As I traveled to Las Vegas this weekend for a much-needed break, I came to the realization that I could not go home until I made a visit to two places. One is the Circus Circus Casino and two, the house on Gilmary Avenue in Las Vegas. This post is actually about my Grandfather, the man who made a huge impression on me and has created the person I am today. Here is a little history about my Grandfather.
My Grandfather was born in Nebraska and was the “favorite” of the family. From what I have been told, my Great Grandmother doted on every word, action and deed that my Grandfather did. He met my Grandmother in high school (I still have the yearbook that is the size of a small book) and shortly after graduation, he married my Grandmother. They were madly in love. His first job was a butcher at a local butcher shop until he was called to fight in WWII. My Grandfather was a Marine and was shipped to the Philippines. My Grandfather received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for saving two of his buddies who were injured during an ambush by the Japanese while being injured himself. I have heard that he was a “tough son-of-a-bitch” as a Marine.
Upon his return from service, my Grandparents moved to Nevada (Fallon specifically) and had three children. One of those children was my Father, as you have heard in my earlier blog post. My Grandfather was not the best parent and did not share love with my Father and his Brothers as they needed. My Grandfather had changed upon his return from WWII, in more ways than one. My Grandfather worked as a butcher for a while longer upon his return but grew tired of the demands of the job. He wanted to do something different. The career path he chose: Gaming i.e., Casinos. Unfortunately, with the gaming industry came the lifestyle. My Grandparents got divorced and my Grandfather stayed in Nevada. He married two more times, before he settled with his third and last wife. My Grandmother moved to Sacramento with my Father and Uncles, got remarried to a total reject alcoholic. However, Mom and Dad met at the DMV office here in Sacramento and here I am.
My Grandfather worked at a few small time casinos until he settled in at the Sahara in Lake Tahoe. I can remember as a small child traveling up Interstate 80 with my parents to go visit my Grandfather. He had a home literally at the base of the lake. When it had snowed, it was so cold but I loved to make the snowmen and enjoy spending time on a disc being towed by my Grandpa. It was at the Sahara that I met Ann Margaret as a small child. I have a photo of Ann Margaret and I in a booth at the Sahara. I thought she was BEAUTIFUL.
When I got a little bit older my Grandfather was offered a job as a Pit Boss at the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas. I remember that my parents would put me on a plane (Hughes Airlines – remember the Yellow Banana?), and I would spend every single summer in Las Vegas. Those were good times. My Grandfather showed me the love that he never showed his own children. I think that is why my Father is the way he is now. See my earlier blog post in December. My Grandfather spoiled me. While he was working up the ranks from Pit Boss to an Assistant V.P. at Circus Circus, he taught me a lot of things. He taught me how to make a Seagram’s VO and water, with a little bit of ice. He would tip me $100 bills per drink. I always thought they were $1.00 bills until my parents visited on summer with me. They were not happy with that one.
My Grandfather had a bunch of friends named “Tony” or “Michael” or “Vincent” or “Frank.” He would take me to the Leaning Pisa Restaurant (which back in the DAY was a mob restaurant) and I would eat spaghetti. My Grandfather taught me the proper way to eat spaghetti, which is a fork and a spoon of course. After dinner we would cruise Fremont Street and let me watch the lights, which I was fascinated by. My Grandfather had a penchant for baby blue Cadillac’s with white interior. I recall he owned four of them. He would take me to the end of the runway at McCarren Airport (before it became “International”) and we would watch the planes take off and land. I loved it. He would take me shopping or take me to the midway of the Circus Circus and I got to play any games I wanted all day long. With my Grandfather, it was always an adventure. I met Joan Rivers at the MGM one week before the MGM caught on fire. I remember waking up and peeking over the fence: the casino smoke went for miles.
My Grandfather taught me how to play cards. You name it: Blackjack, Poker and countless other games. He taught me too well. One day when I was fourteen, I thought my Grandfather was in bed. I decided to take a taxi with the friend I had made for the summer down to Circus Circus. Now, when I was fourteen – I looked much older. I headed for the Blackjack table. I started to play and I was actually winning. I looked up and my friends eyes got really big. I asked her “What is wrong with you?” At that moment, I felt a huge pull on my ear. Yes, it was my Grandfather. He had seen me on camera playing. He literally dragged me out of the pit, down the hall (yes by my ear) out to the front of the casino. He called a taxi and he said to me, “Do you know what type of people come here?” I said, “no?” He said (and I will never forget it), “Losers, Pimps and Hookers, which one are you?” I said, “none of those.” He threw me in the cab and I hid in my bedroom for three days. I learned a valuable lesson. I never became addicted to gambling, ever.
My Grandfather was always there for me. He taught me right from wrong, street smarts and to never become someone’s dummy. He was a strong force which made me who I am today. My Grandfather passed away in 1985, 6 months before I graduated from high school. My Grandfather died of Brain Cancer. He smoked cigars for over 25 years and I am convinced those things killed him. You can imagine how devastated I was not only by his death but by my Father refusing to fly to Las Vegas to his own funeral. I never ever forgave my Father for that….ever.
This weekend I went to the Circus Circus and played all the games and won a bunch of stuff animals. I know, I am 42 but it brought me right back to all the memories I had with my Grandfather. I walked the casino floor, and had to buy a Circus Circus T Shirt. Just to be close to him I guess. After the casino, the search began for finding his home. I had to buy a map and try to track where his house was in proximity to the strip. I actually found it. Gilmary Avenue. When I got closer and closer, just a flood of emotions. How happy I was to be nearby. Here was the real shocker, the windows changed but the house was still yellow. The house is now for sale, which just floored me. If I had the money, I would pick it up in a heartbeat. I love that house and the memories it stirred in me. I feel very lucky to have had that man in my life and the lessons I learned. I really miss my Grandfather.