Friday, February 16, 2007

MY GRANDFATHERS WERE GRAND

Back in the 60s I lived in a small town and my house
(Train Station) was five minutes away from both sets of Grandparents.

Joseph (Jeff) Coppens left Belgium to make a new life here in Canada. He had a Flemish accent that I adored and the interior of his home was decorated exactly as it would have been back in Brakel, Belgium.


He lived next door to the Catholic Church, rang the church bell on Sunday Mornings, entertained the Priest who lived next door, and his garden was surrounded by the Cemetery.


Jeff always made me (and everyone around him) laugh and feel at ease.
Grandpa Coppens would let me tag along with him when he went to the Convent with libations in hand to entertain the Nuns. I guess Grandma wasn’t too concerned.


I would sit in the corner and watch him send these tipsy gals into fits of hysterical laughter. I wasn’t raised Catholic so I didn’t share the fear and reverence of the Nuns that the other kids had. I remember thinking how great it was to be able to watch Grandpa make people laugh.

I was lucky enough to go back to Belgium with him in the late 70s to see where he came from. I felt completely at home inside his sibling’s homes because they looked exactly like their house back in Fannystelle.
The last time I saw him was shortly after returning from Europe.
Grandpa jumped out of his hospital bed stark naked and begged me to take him home.
He died of emphysema a few days later.

Melvin (Mel) Simonson
was my other Grandfather who lived 2 houses away from my other Grandpa!
Can you say Pleasantville.
Mel was a Swedish American who had moved North to farm with his brothers. Grandpa Simonson was the larger than life guy who would stand on a table at a Bonspiel or a Social and tell jokes in between playing his accordion.


Mel had a hilarious laugh, one of those Hee Hee Hee Burt Reynolds type laughs that you don’t expect to hear eminating from someone who could lift a 45 gallon drum into the back of his truck.

I will never ever forget the night that Grandpa was babysitting me..
I was about 6 or 7 and I can reproduce every item in that room. Mel and his buddy Pa were watching the Untouchables on the TV and tossin’ back a few Rye. For whatever reason I jumped up on the coffee table and started impersonating Elliot Ness. Grandpa spit out his drink and started howling.


I kept going..threw everything that I had at him…
I finished him off with my impersonation of a Giraffe running in slow motion..
at which point he fell off of the couch and rolled on the floor holding his sides.

Like my other Grandfather, Mel died shortly after we had all just returned from a big trip to Disneyland in 1968.
I can remember sitting in the car in my pyjamas in the middle of the night and watching my Mom walk across the Hospital parking lot to tell us that Grandpa had died of a Heart Attack.
I was 10 years old.

I like to think that my ‘funny’ DNA comes directly from these two guys. Two different styles but both of them had the same effect on people.


Jeff and Mel probably never knew how much I learned from them…
but I did tell them that I loved them every time I saw them.

I think that is all that my Grandfathers needed to know.

33 comments:

  1. What a great story! It was my "awwwwwwwww" moment of the day. :)

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  2. I hate you! That was a WONDERFUL story, and it made me wish that I knew my Grandfather (paternal) much better than I had the time to. He DID contribute some wonderful expereinces to my life as a kid and I really wasn't able to appreciate them until much later when I realized just how valuable they were. I did attend his funeral, which was the last time I saw my mysteriously absent and quite large extended family which I haven't had any contact with since. Thank you for your story, it was wonderful.

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  3. That was both interesting and nice. I mean that! Thanks for posting it.

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  4. Great story!

    Now could you please post a video of you doing an impersonation of a Giraffe running in slow motion?

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  5. That really is a great story.

    Anyone who claims to be funny can always attribute it to someone else.

    The pictures were cool too.

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  6. dana d5:53 p.m.

    Elliot Ness was obviously way before my time, have no idea who he was/is.You are fortunate to have been raised in such a loving home/community and it shows in how wonderful your children are and the way they have been raised.There, now that I got myself all weepy, I feel guilty playing on the computer and not playing with my kids. Thanks !!!

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  7. You are lucky to have known your grandparents and to have lived close to them. Where I come from, it is very common for people to live near or with their extended family members. I lived with my grandmother and her sister (my aunt) and my children are enjoying living with their grandparents near them too.

    I think it provides a wonderful sense of connection and grandparents give a different kind of love and attention that children need.

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  8. Beautifully written, Mr. Coppens, and posting those pix makes it all the more alive.

    And while of course you basically told me the whole story last night, I had to read every word.

    What a combination of characters (and character) you are. Your vivid and colourful personality are the products of many things.

    It's great that you can see that yourself and see where some of those seeds were sown.

    This is one that leaves me not with a bust-my-gut laugh, but a quiet, warm smile.

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  9. laugh and the world laughs with ya.
    Cry and ya cry alone.

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  10. H.E. that was the most heart-warming post I've read in a long time!
    Grandpas and Grandmas! Aren't they the very best of human beings!!!

