, Gloucester, MA


January 11, 2013

Memories of Oscar: patriotism and poetry

My maternal grandfather was perhaps the most patriotic person I’ve ever known. Born to Swedish immigrants who spoke their native tongue at home, little Oscar refused, pretending not to understand it.

My mother liked to tell that story to illustrate his “stubborn” streak that followed him through his life.

He would teach his daughters one day to press their right hands over their hearts when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at a band concert. And the adult Oscar was not ashamed to let the tears roll freely down his cheeks singing “America the Beautiful” with me.

A proud, hardworking man, he rose with dignity above the intolerance of my Nana’s family, who dismissed him as a foreigner. He apprenticed and became an upholsterer of good reputation, cutting and fitting fabric to cover the furniture for wealthy families on Gloucester’s Back Shore and Eastern Point.

His talents would take him also to several Boston hotels where, even during the Depression, elaborate furniture and drapes remained in vogue. He traveled into the city by train, staying through the week, returning home to his family on Sunday.

My Nana packed his five lunches disguised in brown paper tied with string like a parcel to be mailed, so that no one would suspect him to be a man too poor to take his meals at a restaurant.

It was not until I was a young adult that I stumbled upon a little cache of his poetry in some bottom drawer in my parents’ house. The pages were penned in my grandfather’s hand on thin, yellowed paper, and I was delighted to discover this talent. He had a lovely voice, too, and sometimes sang aloud in the car when he rode with us.

I don’t know now (and sadly, there’s nobody left to ask) if he wrote the words and melody to a song he used to sing to me, a song that I then sang to my own children, soothing them to sleep when they were young. All three of them remember, “In a Cool, Shady Nook by the Side of a Brook.”

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