Realizations The Autobiography
of Julian Lee / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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My Grandfather Lee
I had a vision-dream of my grandfather Lee during one of my fasts. I was sitting with him on the ground, with some other individuals who were more mature or greater than myself. There seemed nothing around. No objects. Only wild nature. It didn't look like him. Despite the utterly different look I knew him instinctively without any doubt who it was. In the past I have seen the true natures of certain family members, and they always look much different than their physical bodies here, yet I always recognize them immediately. I have seen a vision of my brother Mark as a beautiful androgynous being. Grandfather was sitting there on the ground like a yogi in the quiet way he used to sit in big chairs without saying much. A little more soberly than usual.
I looked at his hands, and his fingernails had grown very long, like those of an Indian ascetic. I remarked, feeling impish while saying, that his nails were getting kinda long. He soberly pointed to my own hands and nails. They were just as long! Then I woke up.
It was a strange vision. You get many important visions during fasts. But I was comforted to see my grandfather then. I felt a more real contact with him than ever in those times in his presence during physical life. My interpretation of the vision was that I was seeing his true inner nature, and he was a natural ascetic, and that so was I. For this brief moment I was allowed to be with him in a circle of others like him, though very young.
I never did make him smile or laugh. Everybody else in town did. I always hungered for a deeper contact with him, and to feel that he cared about me and had his mind on me a bit. It was a bit hard to know, with him, what he really had his mind on. He seldom talked about himself.
Notwithstanding his personal reserve, grandfather Lee was a figure both loved and revered in his city. He started as a schoolteacher after the young farm boy impressively put himself through the respected Drake University in Des Moines. Oh, how fine it would be to walk the campus of Drake University in the 1940s and see the type of noble men who walked that campus then! From a caring and energetic schoolteacher he became a caring and involved principal, then finally the Superintendent of Schools over all the other principals, who also loved and revered him. So he was very active in the community life, and he and grandmother Ethyl -- also a schoolteacher -- seemed to know everybody.
I learned late in my life that grandpa Lee's own father had died while he was just a boy. The father had gone off to sell livestock in Chicago. He caught pneumonia on the trip and died on the train coming back. Grandpa Lee was one of the younger children of a large family of perhaps eight. I learned also that my Grandmother Lee was marked by similar tragedy. She was close to her father, it was said, and they were a prosperous and respected small town family with land. The father took out the cash value of the land and invested it in the stock market just before the crash of the 1930s and the Great Depression. Despondent and unable to face the fact that he had plunged his family into loss and poverty, he hung himself. I was told that grandmother Ethel received this news about her father while she was teaching school as a young schoolteacher.
There was always a certain sadness about grandmother Lee. Yet at the same time a sweet joyfulness could often be seen. Despite the tragedies of their lives they became, as a couple, like lights of their community.
The community stature of my grandfather only dawned on me gradually. I never even saw the graphic or facts below until my 50's, such was the impact of divorce on my family's identity and cohesiveness. I remember going to a travelogue at a high school in West Des Moines, and the honorary speaker introducing the movie was my grandfather. Later I went to the opening of a beautiful new high school in West Des Moines, and visited the "Amos Lee Community Room" which had a bronze plaque with the likeness of my grandfather. He had fought as a foot soldier in Europe in the first Great War.
He had four daughters, the Lee girls, and one was my mother Virginia. He loved his daughters and his wife, as evidenced by their devotion for him. In my later years I intuited that grandfather Lee was a highly emotional man and that he was probably overwhelmed and under stress at times from the fact of his four daughters, the emotional dramas inherent in that, along with the emotional output of trying to take care of everybody-else's-children as a schoolteacher and principal. This I can see in his face now, in my own later years, in some of the photos coming to light. Sometimes he looks drawn and under siege. But he had his special places of solace. A great love was hunting in the wild.
Whenever we came to their redolent home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, his hunting lodge would be adorned with fresh shot pheasant, ducks, quail, and rabbits hanging in bunches on his office-hunting lodge is the basement. Perhaps there would be 5-10 creatures, enough for a holiday family feast, with a few for the freezer. At this time he would have been out hunting with his son-in-law, my uncle Kenny, and this was what they got. It was a powerful, old-world feeling seeing the fresh game in grandpa's downstairs hermitage, his hunting dog curled on the floor. What beautiful creatures they were, like creatures from some higher world! Sometimes I took home a bird claw, secreted in my pocket, or the beautifully colored feather wing of a pheasant.
