Grandfather Charles Knoll with his first child, Irene.
My mother Marie was the third child.
It was a hot, humid, suffocating night in New Jersey. We didn't have a telephone. Two of my uncles came to our house to tell us the news. It was very late and we were sleeping when they knocked at our door.
We immediately went to my grandmother's house where all the relatives were gathering. My grandfather had died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 58 years old.
His body had been placed on a sofa in the living room. The room was unlighted, and for a moment no one was there. I wandered in and stood by the sofa, thinking that my grandfather was asleep. I looked at his serene face. Someone came in and covered his entire body with a blanket. I was quickly ushered out of the room.
For the duration of the night I stayed outside in the yard with some of my older cousins. We sat on a blanket under a tree. I remember the muggy, airless heat - - and the lazy, blinking lightning bugs that drifted through the darkness.
My grandfather was a quiet, gentle man. I would watch him while he worked with tools in the garage. Occasionally he would take me by the hand and we'd walk a few blocks to the little store called Nessar's, where he'd buy cigars for himself and ice cream for me.
I didn't learn - until countless decades later - that my grandfather Knoll had an extremely unhappy and dysfunctional childhood. His mother had been blessed with great beauty but cursed with personal demons (I want to write about her in a future post). She had numerous husbands and even more lovers.
I was stunned to learn the dark family secret: no one knew for certain who my grandfather's father really was, and it is doubtful that Knoll was his real surname.
One thing is certain - he was treated harshly as a child and was beaten and abused by his stepfather and stepbrothers.
When my grandfather was an adult, one of his stepbrothers died. A priest came to the house to ask if my grandfather would attend the funeral.
"The son of a bitch was no good when he was living", he told the priest, "And he's no better now that he's dead. I'd never go to the funeral."
Despite having minimal education, my grandfather studied diligently and read everything he could find about science and electricity. His knowledge eventually became so great and his reputation so respected, that he was a consultant for Rutger's University.
From what I've heard, the University officials presented him with several awards. Shortly before his death, he was given an honorary dinner and presented with a watch.
"What the hell am I going to do with a damn watch?" he said to my grandmother after the dinner. He would have preferred monetary compensation.
My grandmother Anna Gordon Knoll
(another cat lover in the family)
Charles and Anna Knoll had five children. My mother Marie was my grandfather's favorite daughter. He began teaching her about science and electricity, and started taking her with him when he did electrical engineering work. Unfortunately, my grandmother put a stop to it - saying that it wasn't proper for a lady to learn such things. My Mom always regretted it.
Nearly every one on my mother's side of the family was highly intelligent and scientifically inclined.
I have no concept of science whatsoever and absolutely no interest in it. I was damned to be "artistic" and cursed with a poetic soul.
An enigma and a misfit.
My grandparents Charles and Anna on a rare vacation (my grandfather hated traveling) a few years before he died.