The Universal Notebook: Grandfather time approaches

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Grandfather time is almost upon me. Our oldest daughter Hannah is due to deliver our first grandchild sometime later this month. I’m not sure I’m ready for grandfatherhood, but then I wasn’t ready for fatherhood when Hannah came along back in 1981, either.

It seems like just the other day that Carolyn interrupted my reading of the Lamaze book to tell me the baby was coming today. By the following morning there was a beautiful little girl in bed with us.

I have high school buddies who became grandfathers 20 years ago. Some of them are great-grandfathers now. I feel as though I’m a generation out of sync. But I’m 61, prime grampy time.

My maternal grandfather Paul Meyer Gibson (1884-1951) was 65 when I came along in 1949, 67 when he died. He was the manager of the local Socony facility and lived down at the end of Reg Roc Road in Falmouth in a house overlooking Mackworth Island.

I have what I think of as a storybook memory of Bampi Gibson. I was 2 when he died, so I’m never sure whether I really remember him or whether I just grew up hearing how, as he lay dying, he taught me songs and told me stories about the Mackworth Island rabbits who came out to play at night on the causeway. Both my mother and father remember my mother’s father as a sweet, gentle man. I just remember that he was soft and bald, looked like Bert Lahr and smelled of cigars.

I knew my paternal grandfather and namesake much better. Edgar Allen Beem (1896-1971) was 53 when I was born, 75 when he died. He was the manager of the Metropolitan Life office in Portland and lived on Ludlow Street across from the tennis courts and the Little League field he helped create.

Bampi Beem was a man’s man – the boss at work, a sportsman, card player, whiskey drinker, chain smoker, sharp dresser and former minor league catcher. Authoritarian and a bit intimidating, Bampi Beem was also a handsome man. People said he looked like actor Adolphe Menjou without the mustache, but since I didn’t know who Adolphe Menjou was I just thought he looked like the Indian on the nickel.

I’m not sure why my brothers and cousins and I called both of our grandfathers “Bampi.” It seems to be a popular name for grandfathers in Wales, less so in this country. My girls call their grandfathers “Grampy.” But then their grandfathers are old men. (Actually, Bampi Beem was only 57 when I was born.)

When people ask me what I want the new little one to call me, I usually say, “Uncle Ed.” I am getting old and tired, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to be Grampy Beem.

Friends with grandchildren tend to say the same thing when they hear that Hannah is expecting.

“Oh, you’ll love it,” they say. “It’s better than being a parent. You get to spoil the kids and eventually they go home.”

I’m sure they mean it and think they are being reassuring, but they’re not. I’m still trying to get used to the idea that my daughters don’t live here anymore. If I fall in love with this baby the way I fell in love with my girls, why would I ever want it to leave?

Sidebar Elements

The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.