A cold night in December 1948, at a factory Christmas Party in St. Louis, a boy from Walnut Park met a girl from Dogtown. Stars aligned, baby angels did flips and pixie dust shone down from heaven.
Ha. No…in my Grandmother’s words “I hated your Grandfather the first night I met him”. I giggled out loud as I reached for my baileys on ice I’d been sipping since we ate dinner.
I’d been having a difficult day; Work was stressful and I was in a hormonally induced, comfort seeking, couldn’t shake the blues mood and I just really needed face time with my Grams. Not to mention the holidays are always difficult for me; especially the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. This year marks the 6 years since my Grandpa’s passing from Parkinson’s Disease.
So I figured the nice 45 minute drive into the Valley would benefit both her and I. I called her up earlier in the afternoon and asked if she’d be around. You’d think you wouldn’t have to put a tracking device on an 80-year-old woman, because they usually spend their time knitting sweaters and other time-consuming endeavors that elderly people enjoy. Not my Grandmother. She likes to jaunt around, days at a time as of late, visiting whomever she feels like that week and really living the life of a 40-year-old. Furthermore, I don’t even think she knows how to knit. Rock on, grams. I don’t have the patience for that crap either.
It’s always like a mini vacation visiting her. She always has dinner waiting. The Bailey’s or Captain Morgan in the bottom cabinet is always within hands reach too. A lady that enjoys a cocktail at her age? A woman after my own heart.
This time was no exception. Sometimes wonder what kind of crazy intuition that woman has. I didn’t say anything to her about being on a no-carb diet and there was a chicken salad with tons of veggies waiting. Sigh, how did I get so lucky?
I walked in the house and she smiled very big and came over to give me a hug. I wanted to cry right there. Her smell and the smell of her house is just something I cannot describe. Throw in my current mood and need to get some things off my chest…man I was one more hug away from water works. But I held it together and helped her get the table set. “You sound stuffed up and you look like you’ve had a hard day, do you want some juice?” she said concerned. “Only if you have some vodka to go with it?” She laughed and said “I do. Nicole keeps telling me to keep it in the freezer but I keep forgetting.” Nicole is my eldest cousin out of the 10 of us and probably the only reason why Grandma even has vodka there. But staying true to her form, my Grandmother loves to please the ones she loves. With that said she didn’t miss a beat when she said with a smile, “I have Bailey’s also”. She was already reaching for it before I could say, “I’ll take it with ice.” I don’t know what it is about Bailey’s but you get a handful of the Hansen girls into a room and get out of bottle of Bailey’s, and really strange and magical things happen. Or we all start crying and hugging each other.
I took off my coat and scarf and laid it down. “Long time no talk missy, why haven’t you been calling me?” I let out a little bit of a sigh, I knew that would be one of the first things out of her mouth. I had gotten into this great habit of calling her once, even twice a week. And then work decided to pile on and I sort of just lost track. “Sorry grams, things have just been a little hectic. But the last two times I’ve called you’ve been out and about so I think I deserve a get out of jail free card.”
“I know, it’s ok. I figured you’d resurface whenever you felt like it.” She knows me well, that one. I believe she was the first person to ever tell me I bang to the tune of my own drum and do exactly what i want when I want. I was all about pleasing others up until the age of 12 and then something went awry and it was her who so lovingly pointed it out. But she knows that’s how I am and loves me for it regardless and it’s one of the many things I admire so much about that woman.
On the way there I pondered what we would talk about. Even though I needed maternal therapy I also wanted to get her to talk about Grandpa. The 6 year anniversary of his death was less than two weeks away and I know it’s pretty hard on her. Talking about him and reminiscing helps her and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making this little visit ALL about me. So as we sat down at the kitchen table I asked, “You and Grandpa’s song was I left my heart in San Fransisco, right?” She smiled and said, “Yes.”
“Good, that’s what I thought. I’m gonna play you some of your guy’s favorites while we eat.” I had already pulled up the station on pandora before I got there. Not that she wasn’t relaxed and at ease when I got there, but you could just see her go into a happy place. We chit chatted about work and what she had been up to for about ten minutes and then we were both finished eating. My best friend makes fun of me relentlessly about being a fast eater but I swear I get it from my family. We’re all like that. So suck it, BFF.
Mack the knife came on as I was getting halfway into my drink and the only thing I could do was smile and tear up a little. That was my grandparents all time favorite song to dance to in the kitchen. I have so many memories as a kid watching those two dance all over the kitchen after dinners at their house and us hooligan Hansen girls trying to sorely emulate them. That may be one of the things I miss most about Grandpa being gone. Seeing those two dancing will ruin modern-day romance for any girl. They truly were a rarity.
