Growing up I spent a lot of time with my mother’s father, I called him pop-pop. He was almost 76 years old when I was born, yet my childhood memories are not of an old man. He saw a doctor for the first time in his life at age 86, an eye doctor, who told him he had to quit working.
My pop-pop was a landscaper for some of the biggest estates in Chestnut Hill, a really nice area of Philadelphia. The Cliveden estate was my favorite because I could visit there often and the maid would bring me iced tea with a mint leaf which felt ever so grown up to 8-9 year old me!
I was secretly glad when he stopped working. That’s when the fun kicked in to high gear. I loved adventures and we had them!
We would take the 23 trolley then a bus to the Italian market (pop-pop was born in Calabria) where the sounds and the smells were amazing, beat only by the flavors!! Everyone handed out samples, and I gobbled them up! Cheese, salami, prosciutto, delicious tidbits.
Finally weighed down with our packages we’d hop back on the bus, then the 23 trolley back home. There, he’d make a yummy dinner for us, then we’d sit in the front room and watch Lawrence Welk. Pop-pop got hooked on the show after he had Elvis Presley on. He liked the Beatles too!
Some days we spent in the garden, where he taught me all his rules for planting. It was a very small patch of ground, less than 100 sq ft but it was very productive. I’d pull tomatoes off the vine and eat them like apples they were so sweet. He planted and harvested by the moons and I wish I’d written it all down!
He also had a fig tree I was very sorry to see go. My first solid food was figs. Mom caught pop-pop feeding it to me off his fingertips when I was 6 weeks old. She was so mad, but he didn’t care.
It was hard when he finally had to give up his house and come live with us. After a couple years he went into a nursing home.
He lived a simple but honest life, and passed in his sleep at the age of 100. It’s been 25 years but I still think of him often.
Growing up my dad was a pretty funny guy, who sacrificed and did a lot for me.
He had his one-liners he’d repeat, like when reading the paper he’d comment how interesting that everyone died in alphabetical order (I’ve later learned not all papers list them this way!). Going past a cemetery he’d say people are dying to get in there!
He was an insurance executive and frequently he and mom would go out to PR clientele. When I was young I got left home with a sitter. I asked what they ate there (I was no more than 9) and dad said “whore’s ovaries”! I no more knew what a whore was than an ovary, but I knew it was funny and it was to be kept between us. As you can imagine I can’t ever view hors d’oeuvres the same way ever again!!
When I was young we always rented a place in Beach Haven, NJ during the 3rd week of June. The only downfall was that’s generally a rainy time and it’s early in the season, Beach Haven being a northern beach point.
I don’t remember this at all, but apparently the water generally ran 55-60 degrees, past brisk and downright cold. I was a nut for the water and would spend every waking minute in it if I could. Unfortunately dad had to be in grabbing distance at all times because he would never leave me alone. Not until I got to be 8 or 9, when while I body surfed the small waves, he sat in the surf, ever ready to run to my rescue (which I never needed!).
He had his flaws, but my dad would move mountains for me.
One of his flaws was alcoholism. The first (and last) car accident he ever had while drunk banged him up and scared him. I was sitting on the front porch one day with him while he was home recuperating. He had a broken nose, several broken ribs, and banged up his right knee and leg. We’re enjoying the spring day when suddenly he sneezed!! As he sneezed he bent over and simultaneously crossed his legs. He came out of that sneeze yelling oh shit with blood coming out of his nose. He had hurt everything that was damaged!! We always laughed about it later but I think the neighbors scurried away that day!!
So my dad worked about an hour’s drive from home. A couple times a month mom would drive to the mall with me and dad would meet us there. We’d have dinner inside then come out and leave. If several people were exiting at the same time my parents would start yelling at each other across the parking lot because they were never parked close to each other. It was a game, to see who went on their way and who was nosy. Mom would say “leave me alone, I don’t know you from Adam” and dad would yell “funny that’s not what Adam says” – throwing barbs. Well one guy didn’t think it was funny, he thought it was real. And he was an off-duty cop!! Pretty soon I was crying and mom was trying to explain they’ve been married 20 years, bla bla bla.
I have to say once it was over, I was laughing again!
We went to a farmers market one time and mom asked dad to weigh a watermelon. He picks one up, it rolls right back in his arms. He plops it back in the weighing basket, it falls over the other side and explodes on the floor. We had no watermelon!
Dad was painting the living room one night (our family never started a project before 3 pm!) so he had his old ladder with a lamp on the big top step/shelf and mom’s bedroom clock radio on the bottom step both plugged in to the same outlet.
He got ready to paint another wall, but he was rather disorganized. He took the lamp down and set it on the floor. Then he moved some painting stuff. He then turns around and swings the ladder over to a new spot. Moms alarm clock flies off and lands in a million pieces. Not sure she ever forgave him!
My dad like most men of his era would never ask for directions. We went out for a regular Sunday drive, and somehow got off the beaten path and got lost. Finally it’s well past dark and my mom says “So John, do you have the vaguest notion where we are?” and dad says “Yes Helen, I know exactly where we are!”. She says where then, dad says “We are at the precise geographic middle of nowhere”.
After that trip mom started packing crackers and sweaters!
We were riding in a Toyota rental car one time, dads car he got with his job was in the shop. We never drove a foreign car before. We finish dinner and by the time we leave the restaurant it’s dark out so dad figures out the headlights. But they are on high beam. There’s no button on the floor to dim them, no book in the glove box to show how. Driving home we get lots of high beams flashed at us. Then we get flashing red and blue lights!! The cop comes over and dad explains the situation. The cop gets in the car and 5 minutes later says drive straight home and doesn’t give us a ticket. My dad always said it was the cop kept smiling at me. As I got older I found that more disturbing than endearing!!
So yeah, when he was sober my dad could be a lot of fun 😉