The Lyon Heart
The day it happened, my grandfather drove himself to the office. Most of the time his chauffeur Albert did the driving but grandpa lived with us and sometimes he loaned Albert to us to help with the housework. That’s why Grandpa drove his green La Salle with the sleek, shiny hood ornament, to work that morning.
Grandpa was a fiery, feisty little man. He adored my brother and me, was kind and gentle with us, but would tell us endless tales of his youth, how he and his friends derailed electric streetcars and sometimes tipped them over. I marveled that he’d won the heart of rotund and full of fun Oma Anna. He indulged and doted on her and only reluctantly came to live with us after she died of a heart attack at the age of sixty two.
My dad was their only child and while he inherited their intelligence, he seemed to get a more than generous dose of obduracy from his father. As a matter of fact, I barely remember a day that they didn’t argue over something.
I was nine the day it happened. It was summer and my parents hadn’t yet sent me off to a camp in Wisconsin to ‘get out of the heat’ and out of their hair. Albert had arrived at our house expecting to drive Grandpa to the office, but he took off his black chauffeur’s cap and black chauffeur’s jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt and got to work helping Laverne, the second girl, wash windows.
I liked Albert. He joked with me and took my pestering questions with good humor. The iceman had already come and put a big block of ice in the icebox and the huckster, truck loaded with vegetables, stood bartering with Neosha the cook, when we got the news. Grandpa had had a heart attack.
He had been working in his office in the old warehouse that smelled bad because it housed fresh cow hides, sacks of wool, and sometimes skunk and beaver skins. (My brother and I learned early on not to complain about the smell because, “the business put bread on the table.”)
Grandpa’s secretary, Miss Johnson, sat primly on a chair taking dictation when grandpa leaned forward, his brow glistening with perspiration, and confided to her that he didn’t feel at all well. Miss Johnson, who wore her hair in a tight little bun and was approximately the same age as grandpa, jumped up and ran to fetch my father.
The rest is hearsay but both Miss Johnson and Mrs. Evans, my father’s secretary, swear that the two men had the biggest dispute ever over who should drive Grandpa to the hospital. Grandpa, clutching at his chest, argued his way out the door, climbed into his La Salle and drove himself to the hospital.
Two weeks later he came home. After a suitable length of recovery time, Albert began driving my grandfather to the office. I left for camp soon after.
Grandpa lived for another ten years and was on hand to greet my brother when he came home from the war but I don’t think he ever drove a car again.