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A Tearful Goodbye

GrandpopIt’s cliche, to be sure, but when my sister’s picture popped up on my phone at work, I knew something was wrong.  And in an instant, a key figure in my life and the lives of the people I know and love suddenly was gone – my Grandpop had passed away.  It was and is devastating to me, as losing a grandparent is to anyone. It weighs on me, and I find myself at those odd times of reverie conjuring up random bits of memories about him, then feverishly trying to hold onto those memories, desperate not to lose them to the haziness of time.  It’s a losing battle, and it’s heartbreaking.  But while I still have the clarity, I can share some of those memories with you.

My grandfather was a fascinating man.

When I was a kid my parents would take us over to their house for holidays, or just to visit.  I remember one of the first things we used to do was head down into the basement to see what Grandpop was up to.  He was astoundingly good with his hands – he designed and built from scratch the house that they lived in – and the basement was his sanctuary.  He was always working on something, whether it be additions to the workbench he built, re-wiring the electricity in the house, or just crafting unique objects because they interested him at the time – he spent months just experimenting with different kinds of wood joints, and months more crafting different varieties of crosses.

He spent the war years in the Navy, and came out of it with a taste for the strongest coffee I’ve ever known.  He’d always take the empty cans and re-use them in his workshop to hold nails and screws.   He loved math – we’d always get him books on various aspects of it, and he’d invariably show up at holiday dinners with equations for us to solve.  He was also fond of the German language, and my birthday cards from him were always in his distinctive script, and littered with German words and phrases.  I still have a few of them somewhere.

I think he just loved to learn, a trait that my father certainly inherited and has taken up in his own retirement.  Grandpop always came to family gatherings armed with interesting items he had read (often with the Wall Street Journal article in hand), or the latest diagrams he had been tinkering with.  I remember recently I gave my father an old telegraph tapper for Christmas – I thought it was neat and thought he’d get a kick out of it.  He lent it to my grandfather and the next time I was home, I was treated to an extensive diagram of how the thing worked.  He and his friend had hooked it up and made this 60 year old tapper work again, just to figure it out.

One of my favorite stories about him is with his cars.  When I was growing up he tooled around town in an powder blue Oldsmobile.  After my grandmother died, he continued driving, despite having a newer model (probably late 80s) parked in the garage.  Eventually the area around the wheel wells started to corrode.  Ditch the car for the new one, right?  Instead he covered the rusted parts with more than several layers of duct tape, adding a silver sheen to rear quarters of his car.  We dubbed it the “Duct Tape Mobile.” He drove that car for years until it finally gave up the ghost.  The other car?  It was parked in the driveway the day he passed away.

He loved going to the Phillies games – for years my father would pick him up on Sundays with one or two of us kids in tow and travel downtown via the subway to watch the team.  We’d always pack a lunch in the cooler, but he always had a paper or plastic bag with him.  My father finally broke down and bought him a Phillies lunch bag – I don’t know for sure if he ever used it though.  I remember sitting in the back of the car heading to many a game while my father and Grandpop would chat away, Grandpop steering the conversation from one tangent to the next, trying to cover all the interesting things he had in his head.

The last time I was at his house was to introduce him to Justine.  Deep into retirement and my grandmother having been gone for so many years, it was a vast array of newspapers, books, the aforementioned crosses, and thousands of other trinkets and ephemera that he had collected over the years.  My wife had never really talked with him one on one before, and he regaled us with tales of his youth, and about building the house.  He gave us a tour, showing her the aforementioned basement, and the curious design decision of putting the washer and dryer in the kitchen.  Then we took a picture with him, his grandson, and great grand daughter.  It is one of the fondest memories I have of him, and we are so grateful that Justine got to, however briefly, sit in his arms.

I guess the hardest thing for me to accept is that Justine will never get to know her great grandfather in the ways that I did – to her he may end up being just another face in a large collection of photos from the first months of her life, another “who’s that, Daddy?” as we someday look through those memories together.  I know how she feels – my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away when I was two years old, and to this day I know very little about her, her life, and what impact she had on everyone she knew.  I don’t want my daughter to miss out on the amazing man that her great-grandfather was.

So I will tell her.  I will tell her as many of the stories that I can remember, show her the trinkets he created out of wood, the birthday cards, and drive by the house he built.  And I will prod my parents, and my family to tell her their tales of him, who he was, and what he meant to them.  I want to help her fill the gap, to connect her to this man that meant so much to us, so that she too can, in some way, know him as we did.

Rest in peace, Grandpop.  We’ll miss you.

Posted in Day to Day Baby Living.

  • Karin Clark

    Great job, Mark. You summed it all up – he was a great man, and we’ll all miss him. Thanks

  • Daddy Files

    I’m new to the blog but this is a great post. You’re a wonderful writer and your style is engaging. I enjoyed hearing about Grandpop, thanks for sharing.