Monday, May 5, 2008

Kentucky Downer


My Grandpa Young was a pretty interesting character; a relic of a time long gone by. He was nearly twenty years my grandma's senior, and depending on whom you ask, there are various explanations for that.

Maybe it is my exaggerated little girl memory of him, but I equate him to the likes of the Rat Pack, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. He always wore a fedora or golf cap tilted just a bit to the side, carried a cane that he never really used, and had the swagger and popularity of a small time rock star. They called him Shanghai. Everyone knew Shanghai. As a child, I was shocked to see how people would hop to when you started a sentence with, "Shanghai wants you to _________." Things got done. It was crazy.

However, the most notable difference between my grandpa and the Rat Pack is the fact that he was absolutely NOT a velvety voiced crooner. In fact, he had one of the worst stuttering problems that I have ever heard. Never before or since have I heard a worse stutter. The best part of it was that the only words which came out clearly were swear words. For a good portion of my life, I thought that you were supposed to drive while waving one fist out the car window and I was never quite sure if G*dD@mnS*nofaB!tch was one word or six. Pretty funny that those words came out clear and crisp as a clamoring bell. I am still convinced that if the person driving in front of you knows that they are a "lousy sh!t," they should certainly get out of your way. My mother winced and cringed; we giggled like mad and took feverish notes.

He was the sweetest old man....if you were his grandchild or wife. Otherwise, it was kind of a gamble. That's what my grandpa was, a gamblin' man.

I am not sure what his job title was, but he did something along the lines of managing a concession company. That's how we ended up spending summers running around the clubhouse and rubbing elbows with the likes of Tommy Lasorda and Vince Scully at Dodger's Stadium, and betting on the horses at Santa Anita and Del Mar Racetrack. That's also the reason we spent many a summer hanging out outside beer stands at the LA County Fair, but that's a story for another time.

My grandparents used to let us pick our own horses. Funny thing-my grandpa would always go on a campaign of disinformation if we tried to find out who he had picked to win. Betting on the horses is not like betting on a sporting event in Vegas. You split the winnings, so he would never let us know who he had put his money on. Clever old man.

We used to have picnics on the field before the races would start. The last time I remember going to the races before he died, my cousin and I got ice cream cones. On the way out to the car, my ice cream fell off the cone. Being the chubster that I am/was.....I nearly lost it. I was busy trying to choke back a mild emotional breakdown and without even a question or a moments hesitation, my grandpa, who must have been closing in on 80 at the time, shuffled back to the field house to get me a new cone. What a devoted grandpa. I can see a lot of him in my parents and how they treat their children and grandchildren. We take care of each other.

The reason all of this came rushing back to me was because of the Kentucky Derby Debacle. I love horse racing, if for no other reason but nostalgia. The horses are absolutely amazing animals. I love that they remind me of my grandparents who are both now gone. But as I grow older, I feel myself growing a little more softhearted as to how hard the animals are pushed. I wonder whether or not it is ethical to race them at all. I don't want to start a debate, or an argument, but maybe just some discussion would be appropriate. Poor Eight Belles breaks my heart. It really has kept me up at night.

I can't help but imagine how my childhood would have been different if something like this would have happened while I was hangin' out with Shanghai at the track. In fact, that bumms me out and I refuse to think about it. I'm sure he would have protected me from seeing something so sad. But me and my grandpa, we had a great time at the track and that's good enough for me. No, that's great.

6 comments:

Maursupial said...

Jill:
Girl, you can write. Also, you have the most colorful family in the world. A grandpa called Shanghai? I mean, really. My relatives are so boring in comparison.

Jillian said...

Thank you! He was a very colorful charater.

I think this explains my penchant for s-a-ying the 'sh!t' word.

It's genetics.

sally said...

A darling little ''EXPOSE' " !!! God really broke the mold when He created dad-THATS FOR SURE! It's funny he picked up the nick-name shanghai. He went over there on a ship[military or work? Dunno] But he stepped off and took one look around, and got right back on! He just waited about three hours for the others to return and set sail for much safer places! Your peice reminds me how much I miss him. We're all his B-B-B-Beautiful blue eyed babies! Or Brown eyed babies as the case might be. XOXO

Jillian said...

I have been thinking about both grandma and grandpa a lot lately. Not sure what has brought all this on. Glad you liked it Auny Sally!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jilly,

I loved your beautiful 'memory' of granpa. I have more information on his nickname. Mummy told me that he was gone for about a half year with the merchant marine. He was a very lively and loveable Irish talker and had many friends at the track. When he came back all of his 'horsy' friends, who had missed him - kept saying "Hey Phil - Where have you been?" Daddy kept stuttering 'Shanghai' so many times, everyone laughed and the next time they saw him they would say - "Here comes Shanghai!" the name stuck.

Then as you might imagine, as we all worked at Dodger Stadium from ages 12-13+ - when his son Phillip began working at the stadium - he was a clone of Daddy except he was a blonde version - but very much of a character - and he also helped Daddy by selling programs at the Gate until Mummy at the stand needed help. Anyway - all the people at the ballpark kept asking Little Phil where 'Shanghai' was - and people started referring to Phillip as "Lil' Shanghai.'

Daddy loved it! I am sooo glad you have these great memories Jilly, Betty and Del did a great job raising all of you kids and she and Del also worked many Septembers at the LA Fair - as you know.

In fact, I seem to remember your mother often would come all the way to LA Fair from Lancaster on a motorcycle!!!

I Love our Family.

Hugs - old aunt NancyAnna ;-)

Marcel and Kristina said...

Jill you should know better than to have a pregnant girl read something so touching. I'm choking back the tears. As close as Grandpa and Grandma were I didn't spend as much time with them as I wish I would've. Most of the memories I have of Grandpa are a lot of what you described though and memories my mom has told me. He really loved us though. I know that. I remember him picking me up from preschool at the fairgrounds and taking me to Weinerschnitzel! It's beautiful the way you captured him in your blog though.