My grandfather was named Leonard William Fudge. He and I share the same middle and last names. He liked to hunt small game, following a pair of beagles. He liked to go fishing. He died when my father was only 11 years old. I never knew much else about grandpa until I picked up a book called The Song of My Life; the life being my father’s. Dad didn’t write the book. He narrated his story to a woman, and she wrote it.

Leonard William Fudge as a young man.

I can tell dad didn’t write it. I never knew him to use the word rueful, for instance. And yet there are things in the book that required an interloper to get out… someone who didn’t know my father and his stories. And some of the things she discovered have touched me deeply.

I never met my grandpa, though I’ve heard my father say that he was a kind man who loved to laugh. It doesn’t surprise me since that’s the person my father has always been. But I never knew about the things they did; their Saturday trips to town to visit Lowell’s Sofa Fountain. I didn’t know about the fishing trips my dad and his father took as they jumped streams on their way to the Chemung River near Elmira, New York.

Going fishing became a game where they pretended to be Lewis and Clark, my dad being Merriweather Clark. My grandfather would shout, “Look out for that snake, Merriweather!”

In the book, my dad described his thoughts of what could have been, if his father hadn’t died so young.

“I imagine more father and son fishing trips to the Chemung River; happy days spent on the bleachers at Dunn Field in Elmira, watching minor league games. And how ecstatic dad would have been to see the Dodgers playing right here in Elmira.”

The Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom Elmira was a farm team, did come to Elmira after my grandfather died with their then-batting coach Babe Ruth, who hit a home run in Dunn Field.

That chapter in the book ends with this:

“Daydreams, by nature, capture us from the present and transport us through time and space to a place where anything is possible. This is the place where I can always go to find my father.”

They say you can’t miss something you’ve never had. But reading my dad’s story makes me very sad I never met my grandfather. Why didn’t my dad ever tell me the things that appeared in that book? And why did I never ask him? “Dad, what was your father like? What did he enjoy and what did you do together? What were the things that made him laugh?”

My dad lost his father to a heart attack when his dad was young and vital. Cheated out of many years of his father’s life, my father looks back on his dad as a clever, fun-loving man in his prime. By contrast, my father has lived to be 92 years old, and he has senile dementia. I have to block out the picture of a failing old man to find my father, the way he used to be.

And I can find my young father in my daydreams. But now I also daydream about another man with a fishing pole, leading me to the Chemung River. If he’d lived a long life it could have happened, and I could have called him grandpa.






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