Hardie Gramatky's Story

The Early Years

Hardie was born in Dallas, Texas, on April 12, 1907, and he died of cancer of the ileum on April 29, 1979. In between, he lived a life that was full of creative work and play. His family's roots were in Germany and Bohemia, then part of the Austrian Empire, and perhaps the Ukraine as well. His paternal grandparents immigrated to Texas in 1872. His maternal grandfather, General Rudolph Gunner, had had a fascinating life as a personal confidante of Maximilian, and he escorted Queen Carlotta from Mexico back to Austria in 1867 after Emperor Maximilian was killed. Hardie's maternal grandparents and his mother moved to Texas in 1885. When Hardie was ten, his father, Bernhard Gramatky, died of tuberculosis, and his mother, Blanche Gunner Gramatky, moved with her three sons (Hardie was in the middle) to live with her sister in California, settling in South San Gabriel near Los Angeles. My father’s real name was Bernard August Gramatky, but in the 1950s he had it legally changed to Hardie Gramatky because that was always how he had been known. And no, it was never spelled Hardy!

The pronunciation of Gramatky sometimes throws readers, but as a young child I made a word picture out of my last name and no one had trouble with it after that. I’d just say, “It’s like a gray mat on the floor, and under the mat is a key. Gray-mat-key.” Oh well, at least it prevented pronunciations like Gray-mat-ski.

Out in South San Gabriel, California, Hardie's aunt cooked nutritious foods for the three boys - raising squabs and vegetables in the backyard - and my mother said that "when they were little, Aunt Mimi wanted to keep them all very healthy (because of their father's TB) so she added a screen porch to the house and the boys slept out there." Money was scarce in their family, so Hardie's aunt would send Hardie to Alhambra High School with a lunch of carrots and raisins. I can remember his describing how he would see a vendor with a tamale cart outside the school, and as he ate his homemade lunch, he'd imagine that those carrots and raisins tasted like the best tamale ever. Later in his life he would create Little Toot, the story of a small tugboat who used imagination to great advantage. Hardie probably got the idea from the way he'd always appreciated what his imagination could do.