My mother’s father’s name was Sam Kay, but his three grandchildren knew him as Papa. During World War II — decades before he became Papa — he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Texas. These photos were taken in 1942 or ’43.
He’d married my grandmother Ruth — aka Nan — not long before the draft.
Nan was able to visit Papa at Camp Hulen, formerly known as Camp Palacios, in Texas. Papa was armed and not-too-dangerous-looking. He had a killer smile, though!
Apparently, it wasn’t all war games at Camp Hulen.
My grandmother, who died last year, was always quick to tell you what she thought. She never held back, as you can tell from her caption on this next army photo. It says, “Fatso, no?”
Luckily, he was never sent overseas.
Papa was born on May 18, 1919, in New York City. His original last name was Kwalwasser. He changed it to Kay in the late 1940s when his first daughter — my gorgeous mother, BarbaraB — started kindergarten and kids made fun of her last name. “People didn’t want to have Jewish/foreign names,” BarbaraB says. They wanted to fit in. To help his daughter fit in, Papa got her a new last name. (Meanwhile, when I wanted a cheap-ass Swatch watch to fit in when I was in school, did anyone buy me one?! I’m JUST SAYING, BarbaraB!) Papa would be amazed at the first names a lot of kids have these days. We’ve got everything from Apple to Zelig. Humph! Now I wish I had a kid just so I could have named him/her Kwalwasser Brandes.
Papa was a cigar smoker who had his first heart attack in the 1970s. He had another one in 1983. He was in the hospital for treatment when an aneurysm in the wall of his heart burst. He died from the aneurysm (rather than the heart attack as I previously said here) on Dec. 2, 1983, aged 64. It was three weeks before my 16th birthday on December 23. As I’ve written before, he insisted on giving me my birthday gift — a gold bangle — early. BarbaraB believes Papa did that because he had a feeling that he wouldn’t make it home.
You can’t see it in the photo above, but the bangle is engraved with the date on which he originally planned to give it to me: 12/23/83. I don’t think I’d had the bracelet very long when I dented it by hitting it against the corner of a desk in my high-school science class. I was devastated.
Now I like the dent. It’s part of the history of the bracelet. I often stack my Sweet-16 bracelet with the diamond bangles I designed myself and a Tiffany bracelet MrB gave me before I became a jewelry designer.
Every time I wear this bracelet, I think of Papa giving me that early birthday gift.
By the way, because I mentioned that Papa smoked cigars that likely contributed to his heart problems, I feel I should note that Nan smoked cigarettes for decades but lived to be 95 years old. She always was an exceptional lady!
Nola Rice says
Those photos, they were bad and had it goin on, not that you want to hear that about your Grands, but in those pics, they look great.
Papa might have been a bit chubby but he looked great in the uniform, I think!
What a sweet Throwback Thursday this was! Your grandfather was a special guy.That era produced a different kind of guy it seems to me. Lucky that you have that bracelet to remember him by. And how fortunate that he kinda foresaw your passion in life.
Yes, I agree about a different kind of guy <3
Grandpa Kwalwasser sounded like a wonderful man. He is smiling in every one of those photos — beaming! “Fatso, no?” is hilarious! What a ‘speshul’ bracelet 🙂
Yeah, he had a good smile! For a fatso 😉
I love this post. My grandfather, as I’ve mentioned, was a jeweler in NYC. He was born in Sicily but came through Ellis Island when he was a teenager in the mid 1920s. No name change 🙂 He had a big shop on Broadway till the 50s. We think there might have been some, um, connections on this account since there was a ton of money (my grandmother has some serious Cartier pieces) until my grandfather severed some business ties and he had a modest shop from then on in. I have many pieces I received as gifts as a child and I treasure them all.
At times like these I am reminded that we are not so different. Well, except that you go to Vanity Fair parties.
So glad you still have those pieces! What an interesting story!