Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Potty Dave....The Memories of My Childhood

As I may have mentioned before, that as a young child, I did not receive much encouragement or positive reinforcement from the adults in my life.  This was especially true of the adult men in my life.

For various reasons, my father was unavailable, both physically and emotionally to me.
My brothers, though not grown, were much older than 1, so I viewed them as 'nearly adults'.  And being that they were so much older, they wanted nothing to do with my little girl self, unless they were forced to.  I had the distinction of being not only a good part younger than either of them, but the double whammy of being of the opposite sex too, so they could not doubly relate to me and my world.
We were of two galaxies,  following completely different paths in our universe, made up of our parents and extended family.

Moving onto the older males in my young life to find some positive attention.....

There was my mother's father.  While I am sure he loved me, about the time I came along, he was pretty beat down by life.  He had a hard life, starting in his childhood back in the hill country of south central Virginia at the beginning of the 20th century.  He was once upon a time a creative soul who tried many many ways to eek out a living to support his family.  But his love of the bottle won out in the end every time.  He was creative and talented at music and carpentry and could build most anything without laying pen to paper first.  But he was a weak man who loved his wife fiercely but relied upon her to keep their world spinning. 

My great grandfathers on my mother's side, one had long passed on before I was even a twinkle in my parent's eyes and the other died 20 days before I turned two years.  My mother had no brothers.  She did have 10 Uncles herself(6 through her mom, 4 through her dad), plus the 7 other Uncles that her Aunts had brought into the family by marriage.  But they either all lived a 5 hours drive away back in the country or in exotic cities out of state.
My father had 1 sister who married but they lived in Massachusetts so there was little opportunity for connection with "my" only Uncle.

So there was my father's father.  My grandmother's husband.
I did not learn until well after his death in 1966, when I was 7, that he was NOT my 'real' grandfather.

I had suspected that he was an imposter when I began to notice things like last names and realized that his and Granny's last name, PAUL, was not the same as my father and our last name, BOWMAN.
I guess I was around 9 or 10 before I asked it out loud and was told that GrandPoppy was Granny's 2nd husband.  The first GrandPoppy had died they all said and Granny married again when my father was a teenager.

And in this unlikely man I found some one who truly made me feel that I was "smart, kind and important" to quote a certain film.
Let me tell you about this man named David Noll Paul.

 That's my Granny with her husband Mr. Paul and from left to right my oldest brother, my other older brother and Mr. Paul is holding me.  I am just past my 1st birthday in that photo.  We are standing on the front porch of their house.

My grandmother married him sometime between 1942 and 1949.  If I ever find the marriage certificate I'll be able confirm the date.  For now I have to go from stories told to me and rumors and the few photos I have of them.  I can say for sure that they were married in late 1949 since he is in a Christmas tree photo with my grandmother and her 2 kids and they are "Mr & Mrs Paul" in the notes on the photo.

Here is the only photo I have of them alone together.  It is dated 1956.  My grandmother would have been 47 and her husband 54 at that time.

All I knew as a kid is that he had been 'family' since before I was born so I hadn't known life without him.

Dave Paul was a  man's man.  He had a gruff, rough manner.  He didn't talk much but when he did have something to say it was usually yelled and he used naughty words.  He ate with gusto and loved Mrs. Fanning's bread and butter pickles with his sandwiches.  He drank beer too and even during the day! He would fall asleep in his easy chair and snore as loud as a thunderstorm. He smoked cigars(short stubby ones he called stogies)and he had lots of tattoos.....things like ships, hearts and hula girls down his arms and on his chest.
He had a heavy footfall when he walked about the house.  He didn't visit at our house often but we would visit at Granny's house.  There was always a chance that he wouldn't be there.
Because he worked on a boat.
A tug boat to be exact.
He was sometimes out to sea on a job.  Other times he worked in the harbor nearby or was home on a furlough.
He helped build this in the early 1960's....

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

He worked on a fleet of tugs that brought supplies, workers, etc. out onto the bay to work on this structure.

My grandmother was his first wife.  I am curious as to how they ever met and got together.  I can't comprehend that these two people ever had the occasion to move in the same social circles!
But then again, my Grandmother was a big fan of  "colorful" language so they did have THAT in common.

He was a confirmed bachelor until he married my grandmother.
And I learned from my mother, after I was grown, that he hated children.
And if there was a stronger word than hate, THAT would be how he felt about children.

He never had any of his own kids, well, at least none he ever knew about. ;-)
He couldn't stand to be around little kids at all.  He hardly had anything to do with my older brothers.
He didn't play with them, he didn't take them places. If my mother went to visit my Grandmother with her 2 boys, Dave Paul would conveniently have to leave the house for something or go take a nap.
Children were things to be endured and put up with and he wanted no part of being a Grandpa.

He detested kids....until I was born.
He thought the sun rose and set with me!
My brothers?   They hardly existed, but me?
When I was born, I became the center of the universe as far as he was concerned.

I called this man "Potty Dave".  I couldn't say Grand Poppy so it came out Potty.  My attempts at saying his name could have sounded like Shit Face, he still would have been wrapped around my little finger.

Before I started school, my mother would sometimes have my Granny babysit me during the day a couple of times a week, as she worked at my father's office when he was starting his own firm.  My brother's were in school so I spent quite a few days and evenings with my Granny Paul and Potty Dave.  Granny watched her soap operas during the day and we'd watch Potty Dave's boxing on the Philco TV at night.  Sometimes Granny would take me with her to play Bingo.  She was a serious Bingo shark and had a different hall each night figured out where she could go play.  She didn't discriminate between the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Rotary Club, the Jewish Community Center or the Policeman's Benevolent Society. 