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  11. It touched my heart. I was reminded of my grandparents too. I miss my grandfather from my mom's side. My grandpa from my dad's side was gone when my dad was 2. My grandma brought him up with an iron hand. She was only 17 when he died. You can't imagine how a life was for a young widow in those times. If you get a chance watch "Water" by Deepa Mehta. You might get a gist. Though it is very comtemporary. In a sense, nothing has changed in certain areas.

    As usual I go off on a tangent...maths and all, remember..

    I will write about that Rock music stuff asap. Nowadays I seldom have time. School is VERY hectic. That's no excuse either.

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  12. A beautifully written story HE. Thanks for giving me the warm fuzzies.

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  13. do u have a crush on keshi ?
    me too



    .

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  14. Why didn't my comment post? Grrrr.

    This was a lovely and heartwarming post. I especially love that picture of the little boy (I'm assuming that's you) on that little snowhill. I hope you share these stories with your children.

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  15. Nice. VERY nice. And you're right, that's all they needed to know.

    I'm envious. My grandfathers and one grandmother had died by the time I was born. The other grandmother died when I was 6. I barely remember her, but I do remember her...

    I'm truly glad that you have those fantastic memories. They're gold.

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  16. Sound like they were great guys. The only thing funny about my grandfathers was that both had the tip of a thumb missing from using power tools at home... No kidding...

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  17. Me again! WW says your son would like a site I suggested on his blog. Gbloogleglitsch (or the Shiraz) makes it impossible to make a link, so go to WW's comments to find it.It's clever.

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  18. shelley,
    I'm not sure what brought this on..I was walking past the picture of my parents on their wedding day and a flood of memories came rushing forward and...I'm glad that it brightened your day.

    christine,
    Every once in a while I 'mush' out a bit...and I just wanted to get it on record..sheesh wait 'til you see my post on my GrandMAs.you'll need Kleenex.

    THE michael,
    I realise how lucky I was to have had a couple of years being so close to my Grandparents...it really was like Pleasantville..small town, shy kid, outsider but yet totally connected. It was great.

    Miss Cellania,
    Thanks. I know that everybody has a story and we spend a lot of time out here in the blogosphere discussing ideas and issues but I like to find out what makes people tick...we all got to where we are via alternate routes..and they are all interesting..this brief period of my life was almost surreal..too good to be true and nothing lasts forever. I just wanted to feel it again.

    mj, You would be astonished at how I mastered the Giraffe in Slo-Mo..I just returned from my Daughters Modern Dance Show and I am telling you My piece would fit right in..where's my camera I need to get that on YouTube!

    Funnyoushouldsaythatblogger,
    I definitely got my sense of humor from those guys...as far back as I can remember I was laughing at those guys. I thought that the way my Grandpas made people open up and let down their guard was an art...and I always wanted to be able to do that.

    dana,
    I can only take one third of the credit for the kids. I can't believe how fortunate I am to have such sweet, sensitive, funny and intelligent...Ok now I am bragging.
    It is scary to watch them grow up but there isn't much that we can do about that so at some point you let go of the string and watch them soar...((sigh))

    menchie,
    I know that here in the West we have a weird sort of way of dealing with aging..now that we Boomers are hitting 60 we will probably look at it a lot differently. We need to slow down and make those 'golden' years a multigenerational reward...I only saw that for a few years but if that was the norm our society would look quite different.

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  19. Very sweat story HE... I loved belgium especially Bruxelles. I was hopeless trying to speak flemish.... i am ok in french, just dont ask me to give a lecture or conduct a light opera.

    SOund like they were a fantastic influence on your humor and writing.. it is not unapreciated

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  20. without prejudice,
    Thanks buddy. I left out a few things that I am keeping for myself and it is part of my personal journey program here at station BLOG. I have come to accept the fact that when you are trying to write about how you feel you are actually learning as much about yourself as you are discovering your subject.

    whitesnake,
    Ain' it the truth. There is so much horror surrounding us that we need to laugh...to cope with all of this uncertainty.'
    Besides, I promised myself that I wasn't going to start believing my own spin and the best way to do that is to laugh at yourself and with others.

    dinahmow,
    Just doing my best Garrison 'Keebler' impersonation.

