Grandfather (1898 -
My Grandpa Dew hops up the steps. He wears
a huge black coat with enormous buttons like I imagine a Russian
wears on a cold night. He has a French tam slanted to one side
of his head, an energetic reminder of the Bagur
family who settled
in New Orleans in the late 1800's and founded
the reknown Aunt
Sally's Candy Shop.
What an unforgettable man he is!
He is not large of stature; but he is exceeding handsome and a natural
athlete. He has no Nobel Prize nor university degree nor has he ever
written an important book or novel. But author he is of many stirring
letters to the editor of the local newspaper always published under
'concerned citizen'. He is not a brilliant business man, but a consummate
salesman whose wares everyone looks forward to buying. There is something
fascinating about Grandpa Dew that makes you anticipate your next
meeting with him.
I have known him all my life and
today he is the very same delightful
man who entertained me as a small
child. He is short, only five feet seven inches. He has suntanned
freckled skin and is slightly bald. His eyes are sparkling blue. He
has a big nose like Jimmy Durante and a wide smiling mouth filled with white
false teeth. His square chin reminds me of Randolph Scott. He has
strong muscular arms and shoulders, and slender hips, slightly bowed
legs and small feet. His hands are large with double jointed thumbs
that he flashes suddenly to surprise and delight me. He has taught
me many extraordinary hand tricks.
His excellent physical shape reflects
his years as an acrobat in Vaudeville. After doing his acrobatic
act, he played the violin. The contrast between his sonorous music
and physical abilities charmed the public where ever he performed.
My grandfather was in his glory when his audience was happy!
Grandpa Comes to Dinner
“You’re just in time for dinner,
Grandpa!” My brothers greet Grandpa by punching him playfully
in, at and around his concise well-developed body. Grandma gets
kisses. Laughing and joking, they pile into the dinning room and
we sit down to our Sunday dinner.
Generally we don’t linger at
the table after finishing a meal. My brothers are always anxious to
leave the table at the snap of a twig or the screech of a car rounding
the corner on two wheels. And I always have something I want to do.
But in Grandpa’s captivating presence and Grandma’s sweetness,
we all remain expectantly, contentedly at the table. Bob, my youngest
brother, generally polite and patient, is unable to wait any longer.
Grandpa has not even finished his coffee. He blurts out, “Gramp,
tell us about Levinsky at the weddin'!”
Grandpa tilts his head and croons, “Ah,
Bob, you’ve heard that story many times.” He punctuates
his remark with a teasing wink and we know he will tell it again.
The rest of us chime in, “Oh,
yes, please do! Come on, Grandpa!” He melts with the joy of
a showman, audience tucked in the cushion of his heart. He poses in
character for a moment readying the narration. With elbows propped
on the table, I lean forward anticipating the familiar, unique and
original way he shares his love with us. With the fascination of a
gullible child, I gaze intently at his sparkling blue eyes as he relates
the Jewish wedding. He drawls the story of two Southern gentlemen
on a walk in the country.
Our enthusiastic applause encourages him
to continue. He smiles from ear to ear and follows with a tune in Irish
“Susie Mc Clain, when will
you change your name?”
We are mesmerized, purring contentment.
Grandpa lifts his cherished violin from the worn, cotton-thin cherry
velvet interior of a scuffed black case and begins a stirring chorus:
“If you knew Susie
Like I know Susie,
Oh, Oh, what a girl!
Grandpa’s vaudeville fame flashes
through my mind as told to me never-enough-times by Grandma
Daisy (Daisy Beatrice Elphick
Hovde Bagur). She was an entertainer in
her own right, the first woman to sing over the radio. Dewey and his
partner, Fred Casey, began their musical act with his partner playing
the guitar and Dewey, the violin. Then suddenly and unexpectedly with
great grace and elegance, they changed key and moved into a beautiful
swan-smooth acrobatic act considered by all their competitors to be
the most outstanding act in their field. They played as headliners
from coast to coast with such notables as Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson,
Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice.
With the competition of radio and
sound movies the vaudeville days faded reluctantly into the background.
Grandpa took his act overseas to Australia enjoying the beautiful
the way. He sought out odd jobs, became a real estate salesman in
California. Finally he and Grandma moved to the Midwest to be with
us, their immediate family. My father built the Green
Valley Theater in the small town where we lived in Central Illinois. Grandpa ran
the films in the projection room and Grandma sold the tickets and
worked the concession stand. During our Green
Valley years, my brothers
and I saw three movies a week. Those were the days!
As a special theater promotion on Wednesday
nights, Grandpa Dew organized a stage show with a few musicians including
my oldest brother Rieber who played the organ. Grandpa commanded the
stage and sang to each and everyone seated in the red seats that folded
out when you sat and flipped up when you stood:
“Now bring all the family and come to the show
At the Green Valley Theater
Rieber’s at the organ
Clyde’s at the drums
All at the Green Valley Theater
Larry and Alan they play their guitars
Cliff’s at the big bass fiddle
And me, I dance and sing a little,
So don’t for-get!
The small Green Valley Theater was
soon to bow out to the rapidly expanding fascination with television.
We were the last to get a television set in the small town; but
our protest didn’t help Grandpa’s business.
He went in to the rubber stamp business
nearby in Bloomington, Illinois. And when we moved to Urbana, Illinois,
he and Grandma came
along. Grandpa got a job at Robeson’s
Department store in the rug department. He excelled in community
activities, was a bowling
champion and a sharp card player with stunning
off-the-cuff comments. His brand of showmanship brought
us, his family, great joy and happiness as we “brought all
the family and came to the show” when
Grandpa came to dinner.