My grandparents didn’t live a flashy life. They grew up here in Connecticut – my grandpa helping his father on the railroad in Torrington, my grandma helping out on her parent’s farm in Granby and working tobacco in the summers. During high school they both lived in Granby and went to school in Simsbury. Neither really loved school and both remembered being treated as second class citizens because they were “Country Bumpkins” attending Simsbury schools. Some things never change.
One of grandma’s favorite memories – and my favorite stories to hear – was of her and her friends leaving school for their 30 minute lunch break. They started their break by lighting up a cigarette and then running from Simsbury High (which is now the Simsbury Police Station) to Doyle’s Drugstore, which was located in what is now the Apollo’s Restaurant plaza. The drugstore was also a soda shop and Grandma and her friends, after running half a mile smoking a cigarette, sat down at the counter and quickly scoffed down hot fudge sundaes for lunch. Then they ran all the way back to school, smoking one more cigarette before returning to class. Doesn’t that sound just like Grandma? As for Grandpa, he was apparently smartest guy in school with the highest IQ (he did marry Grandma after all) and if you ever get a look at his old photos, you will probably agree that he was the best looking guy there too!
My Grandma and Grandpa started dating when they were just 14 and Grandpa loved to tell the story of one of their dates in particular. On that night, Grandpa had brought Grandma back to the house in his car. It was very late and very dark out on those country roads with no street lights and this night must have been a cloudy one, because as he tells it, it was pitch black. Anyway, they apparently parked their car on the street near the house and, as Grandpa tells it, they fell asleep. A few hours later, well past Grandma’s curfew, they woke up to the voices of Grandma’s brothers and sisters calling out “Arlene! Arlene!” as they ran around the farm and street looking for her; only to find that she was right there, on the street in front of the house the whole time! It was so dark, noone ever saw the car.
Grandma and Grandpa married after Grandpa returned from serving in the Air Corps (I think that is what it was called back then). They married and bought a small home which they later sold because it couldn’t house their growing family. They would never own their own home again. They lived for many years in an old farmhouse at the base of High Meadow. Grandpa worked for the town and then for Hamilton Standard. He helped to build the suits for America’s astronauts and it is rumored that when the men of Apollo 13 were trying to find a way to survive on board their spaceship, Grandpa is the one who recommended they use duct tape to fix…well…whatever that thing was that needed fixing. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it was pretty important!
Grandma was a stay-at-home mom and housewife and ladies, it wasn’t like it is today. She had a washer and no dryer, even all winter long. Frozen underpants anyone? No disposable diapers. No microwave. She made three meals a day, every day for her whole family. No Subway, McDonald’s or delivery pizza and if there was a restaurant in town, they couldn’t afford to eat at it. No shower, just one bath and 4 teenagers. No heat in much of the house. A vacuum with no rug attachment…just the hose. And on top of all this, she had a garden – that they truly counted on for food – and farm animals to care for. Oh Grandma, you put me to shame!
They raised their children as best they knew how with the resources they had and as you know, they all turned out pretty great. Sometimes Grandma would lament about what she wished she had done differently ~ that she had read to them more or had not been so harsh. That is just what parents do, I guess. We always wish we could have loved our children better. Funny, now that they are gone, I wish I had loved them better. Anyway, while Grandma sometimes wished she had parented better, she and Grandpa never wished her kids had turned out better. They were both so proud of each of their children – who they had become, the trials they had endured and how they all seem to have come through it better in the end. They loved them to the very end with the care, angst and pride every parent feels for their children, no matter what their age.
In 1973 they had their first grandchildren, Brigette and me, and 10 more eventually followed. Grandma and Grandpa were, to me, more than Grandparents. Very early on, I lost my first father to what we will call a lack of maturity and then, when I was 12, I lost my second father, my step-father and Derek’s biological father, to a terrible disease. In some ways we lost him many years before he died. My mom did everything she could to keep us going, including working days at CG and waiting tables at night while pregnant with Derek. During those years, Grandma and Grandpa were our rocks in the middle of a stormy sea. To borrow from country singer Sara Evans: “My [Grandpa] he is grounded like the oak tree. My [Grandma] she is steady as the sun.” When everything else in life was uncertain, they were there – steady, dependable, faithful. My Grandma did laundry every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lunch was at noon every day and dinner at 4:30. Grandpa went to work every day and came home each night in time for dinner. He didn’t go out with the guys or work endlessly to get ahead. He was there. I especially loved it when I would sit on his lap and hold his hands and pretend I was flying a plane. He would tell me “Pull up! Pull up!” or “Make it steady!” What fun for a little girl!
I know lots of people complain that their dads were never emotionally available, never talked to them much. Well, for someone like me, Grandpa’s just being there meant alot. Grandpa taught me that some men do come home every night, some men do stay, some men do love their wives forever.
I know they have touched the lives of so many people. For me and my brother, they were like the insulation of a house, keeping out the cold on a long winter night; the icing on the cake, holding everything together and sweet besides; the heart of our hearts and breath of our lives.
No, they never lived a flashy life. They never built a job from the ground up or owned a large home or made millions on a land investment or even owned more than one car at a time. But that wasn’t what made them great. The greatness of Tom and Arlene Creighton was in their day to day living, in the long haul, in their perseverance, dependability, steadiness, love and faithfulness. In the words of one of Grandma’s favorite authors, Jan Karon, they are a perfect example of “the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” What they gave to me, to us, can never be measured or weighed. It is of infinite value and beyond what words can express. I will love them, we will love them, forever.