He was 17 years old when he fought in Korea, a boy in a Marine's uniform.
Later he sandpapered off his own tattoos that he got while 'on peninsula.' I can only hope he was on pain meds from one of his many back surgeries, an injury possibly sustained in war.
The night before his wedding to my beauty queen grandmother he got in a fight. I suppose they put makeup on his black eye, but you can't hide the swelling in photos.
He was a big, looming man with black hair and a scary grin. Sometimes he'd just let his gap-toothed smile go, making his whole face kinda round. My mom's got the same smile.
Fear and respect were the same thing to him.
He'd say, "I wish I was rich instead of so damn good lookin'." This always made me laugh- he was handsome, a few times confused for Elvis back in both their heydays. And he was smart. His mind never stopped. Never.
My dad remembers going to tell him that my mother, smack dab in the middle of her teen years, was pregnant. Grandpa was fixing a fence on their Montana mountain property where they raised hogs. He was hammering and hammering, even as my dad approached saying at least a few times, "Uh, Mr. Rutledge I need to talk to you." He stopped what he was doing but held onto that hammer, "You're gonna marry her." Nothing else was said.
He was raised rich, and the rest of his life he spent looking for ways to get back to it. He was a realtor in LA in the early 60s. Later moving to Montana once he had enough kids for "kid power"- his euphemism for child labor. He became a boxing coach when my strapping uncle was old enough and big enough to possibly make him rich; his protege made it all the way to the ring at Caesar's Palace. His surprise inheritance, the last of the oil money, he blew in two years living large around the world. He was also an artist, able to carve wood with his chainsaw; I watched QVC sell his bear cubs, but it chewed him up that my uncle (who'd long since put his boxing gloves down) was innately talented and, frankly, much better at carving. He went on to be a painter, not making much money but damn if his paintings aren't beautiful.
When I was 6, he taught me a little sleight of hand game where you miscount your fingers so you always come up to 11; I enjoyed it then and I've made my nieces and nephews giggle when I tell them they have an extra finger. He also went through a brief period of calling me when I was a younger teen, I didn't quite know what to say and he always kinda scared me. The last time I saw him, I was visiting Montana in 2005. I stopped at his little place, small and depressing on the outside but organized and cozy on the inside. He still scared me, even though he was being affable and seemed delighted with my visit. His hearing so bad that he spent most the time saying what and me being too self conscious to yell loud enough to be heard.
6 foot-something, at least 200 pounds, 76 years old, he'd had cancer and heart attacks- and then one more. He was the terror of my mom's childhood but this is still a deep loss for her.
My heart hurts for my mom, and for the boy before he was the man too mean to die.
(originally posted June 26, 2011)