Were he still alive, my paternal grandfather – Adrian Joseph Boudreaux, Sr. — would today celebrate his 105th birthday.
I remember him well and lovingly. He died in 1975, when I was 17, after living in our home for eight years. (My grandmother died in 1967, at the age of 62.)
He was born in the swamps of south Louisiana in 1900. Although he spoke little English and had little formal education, he ran away from home in 1915 to New Orleans, seeking a better life in the city. There he met and eventually married Teresa Flanagan, who looked and was every bit as Irish as her name reveals. After holding a few odd-jobs, he finally settled into his career as a street-car conductor. Later, just before I was born, he became a bus driver.
Among my fondest memories as a young boy is sitting on "Paw’s" lap, my hands on the gargantuan steering wheel of the bus as he drove it down Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans. I was very proud of myself — and of Paw.
As far as I know, Paw never set foot out of Louisiana, although he probably did visit Mississippi and, perhaps, Texas. I’m quite sure that never in his 75 years did he venture outside of these three states.
His son, my father, celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this summer. Although born during the Great Depression, my dad (unlike his father) never lived in a house without indoor plumbing. And although my dad dropped out of school in sixth grade (I never learned why), he has lived, and continues to live, a pretty good life. He, too, for a while drove a bus, and then worked – until his retirement four years ago – as a pipefitter in a shipyard.
My dad and mom raised four children to be responsible adults. And they’ve traveled all across the U.S. and Canada several times. My parents even once went to Ireland. Their exposure to the world is vastly greater than that of my any of my grandparents.
And now, at the start of his eighth decade, my father has become an excellent chef! By watching Emeril’s cooking show on The Food Network, my father was recently prompted into a place where he figuratively (if not literally) never ventured: the kitchen.
By watching Emeril, he is inspired! My mom downloads for him Emeril’s recipes that are available on-line. Then Dad goes to town, displaying quite a culinary talent!
It’s a small thing, perhaps. But compare my father to my grandfather. Although my grandfather made as much out of his life as was possible – it takes guts to run away from home at the age of 15 to a virtually foreign city – the options available to my dad were, and continue to be, far greater than those available to my grandfather.
Importantly, in his retirement – mid-1960s through mid-1970s (the supposed golden age of American prosperity) – my grandfather had a maximum of four t.v. channels to watch (my dad has hundreds); my grandfather never owned a new car in his life (my dad bought a new GMC Yukon a few weeks after retiring); my grandfather never traveled (my dad’s in Virginia as I write these words, and two weeks from now he’ll be in Jackson Hole and then in California).
My grandfather’s life was as good as he could make it. My dad’s life is as good as he can make it – which, because we are much wealthier today than 30 years ago, is a helluva lot better than my grandfather’s life was or could be.
And, of course, my life is even better than my dad’s. I hope and trust that my son’s will be even better than mine.