|Great Grandpa Alfred F. Bartel (1899-1977)|
This fisherman is the son-in-law of the Texas Longhorn Cattleman, Henry Peter Geis Sr., in the preceding post. And what follows was written by his granddaughter Carolyn Beth (Winters) Cunningham in 2008.
When I think of Grandpa, cool composure, sense of humor, quiet vitality, and happy-go-lucky attitude comes to mind. Some of my fondest memories include fishing, Santa suits, Hopalong Cassidy, decks of cards, and checkers.
Grandpa had me digging worms as soon as I could walk, and fishing, not fish, was one of my first words. Before I entered kindergarten, I could bait my own hook, and had my own stringer and pole. When the boys came along, he taught my sons to fish while still in training pants.
As a child, I was pretty ornery. Mother used to say “I hope you grow up and have kids just as ornery as you!” I did, but that’s another story. Throughout my childhood years, if we were visiting, or living close to my grandparents during the holidays, Grandpa made sure I was visited by Santa. Santa would peek in the window, rap on the glass, turn his head slowly from side to side, and shake his finger at me. I was good-as-gold for a couple of days! Sometimes Santa would pop in three or four times between Thanksgiving and Christmas, depending on how I was behaving. It was a mystery to me how Santa always knew when I’d been naughty! I had no idea Mother had him on speed-dial!
Before I started school, I could print my own name thanks to Mother, and I knew my numbers thanks to Grandpa ---and a deck of cards. My grandparents belonged to a pinochle club. Four couples would get together and play on Saturday nights which, coincidentally, was also the night my grandparents were usually babysitting me. At the end of each hand, partners would rotate so by the time the evening was over and the scores tallied, someone would emerge as the grand champ for the night. Grandpa was a gamesman, a card-shark, and almost always won. And none of them ever suspected the cute little girl with Shirley Temple curls was giving him signals. Players would pat me on the head, give me a cookie or celery stick, and I’d let Grandpa know which suit they were strongest in, how many marriages they had, and where both jacks of diamonds were! After sixty-some years, I still remember those signals.
In 1948 I turned four and fell madly in love with Hopalong Cassidy. We had a small seven-inch screen T.V. and I’d watch the test pattern for fifteen minutes waiting for Hoppy to appear. In 1950, for my sixth birthday, Grandpa sent me a one-hundred percent, genuine Hoppy outfit complete with holster and six-shooter; Dad took me to Big Bear Lake to watch Hoppy make a movie. I was in tall cotton! The following year, we spent the holidays in Kansas with my grandparents and, naturally, I wore my Hoppy suit most of the time. That’s when Grandpa started calling me Hipalong Catastrophe, which he eventually shortened to just Hipalong. Throughout the years, the nickname became a private term of endearment between us, and Grandpa could always brighten my day with a “Hey, Hipalong, how ya doin’!”
In later years, my grandparents lived across the street from the fire station. After Grandpa retired, he spent many an afternoon telling stories and playing checkers with the fire fighters. They played for a quarter a game, and Grandpa usually came home with a smile on his face and the jingle of money in his pocket. They called him “Champ” and he referred to them as “the boys.”
The last year of his life, Grandpa was confined to a hospital bed at home. During that time, I got to know the boys real well, too. They’d waltz across the street to visit with the Champ or see if there was anything they could do for Grandma. That year the yard never needed mowing and the Impala got exceptional gas mileage ---the tank was always full. I’m sure the firehouse boys were responsible for both.
The day after Grandpa passed away, I had just finished picking out his burial clothes and was sitting on the front steps trying to summon the strength to take them to the funeral home and pick out his casket ---one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was holding a cup of coffee between my hands, tears in my eyes, when two firemen came up the walk.
I don’t remember their names, but they sat down beside me, one on each side. One put his arm across my shoulders, gave me a squeeze, and said “Hey, Hipalong, how ya doin’?” I lost it! The other took the cup from my hands and replaced it with a small pull-string bag.
When I finally got myself together again, they asked me to open the bag. Inside were a very small checker board, tiny black and red checkers, and a couple of quarters. They asked me to place them in the Champs casket; maybe he and St. Peter could get a game goin’ in the hereafter. They didn’t think Grandma would approve, but they knew I would. I thanked them, promised it would be done, and that it would remain our secret.
Later that morning I picked out the casket and that evening, as I said a private good-bye to my old fishin’ buddy, I added a miniature deck of cards to the bag and slipped it inside. In my heart, I knew Grandpa was smiling and giving a thumbs-up to Hipalong and the boys. The Champ was ready to rock ‘n roll!