My grandfathers birthday is today. Jack Dickens. Born March 11th 1923. He would be 92 years old if he was here with us today. My sister who ‘knew’ him before me (long story) declared his name was Dandan, which is what all his grand children and great grand children have called him.
Today in his honour I’d like to share a bit about him. This was my grandfather. Dandan.
He was tall with dark hair, pleasant features and he tanned so well in the summer. As I child I remember thinking boy I’ll never be as tall as Dandan, he’s a giant. Not really, but you know how kids think.
My family is crazy and loud and full of superstars who love the spotlight. I don’t think quiet conversations ever has been a ‘thing’ when the family gathers. Dandan was always confident and quiet. He could sit in a room full of family conversing and carrying on with loud laughter and just watch the conversation flow and be more than comfortable not saying one word. Magically he was a part of the whole atmosphere without really taking part in it. I remember at times, often actually, the abundance of noise was overwhelming for me, probably the beginning of my introvert life, and he would give me a nod with a tug of his head and I’d crawl up on his lap and soak up his soothing calmness. After a few minutes I couldn’t resist my wild and crazy cousins any longer and rejoined the pack rejuvenated.
His calmness is forever remembered with me. My life has been crazy, like most and I wish I could find what I assume was his submission to all of life’s chaos. As an adult I admire his strength to exist amongst such strong personalities, hold his own and he did it with such class. You never felt unwelcome or it was a bad time, or that you were taking up too much of his time. I admire that he didn’t need to be the clown or the jokester, the drunkest, the chef, the smartest or the loudest. He would just putter around or read his books or listen to the rooms conversations.
During the period of my life with the most memories he was a math teacher, assistant head master and then head master of an all boys private school. He was fun and active. Once in a while he’d be cheeky and in my older teen years I would take a double look at him and he’d give me a wink. He played cricket, squash and I think tennis and I have thought deep, but I don’t really have memories of him swimming. My Nannie (his wife) swam a lot and taught my sister and I how to swim and to not fear but respect water. My sister and I would go and watch him play cricket and as we got a bit older we went to check out the boys. Haha! ADMIT IT SISTER!! Cricket is terribly boring by the way, but I thought he was famous or something cause they would all clap when he took the bat thing. Ok, my cricket lingo isn’t up to par. Is par in cricket? Do I get a point for that?
I remember him playing squash with my dad. I think I can even remember it was typically Thursday evenings, but a twinge of a memory also tells me it was twice a week for some time. We would normally go to my Nannies for dinner and my dad and Dandan would head to the courts and whack it out. Sometimes my sister and I would go watch but it was usually the freedom to walk around the campus that we were after. It was exactly what my dad needed with his long hours and stressful job. I always remember the difference in my dad’s mood after playing squash and they would joke about who kicked whose butt back at the house. My dad took a beating sometimes haha – or so he says he did, but for both of them I’m sure it was never about the score. In my adult perspective maybe it was a bit about my Dandan taking a somewhat of a fatherly role, one that maybe my dad lacked a bit of as a child. And/or It could of been Dandans way of inviting my dad into the family and my dad accepting the invite. It’s exactly something my Dandan would do. Good times regardless.
My grand parents took my sister and I to Florida. At least once. I don’t have many memories other than having to do school work in the back seat while we drove down south, battling car sickness. It was horrible. If I signed up for a second trip I’d be surprised at myself. I do recall that is where I discovered Filet-O-Fish from McDonalds. My sister and I would be given money and told to go explore and gather our own lunches. It was their way of allowing us to be independent, make choices and feel in control. I lived for lunch hour!!! The Sand Dollar Cafe has just surfaced as a memory, with our sun dresses .. I’m thinking we must of ate there for dinner a lot too. If you know me, you’d know that to remember food is characteristic of me haha!
It would be hard to pick out ONE favourite memory with Dandan. I do have one that is very true to the type of man he was…
Approximately somewhere between 1976-1978
My grandparents took my sister and I to an island. Not just any island, an isolated island on a warm lake were we stayed naked almost the whole time. Rabbit Nose Island. We were instructed by my grandparents to not lie about being naked but we didn’t need to offer certain details. Yes we had a naked vacation. Being as young as we were, we understood the message and giggled about it to ourselves often. We figured our parents would lose their minds at the thought of their 2 daughters being naked all day every day for at least a week. I loved that we were doing something with permission but that they would hate. Defiant from the beginning. My sister threw her clothes off almost immediately and was in a naked state long before me. They didn’t pressure me just said it was an option if and when I was ready. It took me about 2 days but once I was naked that was it, no turning back. If I’m honest I can tell you I have no idea if my grandparents were naked with us. That tells me the age was perfect because it didn’t matter. Well done Nannie & Dandan.
Karen, do you remember the bunny shed?? Some big pink floppy eared bunny on the shed or cabin off to the side? We spent a day crammed in with dolls and books when it rained for one day. We could barely turn around with the 2 of us in there but we managed a whole day. Ha! Good times.
So during this time frame I struggled with number 6 and 9. 9 was 6 or 6 was 9 and it wasn’t seeming to sort itself out. Being a math teacher I’m sure it drove my grandfather bonkers when I said they were the exact same and it didn’t matter. (And you can bet I said it with a lot of arrogant conviction lol) I tried for hours to convince him they were the same and he was wrong. Why would they make the same number look different? It’s the same just turn it around. See? I told you so Dandan. Oh boy I was stubborn. He never lost his cool over it, I can’t say the same for me.
