I’m writing to update a piece I wrote last year around Christmas.
My grandpop worked in the Budweiser brewery in the mid-1900s at a job that afforded my family many opportunities. While that job and company gave us so much, working in the factory also gave him the painful cancer that led to his death.
I was talking to a very dear friend about this yesterday, because it’s the holidays and nostalgia happens. We spoke about all of the good this job did for our family and when we got to the part about developing lung cancer, my friend stopped me and asked, “so do you think he would have done it any differently if he had to do it over again?” Probably not. Definitely not.
The designers at Department 56 Snow Village released item 55361 in 2004. They imagine the Budweiser Brew House with garland and a clock and warm, inviting lighting inside. It’s sweet. It’s scenic. It sits on my dresser all year.
My dad, ever the poet, will say this:
“Grandpop worked in the Brew House, which didn’t look quite as quaint as this. It was basically just a big industrial building with big metal tanks, and it was full of beechwood chips and cotton and asbestos and all that other shit that killed him.”
-December 15, 2018
I visited my grandpop’s final resting place a few weeks ago to let him know I was thinking of him at Christmas. I found our family name. I traced the engraving with my fingers and sat down.
I crumbled under the weight of everything I have been enduring and trying to brush off for months. It was the ecstatic relief of coming home after 15 years away and the painful realization that I haven’t been honest with myself about how much I miss him and my other grandparents. I sat on the cold, wet grass and rested my head on the tombstone and cried, like a little kid sitting in a grown-up’s lap. I surrendered to the complexity of everything in my head and heart swallowing me whole and cried harder.
His wife, my grandmother, is buried with him. She died in the mid-1980s, before I was born. I’m talking to her, too, and I miss her too. She is everything we imagine our grandmothers should be: sweet, kind, caring, fun. Maybe she was even better than all of that.
I begged them to come back to life. I asked them to take care of my family and take care of me. I asked them to show me the way.
Maybe I was asking a lot – mere mortals, etc.
They are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery for Roman Catholics in Newark, New Jersey. Many family members who came before them were already buried there when my grandmother passed in the 1980s, and it was near where my family lived.
Mount Olivet Cemetery is 600 feet away from the Budweiser factory. My grandparents sit all day and night in the shadow of the the thriving corporation that used asbestos in brewing at the peril of the bodies inside. It’s a striking juxtaposition if I’ve ever seen one and an explicit and upsetting display of corporate America’s disdain for the blue collar workers on whose backs they’re built.
I sat between them, my back to the factory, digging a little and putting in the small cross I brought with me. “There, that’s good,” I said (probably out loud) to myself. I picked myself up and carried on with my day. It’s what he would have wanted.
This is an excerpt from a larger and more complex piece still in progress, or maybe it has not been written yet, whatever.