded away as my father did, disappearing somewhere into the mists swirling in Dad’s mind. But George’s memory is still strong in the minds of the grandchildren who never actually saw him, but knew what he looked like as surely as they did their grandfather, thanks to his elaborate descriptions.
I look at this photo, taken on his 80th birthday — just seven days before his November 27 death in 2007 — and mourn that creativity and whimsy and gentleness and delight in his grandchildren, particularly his young namesake, his only grandson. At the end, Dad did not know my mother’s name or mine, or even that we were related, but his visage would light up when his grandchildren entered the room, and he would fire an imaginary cowboy pistol at Daniel in acknowledgement of that recognition.
Every November, I think of the great poker game that’s going on in the next world. My dad and his buddies — Bill, Leo, Smokey, Ray, and probably my Uncle Larry — are sitting around a table. There’s a coffeemaker brewing endless pots (not decaf, either!), and there’s an Entenmann’s cake or two nearby.
And I always imagine George sitting next to my dad, wearing a green eyeshade, of course. It’s his deal.