My grandfather passed away last weekend, and I’ve had quite the hard time coming to acceptance with it. He was always such a quiet man. Always deep in concentration, full of knowledge, serious in tone – until it came to sports of course. He knew everything and anything and was always willing to discuss the matters of any current game (and I mean any – soccer, football, tennis, baseball, basketball, swim, etc. – you mentioned it, he knew it). His home was my second home, and still is. As a child I spent my weekends running through the yard chasing the dogs, smashing my feet into the fallen blackberries, and then jumping into the pool, my toes covered in black. I could hear my grandpa yelling from the stoop, “damnit Alex, use the hose!”
I loved him so dearly and I was his baby. He taught me how to whistle, shuffle cards and play endless games of solitaire. Make homemade macaronis.
That’s always what he was to me. My beloved grandfather who never had much to say, loved sports, playing cards, his Sunday softball games, Italian cold cuts and pasta, and hanging with his pals at the local convenient store. And I always thought for sure that that’s who he was. And unconditionally I loved every bit of him.
When he passed, old pictures came out, stories, memories. While flipping through the box of 200 pictures he took at about age 24 during his time stationed in Germany in the 50s, I got to thinking that the man with the huge grin in those pictures wasn’t the one I ever knew. He was laughing, dancing with friends, taking in the sun at a camp on station. My grandmother gave me his uniform from war with “Absi” sewn at the pocket. The same exact shirt he was wearing in the pictures. I held that uniform so tight and all I could do was weep. I breathed it in, rubbed it against my face. It’s been sitting in the closet for nearly 50 years, but I still wanted to feel like I was feeling the man in those pictures; I was feeling my grandpa’s soul. I loved everything he was so much, but everything I knew he was for the past 20 years I was alive was not even half of what he ever was. All those times we spoke on the phone and never knew quite what to say, the silence during Family Fued. I only knew the last twenty years of his life and I let the 60 others get away. I wanted to hear his stories; what the sun felt like on his face in Germany, what his friends were like, if they still spoke, what life was like for him at my age in his time.
I’ve carried those pictures with their sweet inscriptions on the back with me everywhere since I’ve had them, and can’t let them go. Because believe it or not I feel like I’ve met a new man that I’ve never known in those pictures and their writing, and I’ve grown to love my grandpa even more than I thought I could.
But it’s too late. And my heart breaks. And losing him hurts even more now than I imagined possible. I didn’t just lose my grandpa, I lost the man in those pictures. I lost the adventure, the lifetime, and all of those silent moments while sitting next to his hospital bed to ever know what his whole life was really like.
So if your grandparents are still around, always try and remember that they had a life before you were born. I know that that sounds so ignorant and mean to think that we as people only can think of others living in the time that they were involved in our lives, but it isn’t. And it isn’t that I, or anyone else who never knew their 15-30 year old aged grandparents lives weren’t interested, or are too busy with our own lives, it’s just sometimes, in the heat of our current society, we never think to ask, or realize to learn the history that is within the people in our very own homes. So don’t ever forget to ask them. Their wisdom and experiences can warm your soul.
Now granpy, I know you aren’t technologically savvy, and you haven’t used a computer in most likely 5 years, but here are my questions for you (I’ll read them out loud – maybe you will hear me from heaven):
-What meal that your mom/dad cooked when you were a kid was your favorite?
-What was the neighborhood like when you first built the house?
-I love the 50s. What was your favorite song from then?
-Did you play baseball in high school?
-Why did you join the army?
-What’s your favorite memory from your time enlisted?
-I’ve seen all of your beautiful pictures. Did you want to be a photographer?
-How was Germany? What was it like after Hitler?
-Did you ever think about leaving RI?
-Who taught you how to whistle?
-What kind of car did you drive in the 50s?
-you lived in the time of Audrey Hepburn, JFK and Marilyn Monroe. What did you think of them?
-What smell reminds you of home?
-what’s your favorite memory?
I know you can’t answer me, but just know that I wanted to know.
And lastly granps,
I love you more than you ever knew. You were a fighter.