My mother's father was a short, tough guy, an ex-boxer and ex-army man who could charm the women, tell wonderful stories with abandon, and had hands like baseball mitts. He might have seemed like a teddy bear if he wasn't so strong, so tough, so scarred with life experiences.
I don't know a ton about him, partly because he wasn't particularly forthcoming about his past (unless there was a funny story to tell, a story that usually had him as the punchline), and partly because I was too young to fully appreciate him before he died.
One thing I do know is he loved my grandmother like nothing I've ever seen, treating her with so much respect and kindness that it left an impression on me forever. I could tell he felt she was one of the best things that had ever happened to him.
He and my grandmother lived with my mom, and toward the end, he began exhibiting dementia-like symptoms that may have been linked to his physical life (getting punched in the head isn't likely to help you retain your wits) and/or his drinking (he drank more and more as time went on, especially after my grandmother died). I was scared of him because he was so much a man, and I was so much not. Also, he took it as a personal affront that I'd come over to mow my mom's lawn.
What I (think I) know, from his stories and/or from my mom:
- He was born in Austria, in a small town that either was destroyed in WWII, or was swallowed up by the expansion of a nearby city. I believe any birth/family records were destroyed in the second world war. (Note: not too long ago something led me to believe he'd maybe actually been born in the US, so this may need updating.)
- He and his family immigrated to the US, to Philly, where he grew up in the slums with an alcoholic father who beat him.
- He didn't finish much schooling and was dyslexic, though no one knew at the time
- He had a sister (younger?) who came out to Hawaii once to visit... Aunt Louise?
- He ran away from home multiple times, the last time at about 16yo, when he successfully escaped by joining the US Cavalry (lying both about his age and knowing how to ride a horse)
- The only horses he'd seen before joining the cavalry were the ones pulling the milk wagons in the slums where he'd lived
- In the cavalry, he was part of the Pershing force that went south across the border to Mexico, chasing Pancho Villa (Grandpa said "we never got close. We'd ride into a town and all the people would know nothing about him. He was a hero to them.")
- He ended up in Hawaii (~1919?) with the 17th Cavalry and pretty much stayed on
- He was a boxer, first in the Army, and then later a coach for the Hawaii Golden Gloves team. Ultimately he served as a referee at local matches until he was linked to a scandal that, according to my mother, he had nothing to do with except as a result of being somewhat naive and trusting.
- He was blue collar all the way, working for the phone company as a lineman, driving an oil truck for Standard Oil (we have photos of him next to his truck on the Pali Highway, with the road looking like it's pretty brand new)
- He hated unions because when they came in, he no longer had a good working relationship with the men in his line crew
- He didn't much read or write (his dyslexia and lack of education) but he was a smart and funny guy and could get your laughing at him and his experiences
- He'd had a dog in the cavalry who rode up on the front of his saddle
- He had some wonderful army stories, none of which I can fully recall at the moment, but I hope to post these later.