Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dark Records

At this time of year an awful lot of thought is given to the macabre; cemeteries, skeletons.

I am going to relay a story, a dark, serious story that many of my relatives would not want me to share. I do, however, feel it is an important family story to retain; a skeleton, if you will. And so here I go airing laundry in this very public medium.

It speaks to the character of my grandfather, Clarence Albert Gardner (a.k.a.: Whitey Gardner), love of family, and deep dysfunction.

To understand this man you need some back story...

My maternal grandmother, Marilyn Irene Fay-Gardner (a.k.a.: Lynne), died on June 5, 1972 at the age of 41 due to cancer of the liver. She left my grandfather a widower at the age of 44 with 6 children. Since I was not born until 1974 some of what I am about to relay is pure conjecture on my part; pieced together from stories I have heard from various relatives and feelings I have picked up on.

I sense my grandfather deeply loved my grandmother as evidenced by the fact that he never remarried. he did have a very close companion, though; Pat. She was a little kooky but the what member of the family isn't?

Grandpa was a warm and loving man in a quiet, unobtrusive way. He was the kind of man who you could go months, even years without speaking to but should you call, when he answered, it would be as if not a day had passed. He was always happy to talk to me and always wanted me to come see him at his home in Florida. Thinking back on it now, I don't know if my grandfather ever called me in his whole life. I am not even sure he knew my birthday...but I had no doubt he loved me and was very, very proud of me. I was the oldest of his 9 grandchildren; and named after my grandma. My full name is April Lynne Earle.

You see, after grandma passed and my mom got married, and my uncle was off on his own, Grandpa Whitey sold his home in Merrick, Long Island, NY and bought a trailer home in West Palm Beach, Florida. He took his four youngest children with him. I believe he wanted to start life anew; I suspect that he wanted to escape the memories of life with Lynne.

In any case, after my parents' divorce and my mother's subsequent remarriage, I would spent my summer vacations in Florida. I would divide my two months there between time with my grandfather and time with my father's sister. It was my opportunity to not only escape my evil step-father but to bond with my distant relatives; mainly grandpa.

He would take me on little excursions; long drives in the truck; museums; zoos; but mainly we played monopoly. Yes, one summer long game of monopoly.

Grandpa did not live in his past. Maybe his heart, maybe his mind carried the pains and scares of days gone by but grandpa lived in the now. He took what those would give him at face value and expected nothing; at least that is how he felt to me. We cherished every moment we spent together.

In the family's shadowy past existed my evil step-father who died many years ago. My mother had two children with that man; children who have not had an easy deal in life. My step-father taught his children to mistreat my mother who deserved nothing but love and respect really. My sister has matured into a warm and loving soul. My brother, who I really do not know at all, was a very troubled child. The treatment my mother received from them as small children, I believe permanently damaged her emotionally, but I digress.

At one point my grandfather, this non-intrusive man, could no longer bear to watch my mother be abused by her son and so grandpa filed a suit to have my brother removed from my mother's home for her own good. Needless to say it caused a huge rift between grandpa and mom and my brother. 

She would hate me for writing this. Grandpa would probably also be ashamed of me for airing such family matters; but I do not care to hide my history. It has shaped how I am today. 

So in among the papers I have gathered about my family history is a document I secured from the State of Florida acknowledging that Clarence A. Gardner made this plea to remove my under-aged brother from my mother's home. He did so because he loved his daughter. In his quite, strong, unassuming way he stood strong by what he believed in. He LOVED his daughter and needed to protect her at any risk; regardless of the results.

Ultimately the suit was dropped. My brother remained with my mom. 

So why save and this story of dysfunction, drama, and disdain?

Because these are the people I come from.

Because last night I had an incredibly intense dream about my grandfather. One of those dreams so vivid you wake up unsure where reality is. Here or there, I know he is with me. Although he may not have been a very present figure in my day-to-day. I know without a doubt he loved me like no on else.  

In the dream he told me share to this. That someone needed to read this. He told me that the advice I sort from a friend was the right friend to seek it from. And that even though the advice I was given did not yield a positive reaction; I did the right thing. He told me to be who I am, just the way that I am, and to love the only way I know how which is  OUT LOUD! Incidentally, not they same way grandpa loved.

And families are messy. I hate when people where their ancestry with snobbery or elitism. Your existence is a badge of honor and it is fine to polish it off, but believe me, I know what kind of crud can accumulate on it.

And not every picture of the past is a sepia-toned pose...but there is beauty in every fucking one.

Thanks, Gramps!

 Grandpa Whitey and I circa 1979.

Grandpa Whitey and I circa 1990


  1. Those are great photos of you and your grandfather...beautiful. Nobody's family is picture perfect, except maybe in pictures. We are products, like you said, not just of the good but of the bad, and knowing the bad, not sweeping it under a rug, might help us better understand (and sometimes forgive) behavior and personality and decisions we see in family members who might have REALLY been shaped by that bad.

  2. Thanks, Cousin Mary. Genealogists sometimes like to go on about being descended from great kings. To which I say, blah, great kings lead great wars which were brutal, cruel, and destructive. My ancestors were not great kings, they were normal people. History is not rosy, its bloody, be real. But through my maternal side's often estranged and troubled past bright, bright shining lights of love show through. Often the dark makes the light so much brighter.