Vivian Kirkfield is a mom of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. She recently visited Singapore to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content to share her ideas about using picture books as effective parenting tools to build self-esteem and strengthen the parent-child connection. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her at www.viviankirkfield.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline,
I’m so glad that all of you got to know my father. He was a loving and generous grandfather. Do you remember the shopping bags he would bring when he visited us, filled with goodies like cookies, cakes and toilet paper. You might have thought it a little odd that he felt he needed to supplement what was available at our local stores, but there was a reason behind his seemingly eccentric behavior.
When he was 8 years old, he came home from school to find an ambulance taking his mother away. His distraught father never explained what had happened and subsequently declared he was unable to take care of his three young sons. The extended family must have been somewhat estranged, or just strange. The two younger brothers were reluctantly taken in by relatives and the oldest child, my father, was sent to an orphanage. Remember that this was back in the 1920’s. I shudder to imagine what orphanages were like in those days. After he lived there a year, a young, newly married uncle came to visit him and was so distressed by the conditions there, he called a family meeting and said if no one would speak up and take this child, he would. Shamed into action, the relatives agreed to share the responsibility and your grandfather spent the next six years being passed from aunts to uncles to grandparents. Finally, when he was fourteen, his father remarried (a woman in her early 20’s) and allowed his sons to come back home.
This experience molded my father. Perhaps he brought those bags of food and supplies to win our love (although he certainly had it anyway), or because he had gone without so many times in his youth and never believed he would ever have enough.
Grandpa was a cautious man – another trait foisted on him by the school of hard knocks, I guess – and he instilled those fears in his children. It’s no wonder I was always afraid to learn to swim – “Don’t go in water over your knees or you’ll drown,” he would tell me. “Stay close,” he would often warn us, “Watch out! You might get hurt!” It’s no surprise I was hesitant to try anything new for most of my life.
My dad and I had a wonderful relationship. Perhaps because of his childhood experiences, he trusted few people. But he trusted me. When I turned 18 and wanted to learn to drive, he allowed me to use his car, his precious 1964 Chevrolet Impala – his first car ever – which he waxed and watched with an eagle eye. Parking it on the street in front of our house, he’d check on it as the day progressed. If anyone leaned on it or touched it in passing, he’d tell them to keep their hands off.
A few years later, something sad happened. Your Dad and I had been married about a year and had just moved. We asked my father if we could borrow his car so that I could go to work the next day (I was a kindergarten teacher) with our car and Dad could stay home and take care of phone hook-ups and other move-in chores and have a car available if he needed one. Grandpa never hesitated and immediately handed over the keys to his precious car. It was a stormy night, rain whipping through the streets. I parked our car near our new apartment, but there were no other spaces close by – this was New York City after all. Dad had to park the borrowed car around the corner. And the next day it was gone. The police never found any trace of it – and Grandpa never said a word of blame or reproach.
Grandpa was not a bookish man, but he loved reading magazines and newspapers. Movies were a joy to him. He had worked in the film industry as a distributor for over 40 years, first with Warner Brothers, then with Paramount. I remember, as a child, getting passes from him for the local movie theater. How proud I was to be able to walk in without paying. I felt like a celebrity. Do you remember how he would tape movies and send us VCR tapes of “Roots,” “Gone With The Wind” and “The Ten Commandments.” He watched the monitor carefully while taping so he could delete the commercials.
And that was his pleasure in the last years of his life – wanting to provide enjoyment for us. At Christmas he would order fruit cakes from Collins Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. For the 4th of July, he would send us a huge order from Omaha Steaks. And even when we moved to Colorado and he came to visit us, he would pack one entire suitcase with cans of sardines, boxes of cookies and yes, rolls of toilet paper. He wanted to make sure we would never want for anything.
That’s the man your grandfather was.
With so much love,