Through the years I used to visualize grandfather out in the marshes of upper Minnesota and Ontario where he would go duck hunting, or out in the fields and prairies of Iowa going for rabbit or other game, crouching quietly in some thicket, perhaps lighting a pipe which he smoked very occasionally. How many times he must have done this, and how much of him I never saw! It is easy for me to know that he loved hunting because it brought him back to his youth, but especially because of the purity of God's great nature. In the great and untouched places of nature, one gets to see the world as God made it originally, and one can sense the purity of God and Brahman, as if by physical metaphor. I know that this is why Amos Lee loved to hunt. The higher men in this world come to love being in nature with its wild and pure essence exactly as God alone made it. The getting of game is just one of the elements -- albeit a manly imperative steeped in centuries -- that justifies the outing. The world of men is polluted by comparison to God's untouched open spaces. Because the nature of God is purity itself, men of higher development love the purity of nature.
The hunter also develops the capacity for solitude, and love of it, even with hunting companions, plus love of quiet. Despite Amos Lee's popularity in the community he was actually a quiet man. This is one reason I felt I knew him very little. A man reveals himself by his speech. And Amos Lee spoke little.
Grandpa was very much loved for a smiling warmth towards others, in which it was clear to them he was happy to see them. His quick, wide smile and laugh made them feel at ease. His way with other people was to listen mostly. He interacted with them, but for the sake of them, not himself. When he did speak it was usually about the other person's interests, doings, and happenings. Completely listening and receptive to his constituency, he contributed his own words at briefly at intervals, but spoke so to show interest in them and bring them out. He spoke for others, not for himself. In this way he was quite opposite to my own father, who seemed unable to put his mind on the person he spoke with except indirectly, building perhaps some edifying point finally for their benefit, but talking about himself and his experiences exclusively. People would fairly gush while talking to Amos Lee and Ethyl, who was almost always standing by his side. It was just as if he had fans. Yet he was a recognizably humble man.
It's the mark of a sage that he knows the gravity and power of words, and likes to speak few words, keeping himself to himself, in his own quiet, as much as possible. He has interest in others, because that is a facet of love, but feels no great need to talk about himself, which people do when they are needy. My mother took on the same qualities with the public. Now, my life would have been much stronger had they directed even 1-percent of that people-love and people-interest towards their grandson and son.
The photo of Amos Lee above shows a sensitive and caring mouth. But what I remember most was his smile which was notably wide. He couldn't help breaking out into that big, beaming smile when meeting people, genuinely pleased to see them. I inherited that, and so did my kids. But beneath this beaming face, always available to the group and to people he would meet, was a gravity which I can see clearly in another picture of him as principal. Thinking now about his combination of beaming amiability and sober set-apartness, even aloofness, it astounds me. His smile and listening was directed to non-family. His gravity and aloofness was there for me.
When grandfather retired, the famous political cartoonist Frank Miller, of the Des Moines Register, drew a cartoon to honor his retirement. It showed grandpa stomping off with great vitality on his way to a life of hunting, positively hunkered down with every imaginable type of hunting equipment, from fishing poles to rifles, nets, and a big pack packs. He was grinning and looking up into the sun, like some a manly, energetic Theodore Roosevelt figure. It was a very dear cartoon, and I found it extraordinary that the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist would draw a cartoon about my granddad. Even if I did, myself, hang around Frank Miller in his home while dating his daughter and actually watched him doodle out the cartoons that would appear on the Register's front page in a few days. Still the cartoon came as a revelation about my granddad's stature in the community. Grandpa used to write me letters regularly during my period in Alaska, and he often drew pictures for me of wildlife, such as moose. He drew them very well.
