During this week of Christmas, in 2009, my grandfather will have been gone for nine years. He often crosses my mind now as his birthday is in October, and he passed away on December 20th.
My “pop”, as I called him, was a tough but gentle man from Calabria, Italy, who didn’t say much—but when he did speak, he did not mince words. He was unintentionally very funny, and made me laugh a lot with some of the things he said and did. Some of his opinions and theories would be seen as politically incorrect these days. That’s one of the reasons I thought he was great.
Pop had a stellar work ethic. He worked in factories during the day, and after he finished his shifts, he would go to the family restaurant to help by getting behind the bar, and working into the evening. He always did his job to the best of his ability, and if he couldn’t do something, he never had any excuses.
Because he always worked so much, he had some disdain for people that he thought were lazy, that had little regard for themselves or providing for their family. He had a way of sarcastically saying “God Bless America!!” when referring to individuals like this. In translation, it actually meant “This is the only country you can get away with acting like a lazy bastard!” I always laughed whenever he said it, because I knew he was getting wound up.
Despite that, Pop could be a very charitable man. To those same people he had a little disdain for, he would also peel off a five or ten dollar bill to them when asked—if he thought they were really down on their luck. He might not have liked laziness, but he also didn’t like to see people hurting either.
That is a lesson that I will remember from Pop: he always gave of himself, and displayed charity to those who did not have it as good as he did. He did it often, and I think he really felt compassion for others who were down on themselves.
He was also a man of simple interests. What my grandfather liked to do, outside of work and family, was watch baseball games, play a lottery ticket here and there, and eat my nonna’s fabulous cooking. He would get into an occasional game of bocce ball, and when someone he knew passed away and he had to attend a wake, for him it was a social event .
I might have given him a ride to the funeral home, but chances were I was leaving without him. He’d get driven home by someone else.
In his later years, well into his 80’s, Pop would still work at the restaurant, and because he didn’t drive a car, I would have the privilege of taking him home every night. In nice weather during the summer, occasionally we would sit on the patio behind my grandparents’ one story brick home, and listen to baseball on the radio.
The back patio would be sparse and uncluttered, with just a table and chairs, and umbrella in the middle of the table for shade during the day. The patio is still surrounded by fruit trees, and often there would be pears and cherries on the ground as there were too many to pick.
We would sit in the chairs, sip our espresso, and listen to a Yankee game on the radio, an old radio that I would perch on the sill of the open kitchen window. On those nights, I would feel like I was ten years old again because we listened to the game instead of watching it on TV.
My best memories with him include working in the same place that he worked, and eating dinner sitting next to him on a regular basis. He was ninety-two when he passed away, but his example on how to live life the right way are still fresh for me almost ten years later.
We can accomplish good, or great, things by paying attention to the lessons of the Old School, the lessons of our fathers and grandfathers. What do you recall fondly about your “Pop”?