Anyways, while I was naked on our Gilligan’s Island, I spent most of my time in the water. I would build forts for the fish in the shallow part and capture them, put them in their safe home (so they wouldn’t get eaten) and name them all. I even had one for some little cray fish or whatever they were with their little lobster like bodies and legs. So I would count them as I caught and added them to their new Fort. 1, 2, …5, 9, 7, 8, 6 and Dandan while reading would gently correct me. I’m sure I told him he was breaking my concentration or something snippy, but he didn’t flinch or give up, just corrected me while he obviously pretended to read. Nannys rule was I had to let them go every night because they had family to go home to. I said I was their new family and what if they weren’t there in the morning bla bla bla. She said you must take one wall down and if they want to leave they can. Fine. The next day I’ll get them all this time and they can all be a family in the Fort but that was mission impossible I learned as the days went on. I’m assuming after a few days of my collection obsession Dandan must of come up with an idea. He told me he had a new game he wanted to play and asked me if I would play with him too. I asked what it was, he said either you want to play or you don’t, but once you say yes you have to keep playing until the game is done. Fine. As long as I could keep catching my new family and hugging them and naming them all. I had to count, 10 fish allowed in each Fort and if I got 6 and 9 confused (he never said wrong) I had to release them all and start back over. Challenge accepted!
I first had to build more and bigger Forts cause I was about to win a lot!! 1 fish. 2 fish. 3 fish. 4 fish. 5 fish. 9 fish. He would gently remove the rock wall on one side and the fish would swim away. I would huff and puff and storm around before settling back in to recatch my new family members. He said Sandra listen to me. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. He would repeat it a few times but me being me, I was always right (not so much) and just knew I would get it right next time. So the capturing started again. 1 fish. 2 fish. 3 fish. 4 fish. 5 fish. 6 fish. 7 fish. 8 fish. 6 fish. There goes the wall. This went on for days!!! He would write the numbers with a rock sometimes on another rock (you know, the chalk like mark it makes) and we would read together and he would wash it away. I would start my capturing again. Failure. He didn’t give up, but neither did I.
The next day he cut our toast for breakfast into soldiers, to dunk in cracked boiled eggs, and would count out loud my sisters portion and mine, making a big deal out of #6 and #9 and where they belonged. I’m pretty sure back then I even rolled my eyes.
Back out we all went to the lake and my forts. There was obviously some rough waters during the night and my forts were ruined. We decided to build some new forts and he helped. We counted the rocks together me always mixing up 6 and/or 9 and he didn’t make a big deal, he would just keep going. That day we went through the capture and release again. Not getting my numbers right at all. That night by the Bon fire I sat on his lap and cried while I told him I was dumb and we should just leave 6 and 9 alone. We don’t need them anyways, they are stupid. He cuddled like Dandan did and assured me I wasn’t dumb, and he said besides one day you need to be 9 years old and we aren’t giving up.
The next day we started the damn fishing again. Those nets where the best investment Nannie made haha! After a few errors about half way through the day I started counting my next attempted batch. 1 fish 2 fish 3 fish 4 fish 5fish 6 fish 7 fish 8 fish 9 fish 10 fish. Then I moved to the next Fort and it was 1 fish all the way through to 10 fish correctly. He didn’t say a word. I didn’t notice. I filled up the next fort counting correctly again. I continued to play and count oblivious to my accuracies. After we ate dinner we had our Bon fire and he asked me if I noticed that I got them all right for the afternoon. (You have to understand how long it took me to catch 1 fish, never mind fill 3 exotic resorts of fish!!) I said noooooo I didn’t and started half giggling and crying at the same time. He said yes you did!! What are you talking about Dandan ? I never get it right. And he took me through the recall of filling all 3 forts. How did you fill all 3 if you didn’t count it correctly? Humpfff I thought to myself still half giggling and crying. I might be smart after all.
The next morning we played 1 fish 2 fish…I got it wrong a few times but it wasn’t that frustrating anymore because now I knew I could and have been correct. By the time we left the island I had made up a bazillion counting songs. I’m surprised my sister talks to me after listening to all those numbers for almost a week. By the time we left naked-ville I had conquered number 6 and 9 but I will always give props to Dandan for being persistent, constant and holy patient batman.
The best part: For the longest time when we saw each other we would whisper or mouth the numbers to each other. It was like our very own little secret.
That is the most in-detail memory I have with him. I can even see his hat and the orange folding chair he sat on day after day with his feet in the water at the shoreline. I can even picture him, the age he must of been at. When he got up from the chair his back had the lines from the horrible plastic stringy fabric on his chair. It’s amazing. It’s a memory that has never been lost on me. I’m sure my childhood feelings today, as an adult would translate to the acknowledgement of unconditional love from him and a feeling of accomplishment for me. Amazing.
He is missed a lot and often I think of them both. I’m fortunate to have had him in my life. It wasn’t because of blood linkage that brought him into my life. Was it luck? The stars lining up? Whatever it was, it is obvious I needed him.
My goal in life is to leave a print of the same magnitude on my own children. I’m still working on it.