I never knew my mother’s father. He and my grandmother were divorced when my mother was two years old. After that, John Paul Osborne left town and worked his way across the country. I know he worked as a laborer on the Hoover Dam. And he ended up in San Francisco, living and working, as a janitor, I think, at Mount St. Mary College. That’s where he died in 1952 of a heart attack.
But, let’s go back. Here’s what I know: My grandmother, Mary Blanton Collier, was an ancient 32 when she and my grandfather wed in the study of a Lutheran minister in Metairie, Louisiana, in 1919. She and her sister, Edith, had traveled by train from Kentucky, to connect with my grandfather, who had traveled by train from Arizona, where he was working at the time. They had known each other, however, since at least high school.
Fifteen months later, my mother was born. And two years after that, my Aunt Pat was born. This is where things get a little dicey. My grandfather was a “periodic drunk.” It’s my phrase. It means he would go on a binge and disappear for a few days, then show back up at home, sober. For reasons unknown to me, my grandmother was at her father’s house in Kentucky when Aunt Pat was born. My grandfather was on one of his benders, and when he returned, my grandmother’s older brother, Tom, and her older sister, Edith, told my grandfather that my grandmother never wanted to see him again. Uncle Tom then drove him to the train station.
My grandfather never saw his wife and children face-to-face again. They were divorced and he kept moving on. My grandmother and Edith (who never married) raised my mother and Aunt Pat.
Throughout the years, my grandfather’s sisters kept in touch with my family. There’s a great photo of me sleeping on my father’s shoulder as we had arrived at the aunts’ house in Pineville, Ky., several hours away from ours.
And, I never missed my grandfather because I never knew him.
Fast-forward to 1952. My grandmother receives a letter from the nuns at Mount St. Mary College saying my grandfather had passed away and asking if she wanted his personal effects. She declined, as did Aunt Pat, but my mother said, “Yes.” A few weeks later, a shoebox arrived that contained his rosary beads and dozens and dozens of photographs … of his daughters growing up, getting married, having children and his grandchildren growing as much as we did until he died.
His sisters had been sending, all along, over all those years, photographs of his children and grandchildren, which he carried with him across the country. I started, in 1952, to miss my grandfather.