Wednesday, August 3, 2016

DEATH IN AUGUST



 Grandfather Charles Knoll with his first child, Irene.
My mother Marie was the third child.


My maternal grandfather Charles Knoll died on the night of August 3rd. I was only three years old but I remember him well.

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.

39 comments:

  1. I like that photo better looking like this:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/3508idpzmhkh6pp/222%28Fixed%29.jpg?dl=0

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    1. Believe it or not, I already edited that photo. The original looked far worse than it does now.

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    2. Okay, okay...I've finally re-edited the photo and also rendered it black and white. And admittedly, it DOES look better!

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  2. I see your face in the first pix. he died way too young.

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    1. He was a fairly heavy smoker, which probably contributed to his death. Ironically, no one else in the entire family ever smoked.

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  3. You can say you are not scientific but you create music. Music is not only artistic but mathmatical which is a science. I love family stories and love working on my family genealogy. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're right - music does have a lot to do with mathematics (which, ironically, was one of my worst subjects). I'm so glad you enjoyed my family story - - I was afraid it might bore most people.

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  4. As much as I enjoy reading history and learning about other people's families, I know very little about my own. Your family seems more interesting than most.

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    1. I think my mom and I were just about the only ones in the family who were always interested in our family history. We talked about it very often. My maternal grandmother died when I was sixteen. I wish she had lived longer - I would have had many questions to ask her.

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  5. Replies
    1. I appreciate that John. Thanks!

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  6. What a remarkable man! You must be (understandably) proud.

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    1. He had a LOT of my mother's characteristics and they shared many unconventional thoughts. Undoubtedly that's why she was his favorite child. My grandfather was a fierce individual who wasn't afraid to speak his mind, and so was my Mom. Our prim and proper relatives weren't too pleased.

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  7. It is interesting how we dealt with death years ago as opposed to how we do it today. The fact you got to see him resting peacefully left a lifelong impression. i wish more children had that experience instead of being frightened by it. He was a handsome man your grandfather. And his history like the rest of your family's is fascinating.

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    1. It's strange that I remember the date of his death, and perhaps even stranger that I remember him even though I was only three. I think back of that long-ago time and it seems like a thousand years....

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  8. As always, intriguing and well-written. Your description of your grandfather's demeanor and character is done succinctly with great effect.

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    1. I initially thought this would be a boring post, but - for some strange reason - I remember his death every year.

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  9. It's quite remarkable that you have vivid memories of your grandfather when you were so young ... wow ! That's great. I enjoy reading about your family history. It's all very interesting. Math and music are related ... which makes you very good at both.

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    1. It's so strange that I am lousy at math but good at music. I have an extraordinary memory - - I can remember things that happened when I was only a few months old.

      It's bitterly ironic that I sometimes can't remember my own phone number.

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  10. Poignant and moving words about your grandfather. Makes it not too difficult to visualise him.

    Btw: Above comments about your music-making talents reminds me to resume my playing of your 'recital' videos. They got rather left behind due to recent 'circumstances' but I'll return to them now.

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  11. Some of those rehearsal videos are pretty bad - I was out of practice and past my prime, but I'm still flattered if you choose to watch them. I'm just glad that you're feeling well enough to do so.

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    1. Watching them all is a 'must', Jon. If they really are "pretty bad" then they do a service in reminding me how much further I've got to go to reach even that level. (Mr Nasty downstairs permitting!)

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  12. He was such a handsome man! Science and math always made me feel like an idiot. I had to work very hard just to earn a C in school. Yet I always got an A in English and creative writing. Go figure...

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    1. I can relate to that! I hardly got by in math and science, but I always got good grades in English and creative writing.

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  13. I know very little about my mother's family, there are some off mysteries there. My maternal grandmother spent many years telling be tales of my father's side of the family, I knew things my father had never been told.

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    1. I know a lot about my mother's side of the family, but very little about my father's side. My Mom and I were the only ones who had a genuine interest in family history.

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  14. One of my grandfathers died when I was five and I have a couple memories of him. I remember him sleeping in the weird wooden bed. Death was such a strange concept.
    You know quite a bit about your family history. I come from close-mouthed Swedes who lived close to the vest. A couple generations in the United States and the descendants became much more vocal. Well, at least the women--LOL! ;)
    Lovely pictures and memories to treasure, Jon.

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    1. I love doing research on family histories. My mother's side of the family is a little easier to research, because they lived in America longer than my father's family.
      My Mom's family was very closed-mouthed when it came to scandals. I like digging up the dirt!

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  15. Is there anyone who had a loving childhood? It amazes me that there are. Even your poor grandfather suffered and I love what he said to the priest. We have a similar motto in our family: "A live bastard does not make a dead saint". The minute someone dies, they are suddenly mourned - when in real life, they were avoided.

    Your ancestors carried themselves with dignity. I see that in every photo you publish. Waaaay back in my life I used to have nightmares about going to a strange house and watching the people cluster in groups while I walked around a "table" with a person on it who never moved. Later, my dad figured out it was a Wake we attended when I was around 3. I'm being cremated. Bring the marshmallows.

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    1. I think loving childhoods only occur in Hallmark Card commercials and Norman Rockwell paintings. Reality sucks. Everybody seems to become a saint after they die. My Grandfather Knoll was a realist (and so was my Mom).

      My parents were both cremated...and that's what I want for myself. We'll have a marshmallow fest.

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  16. He seemed able to put things succinctly . You definitely inherited that.

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    1. I inherited a FEW of the good things....

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  17. Replies
    1. Thank you, Paula! I appreciate that.

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  18. Jon,
    Your grandfather looks like a gentle man. Your earliest memory is way better than mine! My earliest memory is when I was four years old. My paternal grandfather died two years before I was born. My maternal grandfather (the only grandparent I ever knew) died in 1981. He was married three times and a rascal. He ended his days as a Jehovah Witness, which was an awful way to have a grandparent, always trying to convert me.
    Always interesting stories and history of your family Jon. Thanks for sharing!
    Ron

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    1. Both of my grandfathers died when I was extremely young, but I remember them vividly. I have an incredible memory. I can recall things from when I was only a few months old!

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  19. August 3rd is a significant date for me, too, but not because of a death. It's our older son's birthday. It's hard to believe he turned 45 this week. (His father and I just turned forty a few years ago...)

    Your grandfather sounds like my kinda guy. That you still have such fond memories of him speaks volumes.

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    1. My grandfather was a very independent thinker, which irked most of our prim and proper relatives. My mother was exactly like him.

      My mother died on December 7th and, ironically, one of my best friends has a daughter who was born on December 7th. I also have two relatives who were born on Dec. 7th. Weird.

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  20. my maternal grandmother
    was born on December 7th
    only 28 years old
    when she died :(

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