On December 3, 2010 my grandfather (Pop Pop) would have been 81. He died three years ago—two weeks before my wedding. I miss him quite a bit, and so this is for him.
Pop helping me blow bubbles
When I was growing up I was convinced that Pop probably knew everything and could fix anything in the world. He would watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every night. He was very good at Wheel and almost always guessed the puzzles before the contestants. He also read quite a bit. He always had stories about things he’d done or built or fixed. While he worked, he worked mostly as a carpenter and really could fix almost anything.
For my life, Pop was always retired and we saw him and Nana every week growing up. While Nana was and is the best cook in the family, Pop had specialties that no one else could make quite as well—cheesecake and chicken cacciatore. He went about cooking—like everything—with skill and a surprisingly gentle manner, considering what a terrible temper the man had. There are many stories of Pop losing his temper. But in all my memories of cooking and working with him he is gentle, sure, and strong.
Before I left for graduate school we refinished a children’s book case that he had built years ago. It wasn’t a hard project, but we were meticulous to remove all the old stain and paint the new on smoothly. My sneakers ended up with gobs of red-brown goo from the chemical stripper. Pop took off the cracked back and replaced it with new wood for me. That book case is in H’s room now. It’s full of board books and children’s stories that I wish he could read to her.
I am lucky to have two other pieces of his work. When Josh and I got our first apartment I looked high and low for a hallway mirror with a shelf and hooks for keys. I couldn’t find one. When Nana and Pop came to visit for the first time they brought with me the exact mirror I wanted. Pop made it special for me. I look in that mirror every day.
One of our last, maybe our very last, Christmases together I asked for an afghan stand. Pop had made one for my mom years ago. I wasn’t sure he could make it. He had already been sick for some time. But he did. On Christmas morning, after all the other gifts were opened, he and my dad brought it up from the basement. It is the one piece of furniture that I dread moving because it’s fragile, and Pop can’t fix it for me if it breaks.
There are so many things I could tell you about Pop, but here are just a few more:
He nicknamed me Pickles when I was born. He walked into the hospital room, took one look at me, and pronounced, “What a pickle!” My poor mother burst into tears. Pop, being a notorious jokester, thought it was pretty funny and kept calling me Pickles. All through my childhood I would put both hands on my hips and inform my family, “Only my Pop can call me Pickles!” I loved it. I loved it so much that when I graduated college I got a pickle tattooed on my foot. Pop was probably the only family member not mad and actually rather proud.
Both my grandparents, especially Nana, like to play cards. They taught all four grandkids to count with cards. Mom wasn’t exactly thrilled when Nana taught me Blackjack at the tender age of five or six, but I did learn to add. I remember one family get-together when the house was quiet, late in the night. The parents were in bed, but the grandparents and the grandchildren were all gathered round the dining room table playing poker. When we went on a cruise and all the grandkids were old enough to gamble, Pop presented each of us a crisp $100 bill to use in the casino. He and Nana sat with us all week while we played and gave us pointers.
On that same cruise we went to the beach on St. Maarten. Pop sat on the sand while the grandkids went in the surf. He asked us all to pose for a photo with the beautiful Caribbean water behind us (and a girl in a thong walking in front of us).
He had the rare pleasure of walking the same wedding dress both up and down the aisle. My mom wore her mother’s dress. And I wore that same dress when I got married. Pop didn’t get to see me in it on my wedding day. And he didn’t get to dance with a bride in that dress for the third time, but we know he would have loved it. He would have loved all of it.
I love you, Pop. Happy Birthday.