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I’ll never forget the smell of my maternal grandfather’s basement. I haven’t been there since 2003, but that aroma — a sweet and potent mix of sawdust, Cuban cigars, potting soil (for the dozens of potted plants he somehow managed to grow to rainforest scale), and must — still pervades my memory. Just last year I was in a theatre in New York that smelled strikingly like that basement, and I immediately imagined myself sitting in the wooden banker’s chair that swiveled between his two desks, one of which held a massive old Remington Royal typewriter on which PopPop — known to the rest of the world as Richard Roy Myers — wrote us notes and jokes and typed up direction cards for the gadgets he made us in the workshop.

He passed away in 2004, within a few weeks of my moving back to New York to start a tenure-track job. His wife, Mary Ruth McCartney, died unexpectedly at a very young age. I never met her — and I regret that terribly. Everyone says I look like her, and that we would’ve liked each other tremendously.

Only within the past year or so has my mom begun to sort her father’s photos and papers into albums, and I’ve fallen in love with the intriguingly beautiful people in those documents — one of whom I knew only as a gentle older man prone to basement experiments and bawdy jokes; the other who remained intangible to me, who lived only in my imagination as an angel of a woman. I decided while home this holiday to scan some of those photos, so I can keep them with me [note: you can click any of the photos to access larger files].

My grandmother is in the middle, in the white dress and black cardigan; my grandfather is beside her, in the pinstriped pants.

My grandmother is in the middle, in the white dress and black cardigan; my grandfather is beside her, in the pinstriped pants.

My grandfather is standing beside my mom, at the far left of the frame; my grandmother, in a dark plaid dress, is on the porch, third from the left.

My grandfather is standing behind my mom, at the far left of the frame; my grandmother, in a dark plaid dress, is on the porch, third from the left. The others — Wilsons and Criders — are members of the extended family.

And here's my mom.

And here’s my mom.

I've started at this photo of my grandmother, and loved this strange and luminous woman, for as long as I can remember.

I’ve stared at this photo of my grandmother, and been charmed by this strangely familiar woman, ever since I was a little girl.

Again, Mary Ruth McCartney.

Again, Mary Ruth McCartney.

Picnic, 1929. My grandmother is in the bottom row, second adult from the right.

Picnic, 1929. My grandmother is in the bottom row, second adult from the right.

Sadly, there are relatively few photos of my grandmother. The myriad photos of PopPop, however, show him to be quite the dandy.

On the Myers/Crider/Wilson land in Texas: my grandfather in the back row, sixth from the left -- the dapper gentleman in the three-piece suit, no hat.

On the Myers/Crider/Wilson land in Texas: my grandfather is in the back row, sixth from the left — the dapper gentleman in a three-piece suit, no hat.

PopPop and his father, far right.

PopPop, left, and his father, far right. Not sure who’s in-between.

PopPopMyersReading

PopPopMyersSitting

PopPopMyersField

PopPopMyersDapper

PopPopMyersAndFamily

Front: my great grandparents; back: Great-Aunts Marie and Gladys, PopPop, Great-Uncle Calvin

And just for fun, to feed my antiquarian typography fetish:

An invoice from my great-grandfather's general store.

An invoice from my great-grandfather’s general store.

 

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