One minute he was standing there, smiling, and the next… it was as if I had kicked my own grandpa in the face. — I had, actually. Accidentally. With a soccer ball. At very close range. A thousand miles an hour. Straight into his nose. My own grandpa. Who came out to support my high school club team, on a chilly fall afternoon. Was it spring? The story is timeless. Despite a black eye (and I am pretty sure I did not break his nose), he would – jokingly – never let me live it down.
And then there was my sister, who wrote a school essay once about how Pop-Pop was her hero.
Somehow, he loved us both. More than we ever deserved.
Pop-Pop died yesterday morning in Lancaster, PA. Right now, I’m in LA. I could be here, or in another Universe. I couldn’t feel farther away from my family.
He passed away quickly. Unexpectedly to some of us. Because even though he was 86, I thought he would live forever. So did my sister. I want to fill this with facts and numbers about how awesome my Pop-Pop was. So you get the idea that he wasn’t just a rickety old grand-dad in a rocker who gave us hard candies when we visited and then fell asleep all day. He was Pop-Pop: Action Grandpa. And he wasn’t just mine and my cousins’ grandfather. It was like he was everyone’s Pop-Pop.
Here are my truths about him. No need to check them. They are all true.
Pop-Pop was always 65 years old, for all 34 years that I knew him. And he definitely lived for 300 years before I was born. He came to all 2,000 of my soccer games. 300 orchestra performances. Graduations from things, birthday parties. And just about everyone else’s, too. We saw him every day growing up. We had sleepovers at their house, long summer afternoons by their pool — with snacks of fresh fruit, Wheat Thins and Pop-Pop’s signature oj+cranberry+Sprite, I think it was…
He wore short shorts, high stripey socks, Nikes, a polo and a fishing hat. Or dress slacks and sweaters with button down shirts or suit jackets. He played tennis really well. He had a silver ring he never took off. He liked vanilla ice cream with peanuts or pretzels on it. Big Band. He served in the Navy on a huge ship called the USS Solomon. He played trumpet. He was a really good dancer, especially at Nissley Vineyards with a live jazz band and a cup of their white “Rhapsody In Blue”. We could call 717-285-4519 (I still know the key tones in my mind) any time and he or Ma-Ma would answer and be up for lunch, a swim, a movie — or anything, if they could. He loved to joke with us. And laugh. And he would always tell us that he loved us.
Once, on a visit back to Lancaster, my parents and I had just stopped in to see Pop-Pop and Ma-Ma at their condo. We were leaving and they walked us out to our car. We hugged goodbye and said we loved each other.
Ma-Ma said, “You know, it’s important to find someone to spend your life with.” Ma-Ma and Pop-Pop were married their entire lives. I was single at the time, and recently moved to LA… I almost melted into tears. Impossible! I said to myself.
Pop-Pop patted me on the back and hugged me, “You’re a good kid.”
My long-distance family time revolves around my phone. I found myself clutching it in both hands, when I found out Pop-Pop was in a coma on Monday.
Before I left for Puerto Rico, my Mom texted me one nite:
MOM: “Saw a show with Pop-Pop and now having dinner with him at Press Room. He says to tell you he’s glad you’re going on the trip and he misses and loves you.”
ME: “This is making me cry. I miss him so much. Tell him I love him too!”
MOM: “OK, now we’re all crying.”
The last time I saw him was this past Christmas. With a hug and his smile that made us feel like he was so happy to see us…