Charlie was the “middle child.” He was born between the first born son and the baby daughter. I know, it’s hard not to begin sizing him up right there… based only on the fact that he was the “middle child.” All those stereotypical traits we’ve all heard about come rushing to mind. You know the ones; shyness, lack of self confidence, the “problem” child. Charlie exhibited all of these traits, to some degree, at different periods in his life, but I wouldn’t say he was ever defined by any of them.
To the contrary, in his teenage years, while other kids went through that “uncomfortable in your own skin,” gawky, awkward stage… he exuded charisma and self confidence. I remember I’d run to the living room window as he’d be leaving the house; and watch as he’d stop to wipe dust off his shoe and then brush away invisible lint off this pants… of course with all this primping, he’d never notice his adoring little sister, waving like a fool in the front window. One could say… his confidence boarded on narcissism, but I’d never say that! *wink*
He was always a little bit quiet and introverted, but not really shy. He knew everybody and everybody knew (and liked) him. Now, as for being a “problem child,” that one comes painfully close to being true, but more about that later…
There were 6 years between Charlie and I, so my first real memories of him start when I was about 9 or 10. Before that I have only snapshots of our childhood; the Christmas that Santa left him and Tommy “space guns” that lit up in the dark and shot out sparks when you pulled the trigger; going swimming at Bell Pond, where he’d make me stay in the “baby-pool,” while he and his friends went to dive off “The Rocks,” (where Mom specifically told him not to go!); ice skating at Green Hill Park… he was quite a good skater, while I skated mostly on the insides of my feet and my ankles!
I remember the first days of school, the three of us, all dressed up in our new school clothes, standing out in from of the house at 15A Everard Street… My Mom would line us up, frame the shot, and “click” the button. “Just one more to be sure.” she’d always say. We’d have to wait a month or so because she’d have to wait for another event to finish the roll of film. It was usually after Christmas when we get to see what we actually looked like on the “First Day of School.”
We’d walk to school together, with me having to walk the obligatory 8-10 feet behind them. Each year, just like all the others kids, I’d be filled with the hope and promise of the new school year, always thinking, “This is going to be my year!” The day would start and the teacher would begin reading names off the roster; “J. Williams?” “P. Edwards?” “R. Saksa?’ You’d then hear replies from various parts of the room, “Here.””Here.” “Here.” I’d wait and listen, until I heard, “M. Grassel?” …and just as I’d start to reply “Here,” the teacher would add, “Are you related to Charlie Grassel?” “Oh God…” I was doomed.
Even at a young age I knew Charlie had “it.” I didn’t know what “it” was, but he had “it.”
He had this quiet, brooding, self confidence that set him apart from the other kids. He was by no means an introvert, because he was quite social and everybody adored him, but he had a way of holding back, just a little… as if to give himself room to assess and evaluate the situation. He came across older and more mature than he actually was… but to me (his little sister) he was always like a young, troubled, adolescent; always screwing up, getting into trouble and then asking forgiveness… which of course, I always gave.
He is gone now. Left earlier than I ever expected. I miss him terribly.