Paul Leo VilleMonte was my father’s maternal grandfather
Paul Leo VilleMonte
By George Schultz
My Grandfather, Paul Leo Ville Monte (who Grandma often called “Leo”) was born in the mid- or late-1880s. He passed away in 1946.
From as long back as I could remember, Grandpa Ville Monte’s gruff exterior made me quake in my shoes. It took me a long time to figure out that – before he’d screened in the massive front porch on the “Dog House”, in which he lived with Grandma – he’d put a swing in his front lawn. He ran a clothesline from the swing to his favorite rocker, on the porch – and would pull me, while I was in the swing.
It took me much too long to realize that Grandma would never have invited me out to the lake – all those many glorious weekends – had Grandpa not wanted me out there. He took me fishing – virtually every day that I was out there.
No matter where I was – at the “Dog House” or out at the lake – my memory (surely very exaggerated) had Grandpa and I “jockeying for position”, when it came time to kiss him goodnight.
He’d be seated in his chair – no matter which one (he had three or four favorites) – and I would make multiple approaches, the better to get my lips to his cheek, before he could get his lips to my cheek! Whoever “won” gave the other a big fat, wet, “Phhhhhfffffttttt”! I think I “won” more often than he did. Something tells me that “the fix was in”.
When my sister, Dee, came along, she became the apple of his eye – although he never slighted any of the rest of us grandkids. He always called her “Dirty Butt”. She’d climb up into his lap and put curlers in his hair, comb his hair into outrageous “do’s”. I think it was when I could see how far Dee could go in “dolling him up”, that it began to occur to me that Grandpa’s bark was much worse than his bite.
Unfortunately for Dee, Grandpa and Grandma sold the cottage at Runyon Lake – before she became old enough to enjoy it. That cottage was more a blessing to me than to her.
Though Grandpa had dropped out of school in the 3rd or 4th grade, he became chief superintendent of Cooper Construction Company – as a very young man. He built the huge Veteran’s Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan. He also built the beautiful Shrine of The Little Flower, in Royal Oak, Michigan – as well as a number of other buildings inside Detroit. The only one I can think of – off the top of my head – is the Heinz 57 building, on Livernois. The results of his many years of construction expertise were numerous, though. I can’t remember him ever missing a day’s work.
I remember being amazed: Grandpa loved brown suits. I do remember seeing him in a blue or grey suit – but, a miniscule number of times.
In the eighties, every time I heard some pundit putting down President Reagan – for his brown suits – it always made me think of Grandpa Ville Monte.
What was incredible to me was the fact that – invariably – during the rainy season, he would come home with mud splattered all over his brown suit. I could never – in my entire life – recall seeing so many suits being so thoroughly caked with mud!
I cannot imagine how many brown suits he must’ve had. Surely, Grandma had to have sent the mud-laden suits to the cleaners. He always wore a clean suit to work. He never left the next morning with mud on his brown suit.
He was crushed when Mr. Cooper asked him to resign! This was in the early-forties. He was succeeded as chief superintendent by his son – my Uncle Paul.
After being “between jobs” for a few months, he accepted the position of chief superintendent for Campbell Construction Company.
He enjoyed his employment there, but I don’t know that he ever built anything as significant – or as memorable – as the hospital or the shrine. If memory serves, he was working for Campbell when he passed away – albeit on a very reduced schedule.
Grandpa shot a pretty good stick with the bottle – as long back as I can remember. Most nights, he would down three or four shots of booze – straight! He’d make such a face – until he scoffled down the “chaser”! His face would contort – almost to where it resembled that of the “beer-faced best man” in that beer commercial.
I’d ask him: “How can you drink that stuff … if it’s that rotten?” He’d always answer, “See? And you thought that I was enjoying it.”
Every night, he’d fall asleep in his chair (the overstuffed one in the living room or the wicker rocker on the porch). Always, the card table was in front of his chair. Grandma never took down the card table. When he was awake, he’d play Solitaire – for hours.
Grandma always served dinner on the card table – wherever it might have been. Sometimes, they’d play rummy (especially, if Grandpa had brought home a gallon of “Dago Red” wine – when the “stakes” would be a small glass of the wine).
Grandpa had a goose-necked lamp on the nightstand by the bed – in the bedroom. Also, there was the ever-present pulp Western-fiction book – and a box of Ludens menthol cough drops. I’d been known to snitch a cough drop or two. Or three or four.
He’d wake up in the middle of the night, roll over on his right side, snap on the lamp – and read a Zane Gray epic for awhile. He’d make a trip to the bathroom every now and then – wearing his standard, woolen, striped, nightshirt.
In 1944 or 1945, he came very near death! His appendix ruptured – and wound up blocking his bowel. (Probably more than you’d want to know about Grandpa – but, it is rather significant.) He, apparently, had symptoms which indicated everything else but a ruptured appendix. Dr. Clarence E. Thompson – who had delivered my sister Dee, and who would deliver my own Dave, Doug, Dan and Hogan – diagnosed the condition.
He wasn’t sure of his diagnosis – and called in a specialist. After an awfully tricky operation – especially for that epoch – the specialist told Grandpa that he owed his life to the diagnostic expertise of Dr. Thompson.
It would be two or three weeks before he was “out of the woods”.
Grandpa had strict orders to stay away from the bottle. (He was also warned to “stay away from short circuits” – as Grandma would say. They’d wired his intestines together – with actual metal wire. Unheard of in those days. But, the wire could be a conductor of electricity, so he did have to be careful.)
He did well for the first six or eight months, after his lengthy stay in the hospital. But, sadly, he wound up slipping back into his old habits – booze-wise.
It was not long after that, when he passed away. I forget what the official cause of death was. I probably didn’t even know. But, I did hear Dr. Thompson tell my mother, “You know what killed him”.
I think Grandpa Ville Monte was one of the few people who – except for the last couple years that he was with us – knew how to enjoy life. He worked hard – but, he played hard. Lived life to its fullest. He was a good, a loyal, a hard-working, man.
And a kind, generous, man – although he’d have you think differently.