Monday, August 17, 2009


St. Louis Place
Thursday afternoon


My grandfather was a writer.

Well actually, he was a cop in San Francisco for most of his career. But really, he was a writer. I spent hundreds of foggy San Francisco mornings with him throughout my childhood, flying kites at the Marina Green, buying breadsticks on Chestnut Street and taking naps in his arms to the sound of foghorns in the distance.

He lived in the same Francisco Street house for 50 years. He proposed to my grandmother in the front room, the same front room with the wet bar and record player. I’d tie all of my grandmother’s kitchen aprons around my waist, creating a twirly skirt while I danced to “Come On-A My House” by Rosemary Clooney.

When I think of San Francisco, I don’t think of my neighborhood or my jobs or the incredible parking places I’ve stumbled upon. I think of my grandfather marrying my grandmother at St. Vincent de Paul Church, my father’s stories of police cruisers lining the block during dinner parties. I think of shopping for groceries at the Marina Safeway and my gramps knowing all of the checkers’ stories.

“How’s your son who plays the violin?!?!”

My grandfather used to sing to me. He’d buy me a fresh box of crayons and proudly display all of my art, including a hastily drawn cover of TIME Magazine, proclaiming, “Spotswood First Woman President.” That magazine cover was up for years. I’d see it hanging on the door of a closet as a teenager, starting to fall apart and wonder why the hell he kept it up there.

My grandfather’s license plate holder said, “Happiness is being a grandparent.” He’d drive me everywhere, to tap class and swim practice. I’d emerge from school to find him in his parked Buick asleep in the driver’s seat, a bag of breadsticks on the seat beside him. In high school, I’d tearfully call him on dreadful days, desperate for a ride out of that hell hole. He’d drive out to the Sunset, pick me up, hand me a breadstick.

Everyone thinks their grandpa tells incredible stories. And I think it’s really great that they think so. But my grandfather was a Lieutenant in the San Francisco Police Department during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. And he wrote it all down, in letters to my father while he was in the Army. And in letters to me in college.

My grandfather wrote me a letter a day the entire time I was in college. Often times he’d write about his knee problem, his friends at Safeway or his crazy neighbor who wouldn’t bank at a certain branch because a woman was the manager. He’d include whatever cash he had on him. I’d stand in my college mailroom and open a letter containing $7. And each letter would be signed, “I love you very, very, very much.”

I called him “Da.”

He loved jazz music and my grandmother’s pasta and sweeping the sidewalk in front of his house. My grandfather wore hats and cardigans with elbow patches. They’d make me breakfast, Da convincing me that the chickens had arrived at the break of dawn to deliver the eggs and a cow stopped by to drop off some milk. Da had traveled the world in the Navy, writing my grandmother letters the entire time. He wasn’t allowed to tell her where he was, so they developed a code. If Da wrote that he’d seen “Frank Sullivan” that meant he was in Japan. I found the whole thing very romantic. When I asked my grandmother, my Nonie, what ever happened to the letters, she said she burned them.

“Sad memories.”

My grandfather was in loud love. He said it a lot, every day, every opportunity. He loved my grandmother, my father, my brother, this city. He thought anyone who lived in San Francisco and had never walked across the Golden Gate Bridge was nuts. He laughed and he argued and he was always stopping at a mailbox.

Because while my grandfather could not have been prouder of being a San Francisco Police Officer, a husband, a father, a “Da,” trust me when I tell you, the man was a writer.


The rest of Beth's photo shoot can be seen here.

The amazing Beth Spotswood can be found in many places around the city, but you'll spot her online at her column on SF Gate: Culture Blog!, See Spot Write for SF Appeal, and the always hilarious I'll Flip You. Flip You For Real.


KG said...

This was absolutely beautiful and lovely. I'm weeping a little in my cube...

~K said...

I love your grandfather and I will never meet him. I wish we could all be like him though!

Be_Devine said...

Beth is as gorgeous as her writing. And if you weren't a little verklempt reading that beautiful story, check for a pulse.

Cali said...

This was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read anywhere. I brought back so many memories of my own much beloved grandfather.

Kate said...

I really love this story of your Da. It made my heart warm and my eyes teary... thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that beautiful story about your grandfather.
Mine just passed away earlier this year, and your story just made me miss him a little more.

Stacey Debono said...

This is sooo heart warming!! My kids' great grandfather, who passed two years ago, was also an SF cop during that time...what awesome memories you brought back from such a wonderful time in my most favorite part of the world.... Thanks so much for sharing!! :)))

Anonymous said...

You are such an amazing writer.

robin bird said...

dear beth,
i don't even know you and this made me tear up just imagining the love that was in your life and to this day in your heart. wow!