Friday, July 02, 2010

Grandfather Trilogy (Pt. III): The world they made

Dade, Eric, Ross, Jr. and Ross, Sr. at Disneyland
 The first meeting of my two grandfathers, Ross Cariaga and  Bob Metzger, was in Salem, Oregon, in July, 1961.  The occasion was the marriage of Ross's son, Ross, Junior (my dad), and Bob's daughter Bobbie (my mom).  They were two men from vastly different backgrounds, who found themselves in very similar places.  Each man was poised on the verge of middle age, watching as his kids began to leave the nest.

Bob Metzger and his three grandkids camping at Medicine Lake, CA

Bob came from the developing tradition of a native Oregonian.  He was descended from hard-working, ingenious Germans pushing westward from the prairies.  His were a noble, honest, and industrious people, emotionally reserved and stoic, but also kind, generous, and very, very responsible.  (Metzger family are often tormented by guilt.)

Ross came from the bleak life of agricultural labor.  He'd been his own man, with no social safety net to rely on beyond the friends he made along the way.  He had spent a lifetime forging a place for himself and his family on a new continent, thousands of miles from home.  Everything he had came from his own wit and initiative.  (Cariaga family are not patient people.)

Bob Metzger on family vacation in Utah

The last time my two grandfathers met was in January, 1992, in Klamath Falls, Oregon.  The occasion was the marriage of one of their two mutual grandsons, my brother Eric. 

The passage of time gives fuzzy edges to all memories, but I recall that it was winter in the Klamath Basin.  The air was cool, but not bitterly cold as it can be at that time of year.

It was the day before Eric's wedding when the plane carrying Grandpa Ross touched down at Klamath Falls Airport.

My fiancée and I had just finished checking in to our room at the Thunderbird Motel and we were standing in the parking lot with Grandpa.  Gray skies hung over our heads.  Grandpa was hat-less, wearing a tan-colored cardigan over his casual button-down shirt.  His slacks had perfect creases down each leg.  His gaze was cast downward at the faded blue-gray of the pavement.  He held one hand in his pocket, the other hung at his side.  "Is your Grandpa coming, son?" he asked me.

I said, "Yeah, Grandpa, he's coming on the train with my mom a little later today." 

Grandpa smiled to himself.  "Ah, okay, I'll go with him then," he said.

Grandpa Bob did, in fact, arrive later that night.  He looked appropriately Oregonian-casual when we picked him up at the train station in his corduroy pants and a light blue jacket.

The two men came face to face at Dad's house on Klamath Lake. They smiled as they shook hands. 

During that time of the wedding, the two were inseparable.  They made quite a pair, walking around Klamath Falls, having coffee at Denny's restaurant, chatting in the church pews at rehearsal:  the tall, broad-shouldered German, and the diminutive, brown-skinned Filipino.  It seems to me they smiled a lot as they talked.  It was as if they were two old friends who shared a lifetime of memories together, even though they had only met a handful of times. 

Ross, Jr., Ross, Sr., Don at my cousin Terry's wedding
When the wedding was over, the two men went their separate ways, never to meet again.

A year later, Grandpa Cariaga passed away.  Grandpa Metzger telephoned Eric when he heard the news.  "Eric, I'm sorry about your Granddad," he said.  Eric later told me that he could tell from Grandpa's voice that he was deeply moved by the news.  Five years after that, Grandpa Metzger passed, and his passing was the final adieu of my grandparents.

In some ways, Ross Cariaga, Sr. and Bob Metzger were polar opposites.  One was emotional, passionate, volatile; the other, staid, rational, understated.  In other ways, the two were very similar:  family men, doing their best to live up to their duty, as each of them understood it. Neither man had an easy life, but they had done more than just survive.  They had thrived.

The world I know is the world that was revealed to me by these two men.  It is a world revealed not only by the words of wisdom that they imparted to me, but also (indeed, more so) by who they were and by the way that they lived their lives. 

This completes the Grandfather Trilogy.

1 comment:

"Shusli" Baseler said...

Amazing writing about the amazing people who are your family. The photos are wonderful. I've enjoyed this trilogy. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.