He was one of the youngest of, I believe, eight or ten children and raised in a farm family. His father died while he was young, under the age of ten. Great grandpa Lee was coming back from the Chicago stockyards where he had sold some livestock. He had caught pneumonia there, and died on the train coming back. He married Ethyl Lee, who was a schoolteacher and whose father, great grandfather Hickerson, had hanged himself after losing the family wealth and land in the stock market crash of 1929. She loved her father and was close to him. The story is she heard about it while she was teaching school. I always thought it's why she had a basically sad nature, perceivable under her ready, dimpled smile.
Despite the loss of his father, and grandma Lee's basic sadness lifelong, Grandpa kept up a positive, optimistic nature. He had an extensive garden, full of cabbages, tomatoes, peas, apple trees, baths for the birds, and all kinds of beloved flowers, especially roses. He was very active in it with grandmother. He was also a saver, and saved all manner of small thing for later use. Once my mother was leaving his house in Mount Ayr, Iowa during the winter, with me aboard. There was snow falling, and grandfather was worried that his daughter might get stuck or slip. I remember him bringing out a stack of old phone books, and putting them in the back of her station wagon, under the back wheels. I later understood that this was for better traction. I thought it was interesting that he had saved those old phone books all this time, and had finally then found a great use for them, with no regrets.
The female teachers under him had both respect and affection for him. As superintendent he was clearly a father figure to the female teachers under him, many of whom had grown up under him as their principal. He and grandma kept their wedding vow of "Til Death Do Us Part." I was around occasionally as she sunk into forgetfulness at the end of her life and became like a child. She smiled more than ever then. He took care of her, just like a parent takes care of a helpless baby, in every little way, including doing her hair up the way she liked with his own hands. It must have been hard to see her personality and memory fade before him. He seemed aggrieved at her death, and once I tried to comfort him, right after, about the prospect of her eternal reality as a soul.
My grandfather Lee was a moralist. He didn't drink or smoke cigarettes, and attended church as far as I know. To even be hired as a schoolteacher -- much more a principal -- over youth in those days a strong moral reputation was necessary. The assumption always was, going back to our founding, that school teachers of all grades had to have moral authority; to be examples for the youth. A teacher could not even get the job if they had any blemishes or contrary reputation. He couldn't be disrespected by the students or parents, or incline students to any vice by his example. And in those more cohesive community times, a man's true character was always known. You couldn't hide it as one can in today's anonymous bubble-lives. In truth grandfather was a moral paragon. And he fiercely protected the character of his students, not above administering punishment or consequences himself, even as a principal, to errant boys who need such a tough father figure in their long school-wrought separations from their real fathers.
A full Norwegian, he originally had red hair and the nickname 'Red,' which referenced both his hair and his temper. But I never saw him mad. His temper was obviously saved for instances in which it would do the most good. It was said that he would go down to the river bottoms to apprehend youths who were playing hooky away from school, having drag races, and he would bring them back to school perforce. He was interested in the moral and character development of his students. Once he discovered a supply of rubber prophylactics in the environs of his students. For the protection of their virtue he confiscated the box. The saving Norwegian even kept these, using them for various purposes associated with hunting -- keeping ammo and matches dry, and practical household uses. The box sat in his basement office for years around his lifelong wife and four daughters. There was never any question about why they were there.
As I came to later life I realized that I myself carried some of the same spirit of my grandfather, even though I did not know him well. It is a natural fact that the son carries the essence of his father and grandfather, even when he is distanced from them starting young. One reason this is true, I also learned, is that grandfathers and fathers think of their offspring with love and care, and pray for them. This is one of the prime ways that parents transmit their best qualities to their posterity. Prayer and thought. Because nobody cares about you as much as your own grandfathers and grandmothers. No matter how they act in life, this is the reality of their higher selves. They always love you deeply, in their higher self, no matter what life distractions beset them. For this reason, Communist, Marxist, and Jewish movements will never truly be able to break the parent-child bond for their purposes. Nothing can overcome the thought-love and thought protection a parent or grandparent directs to their young, even from the other side.
My key memory of Grandpa Amos, as if yesterday, was driving with him down main street in West Des Moines. I was four years old, or possibly as young as three, and it is one of my earliest clear memories because it was an unusual event in my humdrum life in the bungalow on Rollins Avenue, Des Moines. At that time, around 1961, not so many people were driving yet. The downtown area of West Des Moines was filled with people on the sidewalks, of all ages.
