A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


My paternal grandfather, Grandpa Don, was easy to love. He was fun and funny. He called my sister, Cookie and me, Cupcake. He would sit in his armchair in the living room or T.V. room and let my sister and I brush what was left of his hair. We’d take turns maneuvering the lonely, clinging strands that traversed the desert of skin surrounded by a retreating Friar Tuck semi-circle, with a baby brush, making sure the stalwart hairs were neatly arranged. He did a special trill or R-rolling with his tongue at the back of his throat that would make us laugh and beg for more. He indulged me when I was sick from mono in 4th grade with the” Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom” by V.J. Stanek. I spent days and nights poring over the tome, learning about everything from protozoa to pit vipers to pangolins. It was the best part and only lasting vestige of the 3 months I spent home from school. It remains my most precious book.

Grandpa Don was also endearingly unconventional in his grandfatherly manner. This was due to his love of scantily clad and/or naked women. Hold on. Take it easy. I can assure you his fondness never resulted in lurid or unsavory behavior towards anyone. His appreciation was honest and unapologetic and perhaps was a natural outcome of his profession as a corporate photographer for Chevron. A dyed-in-the wool devotee of the female form, to my knowledge, he was never scolded or denounced for his affinity. His interest was not only tolerated, in his home it was nourished and fostered. Cheesecake chiquitas and birthday suit kitsch were major parts of his persona. Perhaps this sounds odd coming from his granddaughter, but I must confess that I enjoyed his penchant as well.

Visits to the grandparents’ house in the outer Sunset District house of San Francisco, were not complete without a trip down to the basement to hang with Grandpa. In addition to an all-encompassing collection of shop tools, he had an extensive and eye-popping assortment of pin-ups. The top wall of his workshop was rimmed entirely with Vargas and Petty girl pictures.

The women exuded a blatant sex appeal which was not lost on me, although I was too young to put a name on it. I understood those fluffy, flouncy, flirty, femme-fatales were more than merely desirable. They were sirens in silk, vamps in velvet, seductresses in satin, elegant enchantresses, come-hither charmers, tantalizing temptresses, goddesses of give-it-to-me-baby. Beautiful and mesmerizing, I couldn't keep my eyes off them.

Strangely, my mom, with her staid, East Coast sensibilities, seemed unfazed that my sister and I regularly hung out with Grandpa Don in his man-cave decorated with girly photos. I wonder if she ever knew how much we talked to Grandpa Don about which were his favorites, and which were ours.  I pondered this mightily on each journey to the cement ground floor while I watched him work on whatever wood or Lucite project he had cooking.
I can't remember which part of which finger it was that was missing, but I recall watching him work and hoping he wouldn't lose any more of himself. For as many times as I asked him to tell me the story of how he lost a portion of his finger to the table saw, you'd think I'd remember what, exactly, was missing. It occurs to me now that perhaps he was thinking too much about his cheesecake instead of his fingers when he accidentally lopped off an unwilling, slow moving volunteer. Oops. BIG OOPS.

The other interesting sights my sister and I were treated to during those impressionable years, were the special drinking glasses Grandpa Don brought back from Mexico. On the outside of the glasses were women dancers in cultural clothing--Spanish Flamenco, Hawaiian Hula, Polish Polka, and Native American Pow Wow--and when you drank down, on the inside of the glass you'd see the same women but without clothes. The images were exceedingly non-explicit, but you'd see their forms undressed with tiny nipples and discreet creases. They were, in their nude way, very chaste and non-raunchy. The glass gals were merely culturally diverse, pleasing to the eye and in the buff. And when you think about it, shouldn’t everybody be au natural on the inside of a glass? Otherwise your clothes would get wet.

I think these glasses are pretty subtle. But I realize not everyone appreciates the genre.

I still have the glasses on display in our dining room. Upon showing them to a visiting friend, she exclaimed, "This explains a LOT about you!" If she meant that she understands why my tastes run a smidge on the racy side—I see what she means. If not, she may need to elaborate. I didn’t ask for specifics. Like my grandfather, I see nothing wrong with some tastefully done nudity and I see no need to defend myself. The images are not even close to what I’d label as obscene or graphic—but that’s just me.
Grandpa Don died when I was in fifth grade—forty some years ago—from emphysema. You guessed it. Smoker. Big time. Had to be on oxygen at the end. He wasn't very active during the wind down. Kinda just...faded away. That's how it seemed to me at the time. I guess losing most of your lung capacity will do that.  You breathe in. You breathe out. And if you have emphysema that's not enough. It kills you in the not-so-long run. From what I could tell, oxygen starvation is not a good way to go. By the end, not even the sight of Vargas vixen could inspire him to take the lungful he needed.
I was very sad about his passing. I never doubted it back then, nor do I now. But I remember thinking at his funeral that I should be crying. I didn't cry. I don't know why. To this day, I don't know why.  But I miss Grandpa Don. He was a big influence in my life. I was reminded this past weekend that he remains so. 
At the art and wine festival in Novato this weekend, we found a booth that had old forties and fifties ads, giclees, put onto canvas and paper. (Please check out francofolie.com if you’re interested. He has Vargas prints as well.) We bought three and a fourth was thrown in as a bonus.
These prints are mainly by Gil Elvgren, a contemporary of Vargas and Petty. Both Elvgren and Vargas did commercial work, however, Vargas’ art eventually became a staple of Playboy magazine. Elvgren, to my mind, had a better sense of humor. His girls are often more clothed but in whimsical, humorous situations. I love his work and something tells me Grandpa Don would have too!

An Italian ad for a mattress. "My goodness! That certainly was a GREAT night!"
Artist: Milo Manara (Thank you, Roberto Mongardi, for your help.) If this doesn't get you to buy this mattress check your pulse. You might be dead.

"I wonder if Petey would mind giving up a few tail feathers in the interest of fashion." (Gil Elvgren)

"Oh gosh! Need to hurry and wipe before shampoo gets in my eyes!" (Gil Elvgren)

"Golly gee! Now I'm all wet!" (Gil Elvgren)
This picture, titled, "Fresh Lobster" we didn't find but will have to look for it. I love this print! (Gil Elvgren)


  1. The Internet is a wonderful world-changing thing for countless reasons. This evening I found another reason why I believe this to be so.

    This will be difficult for me to explain to you in the order in which these thoughts popped into my mind, so please forgive me.

    I used to be an active Blogger. I too love to write, and have made a living from doing so. So why don't I still write on my blog? Hmmm. I don't know, Lyn.

    One of my main passions is riding my motorcycle. Her name is Val. She loves me, and I love her. Yeah, I know that she's an object, but so be it. We have something special. About six years ago I decided that I was going to put one of my favorite pin-up artwork pieces on Val's gas tank.

    Tonight I was seeking the original picture I used to have Val's tank made into what it is today. While searching, I came across your blog with the *exact same* picture on Val, but a blonde version.

    I still like Val's redhead better, but that's not the point. The point is that I loved reading about your Grandpa Don. I had a Grandpa Don too, who sounds a lot like yours.

    Wait . . . maybe we're cousins?

    Cheers, Lyn. Thanks for the very enjoyable read. Now go drink some wine.

    -- Don

    P.S. Here's a link to Val's tank picture.

    1. Dear Don~ What a terrific note for you to leave on my blog! Thanks so much for taking the time to both read and respond.

      I have even more coincidental news for you. Are you ready? Grandpa Don was married to Grandma Val. I kid you not!

      Maybe we ARE cousins.

      Heading to your blog post next. Can't wait to see where we overlap next.

      Cheers right back atcha!