King Harry

by cheri block

When my grandfather Harry’s third wife died on him, he decided never to marry again. This decision came late in life when he was around 80.

In those days, he lived in a lovely white apartment building overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, but the neighborhood had become coarse and unsafe for an old man.

But his mantra was “Get up and get out.” So he did.

Even though he had been mugged on one of his long walks around the lake, he still arose each morning, dressed himself in a tweed sport coat and a dapper wool hat, walked to public transit and rode across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. From there, he took a cab to the St. Francis Hotel by Union Square.

Once in the hotel lobby, he found a well worn Queen Anne chair, ordered a cup of hot coffee and read the San Francisco Chronicle for several hours.

He returned home before lunch.

Like the old man in Hemingway’s A Clean Well Lighted Space, Harry just wanted to be around people, savor the pleasures of hot coffee, watch the world go by, and be part of it.

We grandchildren found him charming, even in our immaturity.

And to this day, no matter what my mood, I take his mantra seriously.

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to King Harry

  1. jenny says:

    Hey! I used to live not far from Lake Merritt. Seriously. I, too, used to take that walk around the lake.

    I like your grampa Harry!

  2. I dips me lid to your grandfather, Harry. Dapper in dress and spirit. I like what big Hem says, “but the subject isn’t one for simplicity and clarity yet.”

    • jenny says:

      “Big Hem” is good. And it reminded me that my daughter and her friends refer affectionately to a certain “Fitzy Gee” of American literary fame.

  3. I inj those years people did not remain widower or widow very long. My grandfather, the French-Canadian one, married once and it lasted 61 years. But his mother was the second wife of his father who had a daughter by his first wife. When his father died, his mother remarried and had a daughter. Thus my grandfather had two half-sisters who were not related to each other. His mother married two other times. Her last husband was two years younger than my grandfather and went on to his fourth wife before he died.
    As my grandson would say: “Cool”.

  4. Sablock says:

    You didn’t mention that he enjoyed a crispy waffle at the Merrit Coffee Shop next to Fairy Land.

  5. Richard says:

    Clarity and simplicity are so elusive. Harry worked very hard on it. I raise my hat to him.

  6. Philippe says:

    “Get up and get out.”

    I’m going to make this my mantra too.

  7. Cyberquill says:

    I can’t read the word between subject and one.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Peter,
      The word is “isnt”.

      • Cyberquill says:

        I see. Written by an apostrophobe. And who typed the page underneath the handwritten note? What’s with the huge spaces between the words?

      • sledpress says:

        I’m going to guess that after years of typing manuscripts which would then have to be scribbled and defaced with deletions and interpolations, pre-word processing with all its editing luxuries, a man might get into the habit of double-spacing his typescript. More white space to facilitate insertions.

  8. zeusiswatching says:

    Putting penmanship to work on the Internet. I love it when this occurs.

    • Cheri says:

      This was an original letter in the Special Collections part of the library. The interesting part was the double space between each of Hemingway’s words. But the pencil addendum that H had written blew me away.

  9. zeusiswatching says:

    I think I would like to be like your grandfather. Perhaps the three wives thing is not for me, and the morning business (ick!) will have to be moved to later in the day, but the rest sounds ideal. I’ve thought about this all morning while surfing and reading online (too lazy to walk out to the end of the drive for the newspaper), and drinking my first tankard of coffee.

    While I was recovering from my horrific back injury, I would go to a cafe and sit in one of the (for me) comfortable chairs and read. Coffee, sometimes food, always books, and even the local paper when I needed a break from the books were a big part of nearly every day of my life for about a year. Now I know that I was actually in training to be your Grandfather.

    As miserable as the injury was, as much as I disliked having to work only part time (at best) because I couldn’t lift much more than a dinner plate, the reading, the coffee, the sights and sounds of the world going by, and participating as an active spectator gave me a certain comfort, even happiness. Now, I know that I am one of at least two persons like this.

    Frederic, the main character in “Chloe in the Afternoon” is such a person too. He is a fictional character that also warns us of the pitfalls of this existence (there are risks in all walks of life). Your grandfather is the real life version.

  10. Cheri says:

    I so enjoy your comments, Zeus. Your 3rd paragraph says it all.

  11. Cheri says:

    Peter and Sledpress,

    This letter is one that Hemingway wrote from Cuba in 1951 to his editor in San Francisco. He typed it himself in the unusual way you see. In this letter ( I have pictures of the entire piece) he refers to Gertrude Stein and the lost generation.

    Since it was a letter, and not a manuscript, it is of interest that he typed this way. The librarian was not sure why he did this as not all of his letters look this way.

    I was spellbound (as one can imagine).

    • zeusiswatching says:

      Perhaps he intended to rework it into something else? It is possible that he wrote it as much as a draft of an essay as a letter, and it would have become a manuscript at some point. Perhaps there is a carbon somewhere?

      • Cheri says:

        Hi Zeus,
        Maybe. The librarian had never seen this letter and doesn’t know if it has been included in a commentary on Hemingway’s correspondence. If you are interested, I can upload the other pictures I have next week, when I return from a little field trip.

        I’ll ask Tim about the possibility of a carbon copy. That’s a neat thought.

  12. Cheri,

    Well, in LA for a conference about Peace and Plenty I missed your birthday, mea culpa. I’ll help you blow out the last candle but saying I loved hearing about your grandfather.

    Of course he wore a wonderful phat and dapper hat. Now at least we understand your tasteful gene pool more clearly. A king was he? So much royalty in your family. Delightful. I tip my hat to the adventurous King Harry and share a story about my grandfather John Thomas McCart who while not a big hat person loved indeed his gray wools in sweater or vest

    Happy Birthday Cheri, if I had had an extra minute I would have walked right over and it’s my loss for sure.


