I’ve been longing to introduce you to my grandfather, Harold Monroe Macdonald. On President’s Day next month, he would have turned 109. The title of this post is from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson –“Home is the sailor, home from the sea. And the hunter, home from the hill”. “Puppy” was not an outdoorsman, except for his weekly golf game but I always think of that poem whenever I see this wonderful photograph of him.
I asked my grandmother once if Puppy’s Sunday golf habit bothered her and she slyly replied, “Filene’s Basement is a lot more fun!” even though the Blue Laws kept stores closed on Sundays. They fit so well together, my grandparents. My grandmother’s sisters used to say that as a young man, Puppy looked like Clark Gable and I see that. Which makes it all the more surprising that he chose my quiet and sensible grandmother over her more vivacious red-haired sisters. But theirs was a match made in heaven – they loved and respected each other all the days of their lives.
I cannot really say I knew Puppy very well - back then there was a strong line of demarcation between adults and children. But he was kindly and genial with a ready smile. He handed out dollar bills for every "A" that showed up on our report cards, gave us life insurance policies, AAA memberships when we began to drive, and when he hugged us goodbye, he always said, “Be honest and true”. I came to see that being honest and true was how Puppy lived his own life. He was a gentleman. And he enjoyed us. He took us to his beloved Canada, taught us to drink Moxie, happily gave up his bed for us when we stayed overnight, and brought us on long picnics on top of The Blue Hill outside Boston.
I see him now in shirtsleeves, sitting in his leather chair in the den, working his electric razor while waiting for his coffee, which was inky black and delivered to him on a tray each morning by Nana. He managed a beautiful Boston furniture store and dressed nattily in a coat and tie every day. His clothes were carefully tended by my grandmother and more than once I saw her ironing printed boxer shorts.
Puppy grew up in Pictou, Nova Scotia and I sure wish I thought to ask him about his childhood. I do know that his family owned a small candy factory and that his town was seafaring. When I google it now, it still looks barren and sea-swept, and I wish I knew what life was like growing up there in the 1900's. His parents came from Scotland and my grandmother was so proud of her husband’s heritage and name.
After Nana died, I drove to Boston from western Massachusetts once a week to bring him dinner and visit with him. These nights were quiet and his kindly eyes were tinged with a sadness I had not seen there before. But he enjoyed my Italian dishes - the ones he loved so much, and declared them “almost like Nana’s”. I nearly wept the day I spotted an empty carton for frozen apple pie in the trash can. I couldn’t make Nana’s apple pie – nobody could. Puppy didn’t last very long after Nana died. It was his lost and broken heart. Though with her by his side, gladly did he live.