Which is why that song, being in that kitchen and being in the moment made me ask the question I’ve asked dozens of times. “How did you and Grandpa meet?”. Though I’ve heard the story dozens of times throughout my years, I always failed to ask the questions that no one bothered to ask. I remember always sitting there with my wrists propped up listening to a couple of minutes of their romance always thinking that my Grandparents were the lucky ones who never fought, who always did everything right and were what REAL couples should look like.
Oh I was right. About them being a real couple. Just not in the way my childish notions had been believing all these years.
“I hated your grandfather the first night I met him” I’d heard that statement countless times. But I never asked why, so this time I did. “Well, he got real smart with one of the girls that was at the party. He was seeing her and one of the other ones there too.”
Ha! My handsome, charming, fun-loving grandfather was NOT the angel I thought him to be. Giggle. G-pa was a playa. “I didn’t like that he got cocky and I wanted to wash my hands of him. But he still introduced himself to me and I to him and then asked me how old I was. I lied. I told him I was 18. It was ok though, I was about to turn 18 in a few weeks. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know why I even lied, I didn’t even like him when I first laid eyes on him.”
“So how did he win you over then if he was seeing all these other girls and you weren’t attracted to him?” I asked raising an eyebrow.
“My Irish/German pride.” My grandparents worked at the same company. My Grandmother worked in the factory and my Grandfather was in payroll in the office section. One of the female supervisors introduced them at the party and then a few weeks later hounded my Grandmother about going on a date with him. Grandma said, “When she let on that a factory girl wasn’t good enough to date an office boy that’s when I threw in the towel and said alright, I’ll do it, but only to prove a point”.
A Hansen woman who has zero issue accepting dares…now I’m beginning to see where this personality trait originated from.
“So I let him badger me for a couple more weeks and then I finally agreed. One our first date he asked me how old I was again. I fessed up and told him I had lied to him at first, that I was really 17. But I actually had just turned eighteen 2 days after Christmas I was floored when he said I know. He told me the next Monday he broke into the office and went into the personnel records and looked at my birth date.” I said, “you know I could get you into a lot of trouble for doing that and he just smiled that devilish smile.”
Super sleuth research skillz. Guess that’s a Hansen thing too.
“The first date was nothing special. I still didn’t really like him but somehow he managed to get me to fess up to wanting exactly 7 children and tell him that i would not have sex with him until we were married. He said with confidence that he could handle that and would wait as long as he had to even though HE was the furthest thing from a virgin.”
This floored me. Never in a million years would I have guessed my Catholic raised Grandfather was not a virgin. Color me shocked but I guess I was under the assumption that people in 1948 still saw sex as a chore. Needless to say, I was even more intrigued.
“So, when did you realize you were falling for Grandpa.” I asked, my chin resting on my palm. Who knew my Grandma was so into appearances. I fully expected her to say something about his dazzling smile. Nope. “I remember exactly what he was wearing. Brown moccasins, gray pants, brown v-neck sweater and a brightly colored shirt underneath. He looked perfect.” I giggled and said, “Really? That’s what you remember about falling for Grandpa. Dang…” Then she replied, “He took me to a carnival and he tried to win me a doll and he failed and I loved it. It’s wasn’t only that Sadie. When you know you know. Something just happens and the chemistry starts to bubble. When he kissed me it was like fate was sealed. I just knew he was it for me.” If that doesn’t a bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.
Us Hansen’s, we’re damn good kissers. I will gladly proclaim it as a family trait. And hopeless romantics because our Grandfather set a precedence. 🙂
But furthermore, I love the fact that all that magic between my grandparents happened on the stairs up to her house. Not on some magical moonlit walk with fireworks Nope. She was in a simple dress, he was in a bright-colored shirt and brown moccasins and they fell in love because he had the confidence to pursue her, genuinely cared about what she wanted out of life and he had great taste in date-wear. 😉
Then we got to the part of the story that I had never heard…
“A year and a half into our relationship, your grandfather stopped calling me. He literally just fell off the face of the earth. I didn’t worry too much. Sure, I was wondering what was going on but I was secure in myself. A month later he resurfaced and we ended up at a bowling alley with mutual friends. He asked if he could take me home that night and I said no. That dance went on for two months. We’d see each other out and he would ask if he could take me home. Finally, I caved and we took the trolley back to my house. We sat on the steps and he confessed that he stopped contacting me because he needed to make sure his feelings about me were real.”
Oooooooh Granpda. You almost lost a damn good woman.