How fortunate am I that I have even fleeting memories of what American towns felt like before White people foolishly turned their communities into car hells, instead of human towns, with the God-damned, hellish and ignorant thing called the automobile! The few days of my early childhood where I remember those pre-car hell times, are priceless to me. (Among the White Gentile peoples' many noble virtues, "delusion of technological progress" is one of their outstanding faults, and if you love your people, one has permission to also criticize them.)
So there was Grandpa, being a big wheel he was driving a car. What was surprising was that nearly everyone on the street, it seemed to me, was smiling and waving at him. I forgot now about the bottle of Orange Crush he had given me. Old people were waving at him. Teenagers waved at him. Mothers with babies waved. Strong, handsome pre-Porn Age males waved at him. Everybody was waving at my grandpa. He was waving back at each one. As he did, he chuckled with real pleasure. It was true what my mother always said about him: "Your grandpa Amos loves People. So people love him."
This is one of the precious memories of my life, the only time I was ever alone with him. Yet it probably happened by complete chance. Nobody ever said, "You should have some time with your grandfather." Never happened. The truth is, I was basically neglected by grandfather and grandmother Lee, and they favored my other cousins. I believe this is basically because my mom and dad had such a large number of children close together and they were overwhelmed by us. My mother's sisters had far fewer children, and they were more spaced apart, and they included girls at the first whereas my mother kept producing another boy, another boy. One girl, then one boy a few years later, is very engaging and emotionally doable to aging parents. Thus the grandparents were better able to deal with and relate to the other sister's assemblages, and they were very plugged into the other cousins. There simply wasn't enough grandfather to go around.
To make it worse, mother's blond sister Cathy also had a crew of boys, then pulled harder on her father because of her travails and troubles with her husband in California, and perhaps she "sold" her boys better to grandpa with the right sort of visits. So I was, at that precious moment beside him in the car, just one more male from his 2nd daughter in a sea of boys from two directions, and probably almost faceless to him. He did not take any active interest in me as a person until I had a family and moved away to Alaska. Then the naturalist and hunter in him, and perhaps the wiser grandfather in him, became intrigued with me.
Thus at that moment in the car, grandpa seemed hardly aware of me. Everything about him was a cut above, and I felt almost of a lower class. He had given me a bottle of orange crush pop probably to occupy me. Why? This was to be the only moment in my life alone with grandpa! I had never even held a pop bottle. I felt slightly ashamed that I didn't know how to drink out of it. I couldn't conceive of it. Do you open your mouth and cock like a baby starling and dribble it in? I didn't want to ask. Hoping not to spill any in his car, I sucked on it using my full mouth. Feeling a strange suction and alarmed, I pulled it out of my mouth. It made a disconcerting 'pop' and the carbonated beverage spurted all over me. I was ashamed. Blessedly, he did not express clear displeasure or criticize. But then the he arrived at the downtown, people started waving, he started chuckling, and that was forgotten while I stared in awe.
I am sure that the only reason I went with him that day, and have this memory, was that there was there were no Lee women there at the house that moment, and somebody had to watch me. It was not done intentionally. Just an accident. It was just a few moments. But it's how I really know my granddad.
Oh how I wish I could have gone hunting with him once, or fishing, or just gone to stay for a weekend in their home, just me. I am sure had I gone to their home just weekend just once by myself or with a brother, or gone with him to church even once, or gone hunting with him even once -- I would have turned out quite differently than I did and would have suffered less. But then, that suffering is what brought me all good things.
I said that grandma and grandpa's home was "redolent." It was. It had a distinctive smell that you couldn't really identify as any particular thing. A bit of fruit, say ripening apples or bananas, yes. A bit of wood and fabric of the old furnishings, yes. Like flowers, too, though I never saw fresh flowers in there and it was always present. It was was something more, a fragrance like flowers and musk. The musky smell was stronger down in grandpa's office/hunting lodge. It was only later in life that I learned, from the yogic lore of India, that men and women get a particular fragrance from chastity and self-control. For the men, it smells like musk, then finally flowers. This flower-musk fragrance always permeated my grandparents' home, in two locations. I realized, far into my later years, that this was the fragrance of saints.