Dancing on My Grandfather’s Shoes

Long after her grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary in 2001, our intern Megan Ginise (age 8 in this photo) is still dancing with her grandfather, if only in memory.
Long after her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 2001, our intern Megan Ginise (age 8 in this photo) is still dancing with her grandfather, if only in memory.
I used to dance with my grandfather late at night in the kitchen as he was cooking dinner for us on the old, blackened hardwood floors. I remember Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, The Duprees, Dion, Ben E. King, and The Foundations. I remember as he would swing me around. Clumsily and with two left feet, I would stand on his shoes so we could dance properly, both food and music in the air.

My grandfather was a Korean War veteran born during the beginning of the Great Depression, eight months before the stock market crashed,on Feb. 12, 1929. Named after the 16th president of the United States, John Lincoln Chambers was born the same day as the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

He grew up predominantly in the Midwest, moving to Bowling Green, Ohio and later attending the Ohio State University, a Buckeye through-and-through. That’s where he met my future grandmother, Elizabeth Chambers, or “Big Red” as she was called for her fiery auburn hair, which also most aptly described her personality.

As I reminisce, age and memory fades. There are still glimpses that I have of my grandfather. Undoubtedly, I miss him every day. He passed away in March of 2010; it has been five years now since the loss of a man I cared for so much. But memory reminds me only of the happy times, the memories of a man I continue to love.

Denny Tedesco, left, with his father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, back in the day. Via Magnolia Pictures.
Denny Tedesco, left, with his father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, back in the day. Via Magnolia Pictures.
Filmmaker Denny Tedesco, who directed the documentary “The Wrecking Crew,” which Filmworks will screen May 8, pays tribute to his father, Tommy Tedesco, the legendary guitarist and a member of The Wrecking Crew. A film 20 years in the making, the movie champions a group of musicians, and it pays tribute to a man greatly missed by his son, as we all miss loved-ones lost. It speaks of the power of music, the power of love, and above all the importance of memory and the maintenance of our own identities in the reflection of others.

Through music, I remember my grandfather, his cooking, his laughter, and his garden, which brought him so much joy. I remember trips across the neighborhood giving tomatoes and corn, or whatever we had, to our neighbors, bringing joy and community through food, through music, through love.

“The only reason this film is here, the only reason I lasted this long, is my father taught me so much. He taught me patience. The last man standing at the end wins,” Denny Tedesco wrote of his late father.

I stand in my grandfather’s kitchen alone now, and I remember him, how he taught a scared, 12-year-old little girl how to drive his old truck down rural Fresno County roads. He was a collegiate track star and a football and wrestling coach at my old high school for more than 20 years. He was a teacher, a mentor, a man of God and a representation of a lost age for me. He wasn’t a member of the unsung heroes in The Wrecking Crew, of course. But to me he was my personal unsung hero. While Tedesco’s film took 20 years in the making, I write these words now, an online memorial for the digital age, soon lost to the flood of immediacy and information.

I will continue to remember my grandfather’s music, Denny’s father’s music. Born a year after my grandfather, Tommy Tedesco’s music connects us all, strangely separated by time and space, but all reunited by the sounds.

My grandfather used to have a small field where he toiled in the soil, a plot big enough to sustain more than enough food for my family to consume, and yet small enough for my grandfather to maintain on his own — with my intermittent help when he could steal me away from school or friends. I always wish I had more time, more words, more wisdom to be garnered. He taught me the importance of doing good for other people, of finding what you love and pursuing it wholeheartedly. He grew life from nothing, he nurtured life from the ground, and he nurtured me, as we listened to musicians like Denny’s father on my grandfather’s truck’s radio. Tommy was there too.

It’s strange. This man I’ve never met, never known or would’ve known had Filmworks not fallen into my life, and yet here we are, connected through years by the legacy of memory, of music.

On May 8, I’ll invite my grandmother to come see Denny’s film about his father, and I will save an extra space for my grandfather. I know that he would’ve enjoyed it. I will sit inside the historic Tower Theater, built only 10 years after my grandfather was born, and I will stand at the end, imagining that I’m still dancing on my grandfather’s shoes.

Megan Ginise studies journalism and public relations at Fresno State. She currently serves as the Filmworks marketing intern.