    Creme de la Creme,
    Absolutely..I mean what a vantage point..knowing the parents and what makes them tick and getting the chance to resolve some things on your Grandchildren..being one step removed must help..I am looking forward to it...not yet girls..give yourselves (and me) a few years.

    gautami,
    I guess that is big part of it..I know that I was lucky because so many people never get to know their Grandparents and I was surrounded by them in the Wonder Years.
    You definitely need to explain your Metal connection..and soon.

    laurie,
    Thanks. I should have made this my Valentine. It is defintely nice to feel the warm fuzzies in Winter.

    jim,
    Long Answer:I don't think that 'crush' is the right term..I am happily married to a delicious woman and keshi is more like a little sister..
    albeit a glamorous exotic little sister...sure we joke around quite a bit but I feel totally protective of her.
    I think the fact that she is a 'star' but has made such an effort to connect and still makes time for me is flattering and thoughtful..anyway we clicked...and I think that we are pretty good cyber-friends.
    Short Answer:Oh yeah totally.

    anna,
    Yes that's me enjoying the Great Blizzard of '66. I am on the front street directly in front of Grandpa Simonson's house. don't I look like I am enjoying Life?...
    and that is why I like that picture...
    I don't have a care in the world at that moment and I have yet to make all of my mistakes..
    cue CHER..
    If I could turn back ti-hime!

    kevin,
    I am sorry to hear that you didn't get as much time with your Grandparents. I was trying to be appreciative because I know that alot of my friends were always amazed at how close I was to my Grandparents..
    I bought my first vehicle from Grandpa Coppens (61 International Travelall) and flipped it but he wasn't mad because I bought a car that was identical to his..66 white Ford Falcon with 3 on the tree.

    paul,
    Oooch! I remember how BIG my Grandpas hands looked and felt to me..especially Grandpa Simonson..he had hands the size of a Roast that fit over the top of my head..but he was always gentle and protective.

    dinahmow,
    Will do.

    aidan,
    I loved Bruxelles too..my Franglais served me well and I knew a few flemish phrases although as Hildegarde can attest calling all of the girls zoeteke (sweetie) did get me into a fair bit of trouble in the Discos..

    but hey I was in a tizzy trying to get used to those unisex washrooms..they were absolutely fascinating to me....I should do a post on that because our Victorian/Puritan mindset here in the Colonies did nothing to prepare me for this concept..
    especially back in 1977 when I was 19 and totally drenched in beer and hornymones!

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  21. That's very sweet, HE. You're really lucky to have been so close to your family. You'll get a general idea of my relations with my relations when I tell you that none of them were invited to my wedding. I envy you!

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  22. I just love this post, you tell it all so well, it i like we can picture your Grandpa's laughing at you.
    I make sure I tell my kids I love them everyday, even if they gimme the Sh@!s at times, coz that is how I was brought up and ya never know when your time is up.

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  23. Awww!That just is really sweet!

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  24. stace,
    Well everybody has different family dynamics. Hopefully you are at peace with whatever decisions you have made or were made for you.

    The only thing that remains constant in this world is change so never say never. You are a wise person so do what you must to protect yourself and perhaps your situation will change someday....
    and I realise that may be a big IF because I don't know any of the circumstances.

    Right now you have established what appears to be a fantastic symbiotic bond with 'whatshisface' so you know how very lucky you are!

    cazzie,
    How true. I try to tell myself every morning that I will still be here at the end of the day but I know in the back of my mind that there are no guarantees.
    I hope that my loved ones will remember my good days and forgive me for the rest. I just want to be as consistent as possible and improve my relationships a little bit each day...in the end what else is there?

    perspective,
    Hey how are you doing? Thanks for the kind words. I must admit that my nostalgia goggles were on but really at this point in my life I have nothing to gain by spoiling my childhood memories...my second childhood will be here soon enough so I intend to savor every moment.

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  25. I never knew my grand parents...
    does it make you feel better...
    You were so lucky...

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  26. Wonderfully told, very cool with those pictures, very warm memories. I feel connected because your grandpa Jef was Flemish. It is so great that you visited here with him. If you ever want to visit here again, with your family /friends, and you can use a guide, I'll be at your service.

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  27. whitesnake,
    It was not my intention to 'rub it in'..so no I don't feel better.
    I realise how lucky I was that is why I was celebrating the brief shining moment that was Camelot.
    My parents returned to their little town because they had just lived through the hell of losing an infant child, my little brother Jamie, who only managed to struggle through this world for a few months.

    hildegarde,
    I accept your warm invitation and if I ever do make it back I would certainly ring you up and take in the 'real' sites.
    It was fantastic to retrace his foorsteps..I even played darts with Grandpa in the little corner pub (where I am sure he made people laugh) when he was a young man.
    Priceless.

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  28. grumblicant1:47 p.m.

    My guess is, that these gents
    probably figured things out along
    the way. Nice homage!

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  29. What a beautiful story. U r so lucky HE. I have only known my maternal grandpa for like few years and I was very lil then...then he die. I wish I knew him more. My dad's dad...o well he died very young - 42yrs young and my dad was just 7months old at the time.

    Keshi.

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  30. let'sgetreadytogrummmmble!
    I think you're right...they probably knew. It was very therapeutic and really it is the least that I can do for those gentlemen..they were both risk takers and forward thinkers..I hope that I got a few of those genes too.

    kesh,
    I am so sorry to hear this..the life of a good person cut short is one of the hardest concepts to get your head around...
    but it certainly strengthens my agnoticism.

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