Pop and me at Tweetsie, circa 1982
We don’t all have the good fortune to have great role models. I had a lot of exceptional women around me, but there weren’t many examples of how a man should be. For the first 12 years of my life, I did have my Pop. Although he’s been gone for quite a while, I think of him often.
This is what I can tell you about my Pop. He was a doting husband, father and grandfather. He was always so sweet and sincere to my Granny. My grandparents had a real love story. I still have letters that he wrote my grandmother through the years from first dating to long married. When I think about a happy marriage, I think of them. They laughed a lot and were always very affectionate. I’m sure they didn’t agree on everything (she was a Democrat; he was a Republican), but I never heard either say an unkind word about the other.
My mom was a daddy’s girl. She was much closer to him than my grandmother. It wasn’t until after his death that my mom and grandmother became close. My mom loved sports and was very athletic, which meant she had more in common with my grandfather. My Pop even played minor league baseball when he was younger. After being wounded in WWII (he was shot in the hip and received a Purple Heart), he was never the same physically. He and my mom watched a lot of sports together and were always talking about the Yankees or the Redskins, depending on the season.
To become this eventual great man, my Pop had to go through a lot. He lost his parents and younger brother in an accident at a young age. Only he and his older brother survived. They were then raised by his grandmother. I don’t recall him ever talking about this to me. I’m not sure how old he was when this happened, but I’m sure it shaped him forever. It led him to be thankful and grateful for life. He always seemed to convey this with his smile and kind nature. I’m sure he never got over it. And that’s why I’m glad in a way that he passed when he did. He would have been devastated to watch my mom go through her illness. It literally broke my grandmother’s heart; I’m sure it would have done the same to him.
What I remember the most about my Pop was the time we spent together. He often picked me up from school and took me to dance class. He had this green Hornet that I can still picture. It was easy to spot! When I would visit, he always had time to play with me. We’d set up Monopoly or play banker. He would often tell me ghost stories, which fed my hungry imagination. As I got older and started writing, I’d read my stories to him.
He always smelled like aftershave and tobacco. After he passed, my grandmother held onto many of his clothes for a while. I’d sometimes go in the closet and smell them so I could somehow feel him around me.
My Pop was never really sick. He did have Parkinson’s. I remember his shakes and tremors. But I was never fearful. Eventually he had to stop driving, but he was never feeble. He passed one night in his sleep. It was my first death. I was 12. I didn’t really understand it all. Until I went to my grandparents house, and he wasn’t there. My Granny certainly brought a lot of life and joy into their home. But it was never the same after Pop passed. His kind eyes and sweet voice were such a big part of my experiences in that home.
My Pop was an amazing man. I wish I knew or remembered more about him. There’s no one to really ask anymore. I suppose what’s important is the feeling I have when I think of him: love, safe, peaceful. He was the greatest man I knew. He shaped my life a lot in the 12 years I knew him, and I’m so very glad for that.