Sometimes when my family came over to the Grandparents' house, Potty Dave would ask my mom and I to drive to the harbor with him if it was during a work day.  He would take us onto the tugboat to 'show me off' to his shipmates.  He did this until I started school.  He'd carry me on the tug and my mom said I would smile and bat my eyelashes at all those burly men and they would melt at my feet during silly things to get me to laugh.  When I was a little older and could walk and sing, I'd perform songs for them.
Mom also said I learned quick to give the ship's cook (yes, they called him "Cookie"), extra attention so he would bring up cookies and treats for me to eat from the galley.
I guess thinking about it now, this was my first audience and I was honing my acting skills from almost birth.  If I had stuck with it, I'd be a big star writing my memoirs and could entitle it "It All Started Aboard a Tug Boat!".
And I do actually have some faint memories of these trips to the tugboat from about the age of 3 onward.

Other times, we could visit my Granny Paul's house and I'd sneak over to Potty Dave and ask him if he wanted to go for a ride.
This was our 'code' for "do you want to take me to the candy store and buy me some candy?".
He'd ask my mother if it was ok to take me out in the car and we'd head up to the 7-11 for some Turkish Taffy, candy cigarettes, Mary Janes or lollipops.  I'd come back with a big paper bag in my hand and nothing for my brothers.
One of the perks of being little and having a fan, even if you aren't a pretty girl.

                  Me and Potty Dave-I'm 1.5 years old  This is the only photo I have of  him with me alone.   I wish I had that car now!

I also remember after I started school and we were working on learning to read.  We had those "Fun with Dick & Jane" books and I had mastered the first part of the book.
My mother dialed the phone so I could call Potty Dave to ask if he wanted to listen to me read to him.
I guess I was a show off even at 6 years old. lol

Of course he said ok and I sat and read the part of the book I had learned over and over again to him.
My mother said she came into the living room about 45 minutes after she had dialed the phone for me and I was still reading to him from that book.
And he was still on the line, patiently listening to Dick and Jane and Spot again and again and again.

Oh, to have someone as wonderful as this in your life!  I can't tell you how it makes my heart sing even now to remember him.
The most unlikely adult in my small world as a child who thought I was worth attention and time!
We really had a connection.

No one knows if it would have lasted or if when I grew that he would think of me as just another rotten kid.  We never got the chance to find out as he died unexpectedly in 1966 when I was 7.  I still remember my father coming to school in the middle of the day and taking me out of 1st grade.
Potty Dave died on a ship out to sea in the Middle East.
There was a funeral....I don't recall going to it.
There was a lot of crying by my Granny for awhile but then life went on.

When I actually started paying to be a member of I went searching for my Potty Dave there.
He isn't part of our family by blood, but he is one of the more precious people to me over  a big slew of the blood related kin.
You can read about what I found out about his ancestors HERE.

Anyway, among the records I found was one that cleared up the mystery surrounding Potty Dave's death.
I found his "Report of The Death of an American Citizen" Form.

It was filled out by the American Consulate in Port Said, United Arab Republic. *Egypt and Syria formed the  U.A.R. in 1958.  In 1961 Syria left the union but Egypt was still referred to as the UAR until 1971.*

He was working for the Curtis Bay Towing Company out of Norfolk, VA, aboard the TUG LAMBERT POINT. He was taken off the tug shortly before transit of the Suez Canal, meaning the tug was in the Mediterranean Sea waiting for their turn through the canal.
Cause of death.....coronary thrombosis....a massive heart attack.
March 21, 1966.
He was 63 years old.

All I know is that his death left a hole in my young life.
And my world was forever changed and not for the better.

This is my love letter to a dear precious man I knew as a young child.
I still miss him to this day.



  1. What a WONDERFUL man! I'm so glad that you had him. It is so amazing that just a little bit of time spent with a child can impact their souls soooo much!
    Thank you for sharing him and your stories with me!

    1. I just wish some other men in my life had kicked off much sooner and he had lived much longer.
      I wish everyone had someone like him in their life....

  2. I read every last word, and that was quite a story. I'm sorry it ended so horribly. I know it's not the same, but my mom was going to marry a man who was so much fun and made my life so happy, and his slim and apparently fit self (a nautical person too - strange) dropped dead at age 40-something with no warning, by himself, at home. I was 9 and those wounds don't heal, do they?

    1. Do you think sometimes we are living the same life in parallel universes?lol

  3. I am glad you had that brief time to shine for someone. My favorite aunt was married to a man I adored. He died and I grieved but we did not go to his funeral. I was too little to question why not go to the funeral. My aunt lived for years with a man who was married with children and refused to divorce him. That "uncle" seemed to adore all us children, but I got special attention because I was older, still just preschool. He is the only uncle except my mother's brother who was nice and liked children.

    However, I did not acutely feel the lack of a male who gave me attention. Mama said I was Daddt's favorite because I was the only brunette like him.

    That is a really good story, so real with the drinking, colorful language, and his real adoration of you.

    Just think about it--kids, especially teens are hard to tolerate, much less love. You must have seemed like a little angel.

    He probably had some bad experiences with other women he dated who had bratty kids.

    I do know of men I wished had died before the ones I lost early.

  4. You were lucky to have had him the time that you did. I enjoyed reading your story.


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