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Only One Grandpa

How does someone have only one grandfather? I don't mean growing up with one of the grandfathers deceased or divorced or living far away. I mean he didn't exist. To us at least.

My Dad was born and raised on Worley Ave. on the southeast side of Cleveland - a Polish area. He went to South High, or as they called it Soud-eye.

You knew the people had roots in Eastern Europe because one of their football cheers was Ooh sa sa sa, Ooh sa sa sa, Hit 'em in the head with a Koo ba sa sa. Somehow kielbasa became Koobasa in the cheer.

A year or so after my dad was born, his father, at least biologically and legally speaking, decided he didn't want to be married anymore and certainly didn't want to have a kid. So the jerk took off leaving my grandmother Martha and the baby on their own.

Today there is better recourse for deadbeat dads but back then, mother and child were simply abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Fortunately, Martha's parents (who Dad and then we called Granny and GrandDad) were around and they all lived together in that house on Worley.

They were strict Roman Catholics and as such, when Martha had to divorce the bum, she didn't have it very easy. Divorce was still somewhat scandalous in the early 1930's and the Church was not dispensing annulments as easily as it does today.

She was (incorrectly) told by an overzealous old-world priest that she was not allowed to receive the Sacraments that were so important to her. This devout Catholic woman was denied this because of the selfish actions of her ex-husband until another priest explained, many years later, that she could of course receive the Sacraments.

Martha had to go to work to support the family. It always surprised us kids that she worked as a hostess in some of the swanky downtown establishments of that era - mingling with the gangsters and bigwigs that populated such venues.

Martha Hanson
Martha Hanson

My recollection is of her walking down the street from the bus stop holding a box of Hough Bakery treats by the string as she came to visit. Certainly not some glamorous hostess at places I imagine to be like the Theatrical or Hollenden House or other fancy spots where the elite came to see and be seen.

In later years she was a receptionist at the VA Hospital and was always making gifts for the veterans.

So Dad spent a lot of time being raised by Granny, while Martha worked on bringing the money home. They also took in Dad's cousin Bob who had lost his parents. That's what families did. The good ones at least.

Granny - Anna Moczadlo
Granny - Anna Moczadlo

From what I understand Granny was a traditional old world type - making duck blood soup, raising a chicken or two and serving as surrogate mother while Dad's mom was working.

Dad only met his father once. The jerk had stayed in the neighborhood and had other family and kids. One time when Dad returned from the Army on leave and stopped in a local bar to see his friends, he was still in uniform having just arrived off the bus.

A drunk heard the name and came up bragging to all that this was his son, the Army hero. That was Dad's introduction to his father. How he managed to control himself and not punch the jerk's lights out (Dad was 6'4 and basic training primed) I don't know. Friends say an icy stare was enough to make the jerk back off.

So we never heard much about this guy when we were growing up. We do know that he made attempts to get back together with Martha many years later when he needed money or was sick and needed a caretaker. What a prince.

I remember one day when Dad answered the phone, listened for a minute and said "Okay, thanks for letting me know." When we pried, we learned that the phone call was from a cousin who said his dad had died and when the wake and funeral would be held.

We wondered if Dad would go. He calmly stated that that man was not his father and looking at all of us he said, "This is my family."

My oldest sister was curious. She wanted to go to the wake and see if anyone looked like any of us, if Dad had step-siblings and if we had cousins we should know about. Dad didn't forbid or encourage her - it just did not matter to him.

Martha had it tough her whole life because of the abandonment. She had to ride busses and go to work to support herself for far too long. She had a bunch of atlases and travel books filled with "must-see" places that she would spend hours looking at. She never got the opportunity to visit any of these places herself - her life didn't allow for such frivolity.

Martha Hanson

When we cleaned out the small apartment at the Euclid Beach apartment after she died, there were several of the books looking as if they had been read frequently. I still have her Scenic Wonders of the World book and think of her every time I see it.

It's funny but I also think of her when I hear anything from the Beatles Sergeant Pepper's album. She gave me that record when I was a kid - one of the first LPs I actually owned. I remember her in the rocking chair studying the cover of that album for a long time. It was an amazing cover with lots of famous people's images mixed in with the 4 Beatles. (see the picture)

Sergeant Pepper album cover

Dad, like a lot of kids unfortunately, grew up without a father but he was fortunate to have a strong family with his Mom, Granny, GrandDad and cousin Bob who became like a brother. Somehow, because of the lack of a father or in spite of it, he managed to make himself a fantastic father. And he always had a soft spot for the kid with no father.

I remember he spent a lot of time helping out a little league teammate of mine named Barry who didn't have a father. Barry was a fantastic fielder and he explained that he would spend hours each day throwing the ball up in the air to himself and catching it. Dad always made sure that there was someone on the other end of Barry's throws when we practiced.

I didn't appreciate the hours of catch he played with me and my friends until years later but he knew, having missed out on it himself, how important it would be to another fatherless kid like Barry. It's fascinating how the selfish actions of one jerk can affect the lives of so many - and so many years later.

Martha Hanson

It was different for us going to Martha's instead of my other grandparents - my Mom's folks. Much quieter and frankly, not as much fun.

But it was special in its own way and I don't remember ever feeling cheated because I only had one grandfather. Especially because of the one I did have. But that's a story for next time.

by Dan Hanson




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