Wednesday, November 09, 2005


smells like "butch cassidy and the sundance kid"
Originally uploaded by a boot.

He was born when the world looked like this, one of many children--all boys, except one sister who died in childhood.

At a young age, he was sent to live with his grandmother.

His grandmother, whose name was Mary Ann, spoiled him, allowing him to graduate from high school when other children of immigrants were forced to take a job in the local factories at fourteen or fifteen.

He really only wanted to stay in school so he could play baseball.

His confirmation name was Aloysius--a choice urged on him by an aunt. For the rest of his life, he would consider it one of his darkest secrets.

He courted a girl named Nellie Byrnes from a neighboring town by letters. All of them were signed, "Yours Truly, John Heney," because "you never want to put anything personal in writing."

He was a fitness enthusiast, decades before such a term existed. He ran, walked, believed in daily deep breathing, and kept it up for a lifetime.

At ninety-six, he was still walking six miles a day.

He always stood up straight.

He knew a "son of a bitch" when he saw one, but never lost much time talking about them or thinking about them.

When their families no longer needed their help, John and Nellie married. They were twenty-eight.

A first child died of diptheria at age five. For the rest of his life, John would carry a faded thumbnail photograph in his wallet. "He was a fine boy, too,"
John would say tucking the picture back in its spot.

He lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, devastating personal loss, but he was grateful for everything that was good in his life: "a wife who woke up singing in the morning, the best kids on earth, a job I was happy to go to every day."

At ninety-nine, he said he would like to live the whole thing over again.

He gave each of his many grandchildren two dollars for every birthday and on Christmas.

No one was allowed to call him "Grandpa," because that was for old people.

When a granddaughter got her license, he wrote her a letter on bank stationery, cautioning her never to drive faster than 35 miles an hour. "They'll wait for you," he said.

At his funeral, his daughters said that they could still remember the feeling of being held on his lap when they were very small.

He was my grandfather and November 9th was his birthday.


Anonymous said...

I'm at a loss for words. This was crafted with love and honour. A beautiful tribute.

rdl said...

How sweet. That is possible the nicest thing i've every read.

Vickie said...

Wow, he sounds like quite the man. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Patry Francis said...

easy: Thank you. Much appreciated.

And R: Wondering if you remember him?

vickie: He was.

Irina: "The expression of our childhood"--I like that.

robin andrea said...

Patry, this is such a loving tribute to your grandfather. I could feel his presence, you drew him so well.

ShaanCho said...

What a man! And you know so much about him! Wish I knew my grandparents that well :(

rdl said...

I do, but kinda like children I don't know how much is from memory(tho I can't remember now if I actually met him, but I do have a preety good picture of him in my head - he was tall right?) or from hearing about him. I do remember how special he was tho.

Myfanwy Collins said...

This is just lovely, Patry!


p.s. I'm wondering if you could send me a quick email ( as I have a question for you I'd rather not ask in comments and I can't find your email address. Thanks!

Sharon Hurlbut said...

A beautiful tribute, and got me thinking a great deal about my grandmother, who shared your grandfather's birthday. Thank you!

Thomas White said...

Happy Birthday John!!

Patry Francis said...

R.D.: What you wrote made me so happy. Thank you! I also felt his presence in writing it.

Santanu: Yes, I was lucky. He lived with our family for a couple of years, and I got a chance to ask a lot of questions and absorb a lot of stories.

Sharon: It was clearly a good day to be born. I'm sure your grandmother was wonderful.

finn: I had a grandmother I never met, and always felt it was such a cheat for both of us. But in a way, I feel I did and do know her.

Dave said...

Great portrait; not a word too many. (Though I could easily sit still for a book-length biography of him, I bet.) Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute...tight and rich...especially meaningful because my dad is ill right now at 81...and I'm thinking about these long lived human beings.

Refound your link on someone's list and thought I would say HELLO. Last time I was here I couldn't comment...glad to see I can now

OvaGirl said...

what a beautiful portrait patry.He came alive for me in just a few words. I love that he and his wife waited until their families no longer needed them. It says so much about self sacrifice and filial duty. I guess 28 was a long time to wait in those days.

gulnaz said...

an absoulutely beautiful and loving tribute to your grandad!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, P. Thank you.

November was apparently an excellent month for future grandparents to be born a hundred years ago. I lost my November-born grampa thirty years ago, but he was kind and good, too, and I also still remember what it felt like to be held by him, how he also didn't waste time on ugliness, and what he smelled like, cigars and "pepOmints." And his voice. And his smile. Thanks for reminding me of him by talking about yours.

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