    • Cheri says:

      Hi MJ,
      I shall go to the link and read about your grandpop. Thanks so much for including it in your response.

      Only 500 miles from my home! Too bad the conference wasn’t in SF.

      We could have had a grand time there.

  13. Geraldine says:

    Hi Cheri,
    I hope you had a lovely birthday! Grandfather stories are so endearing. Please follow-up with another one.

    My grandfather walked for miles most days and, oftentimes, invited me to go with him. The walks were too long for a little seven-year old but I was desperate for his attention and my mother would relent. Granddad Robert looked so gentle, like a ghost, in his dark suit, long overcoat and matching hat. Once I placed my hand in his he never let go until we arrived back at the gate. He spoke very seldomly because the act of speaking took too much from him and so he became accustomed to unexpressed thoughts. I was happy to be with him in silence.

    His walks would take us by canals and long narrowed gardens with beautifully designed wrought-iron gates and railings but also to areas where there was bustle. We were out of place in some places but no one ever caused concern because my grandad had a special presence. One day, while I was in a trance slurping on a sweet that last forever, he knelt down on one knee and pointed his long, elegant bony finger. He made me look squarely at an elderly gentlemen, dressed like an undertaker, and waited until he got my full attention and then said this:
    “Do you see this gentelman. This man’s job is to light this last remaining lamplight. You will not see this again.” I never did.
    I watched the procedure with awe because he made it important. My eyes followed his gaze to the lonely man as he limped away and there was kinship there.

    Many artist would have painted him on his deathbed (in his own home) had they been in the room. Like me he had red hair although it had dimmed. His skin was still pale and soft and his hands were folded into each other in such a way that I still see him in paintings by the Italian masters. All the shapes he had were elegant and geometric due to a severe thinness that seemed natural to him. I have no photographs.

    I inherited his huge black bicycle, circa God knows. Of course, I couldn’t get on it but in the mornings I would sneak down to the garden shed and hold one of the handlebars, for a while. He was the only adult in my childhood who gave me such time. All this from a man who did not speak.

    • Cheri says:


      You created an evocative image of your grandfather in ethereal language.
      I have read this thrice. You transported the child inside me and I, too, had my hand in his.

      I, too, viewed his body with the last shadow of color.

      You have a marvelous talent and I hope to read more. On a blog?

      Thank you for taking the time to create this nostalgic vignette. I loved it.

      • Geraldine says:

        Thank you, Cheri, for such praise. Your story on King Harry made my grandfather make an appearance.
        The power of words!

  14. Richard says:

    Your comment flows and mesmerises, Geraldine. Only the deepest feeling can produce something like that.

    All four of my grandparents died before I met them and you and Cheri have given me a true insight into what it means to have one and how my own grandchildren might see me.

    I have copied both pieces down for private study.

    • Cheri says:

      You have much to offer your grandchildren and it is not too late. You are still young, sir.

    • Geraldine says:

      Thank you, Richard. The role of a grandfather is mysterious; he’s a storehouse for the future. I find this fascinating: The transcendance of love after death.

      I imagine you’re a precious grandfather.

  15. wkkortas says:

    Thumbs up to your grandfather; the nada is a powerful force, not unlike a black hole, and it takes more fiber than we can appreciate to keep it at bay.

  16. Cheri says:

    Oh, you and I and our American lit!

    Did we teach in rooms next door?

    Did we shake our heads when grouchy Mrs. Y and lazy Mr. B gossiped about us in the teachers’ lounge?

    Our nada, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name…what a set of powerful but troubling lines…but not surprising considering the time, the war, the death, the devastation

    • dafna says:

      what time, what war..?

      i found this reference to “the nada” in hemingway’s short story “a clean, well-lighted place”. published 1926?

      “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.”

      i get the reference, almost perfect given your topic. we all need a clean well-lighted place to deliver us from the nada.

      i think i’ll book a room in richard’s pub, i’m in (desperate) need of some real world human interaction. too bad it’s a virtual pub ;(

  17. Man of Roma says:

    To get up, or stand up, and go out. It inspired me today. I initially felt like staying at home all day with my useless writing, reading and music. “Life is outside”. So I forced myself to go out and walk, and see lanes people streets cafés. It did good to me.

    • Geraldine says:

      Man of Roma,
      How could your writing be useless? I take my little white sailboat to your blog, and, if I find safe harbour, alight and take the chariot that you so generously leave by the water’s edge and then race to Roma where I place your treasures in a burnt-sienna bag, purchased in Florence, before returning home, like a robber, enriched! Phew!

      • Man of Roma says:

        You are very nice to say that Geraldine. Today has been a tough day. I wanted to reply to your comment but now it is late. Tomorrow. So I’ll take back my chariot from you … and go to bed 🙂

    • Cheri says:

      I wish I could take a walk through the cobbled streets of old Rome. There is a little cafe right beside the Pantheon I like; perfect for people watching.

      Glad to hear you got up and got out… 🙂

  18. Brighid says:

    It was wonderful to meet your Harry, Cheri. My grandfather was not so noble I fear. There are the raw edges of memories: him setting in his big chair reading the funny papers to me on Sundays, his beautiful voice singing Irish lullabyes, the faithful in the guise of black labs, always by his side, hot coffee while in hunting camp on a high lonesome.

    • Cheri says:

      Oh Wow, Brighid. I love this one too.

      Your grandfather and I would have been good pardners.
      I spent many days of my childhood around a campfire with my horse tethered to the tree for the night, nickering to me before I snuggled down into my sleeping bag.

      I see a nobility in the description, especially with the black lab at this side…
      I can see you know, with the black Scottie at your side. 🙂

  19. Pingback: On Campus 48 years later | Notes from Around the Block

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s