My Grandpa Dew

My Grandfather
(1898 - 1983)

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 brogue:“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 beaches along 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.

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