Then he said to me, “Betty, I know that I love you. I had to hold back the laughter. I looked at him like he was crazy and just nodded my head. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings but he did drop off the face of the earth. Then he told me he wanted to buy an engagement ring and he wanted me to be with him to pick it out.” She continued to tell me how the next day they went to the jewelry store and he bought her a ring. The next week they were at a friend’s house party and he took her into the bathroom. He got down on one knee and asked my grandmother to be his wife. This is when I really starting laughing. Typical Grandpa. Grandma started laughing too. I can imagine him down on one knee, squeezed into a tiny bathroom, being his simple but dramatic self, clasping my her hands with that infectious smile on his face and promising her the world. Though he used humor to get out of everything, he also made good on his promise to my grandmother.
The were married shortly after that. 2 weeks later to be precise. He was going away to war and he said , “I can’t stand the chance of leaving and you falling in love with someone else. You have to be mine.” That’s where I cried. He was always a hopeless romantic. Then 8 days after making Elizabeth Wolfmeyer his wife, Christian Hansen left for North Korea. He was gone for 2 years. He wrote her incessantly, about his love for her, how amazing his handlebar mustache was and that he’d never shave it off and that’s how they formed the foundation of their stellar and very real marriage.
You don’t have to explain to me why on earth I get so damn giddy about writing…
At this point in the conversation, I looked at my Grandma and I asked, “Why do you think it worked? Why were you guys married for over 50 years?” She looked down at the table and then up at me and said, “Sadie, your grandfather made me his entire world. My happiness was everything to him. He showered me with affection because he knew that’s what I needed. He made sure his attention was aimed at me at all times. If we were in a room full of people, they all knew I was his wife and that he was crazy about me. He was gentle, and he never raised his voice. I used to get stressed about the house being a mess because I was a neat freak and he took me by the hands once, looked me in the eyes and asked me if I wanted a clean home or a happy home. From that point on I didn’t stress about having a spotless house. The laughter of the kids and being home with him meant more than sparkling silver. We kissed each other every night no matter what because we didn’t know if we would see each other the next morning. We had so much fun together. I was the more serious one but your grandfather would dress up in my bathing suits and heels and prance around the house imitating me and was always “joshing around”. We kept the laughter in our marriage and it only got better with time. We trusted each other because we talked about every little thing. We made each other’s lives better.”
“What about your personalities? What was good, what was bad?” I asked. ” I was a firecracker and always spoke my mind. Sometimes that got me into trouble. I was always happy and content and always felt like God was on my side. Your grandfather was so compassionate and always helped others, even if I didn’t agree with it. He once bailed someone out of jail and I was furious. He said that I would have done the same thing if you saw the tears in his wife’s eyes. I always wanted to take care of the ones I loved, that’s what I lived for. Your grandfather always wanted to show affection and would sing in the house and make us all laugh. I had a terrible temper and was a horrible gossip and I procrastinated. But with time I worked on those bad habits.”
“What about the hard times?” I asked. “Well your Grandfather always got depressed around the holidays and he started drinking. When It got to the point of him coming home after work and drinking in his garden until bedtime I said enough was enough. I grabbed the bottle of jack, the kids and set him down on one side and we stood on the other side. I told him it was us or the bottle. He quit drinking that night and never touched another drop of alcohol. Then when he got Parkinson’s I realized why god gave us to each other. That’s what love is. It’s getting to the end of giving someone every ounce of yourself because you truly cannot live without them. I miss his hugs. I miss sitting on the couch at night when the kids went to bed holding each other and talking about anything and everything. I miss the Christmas lights and us dancing together in the house.”
“Sadie. Never trust a man who always says the right thing and tries too hard to impress or agrees with everything another person says. You are wonderful, beautiful and have too much good in you to not be with someone as good as your Grandfather. I only say this because I love you and you’ve been through enough in your past relationships not to wait for that. Your Grandfather and I loved each other and we loved each other hard. Find the man who is going to meet you halfway in every aspect. If you need to be held for hours, he needs to hold you for hours. We weren’t lucky. We were just committed to building something together and were all in at all times.”
Then she switched gears. “You know, I’ve been seeing lots of I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials for Christian Dating sites. I think about you and Maria every time. Maybe you guys should do that, you could have some luck…”
Ha. Like she doesn’t have confidence in our quick wit and us following her words of wisdom she’s always passed down. Jesus knows we can handle our own. With that I asked her, “Any more words of wisdom or dating advice for us then?”
There’s about 2 more hours worth of conversation relating to my grandparents and this is only a small glimpse into their story, but now you understand why my Grandmother is the most amazing woman I know. Furthermore, why my Grandparents story is beautiful and something that I wish more people would grasp onto and live out. What’s even more soul satisfying is knowing that I come from something spectacular and the traits I got from my Grandparents are things that make me exactly who I am. I’m nothing but thankful I was blessed to see a real love story and be next to my grandfather when he took his final breath in his home, surrounded by the ones he loved. That’s all he ever wanted.
So, I took her advice…The premise behind you reading this 🙂