Kim in Baltimore watching the snow falling…again!
February is a month many people think about hearts and love. Love isn’t always easy to find and a lot of us take for granted the love we receive. I think this may be especially true when it concerns family. I was raised in my grandparents home. Well, really it was Nana’s house, she allowed Pop-Pop to live there and wouldn’t let my father leave. I’m not complaining, I had a wonderful and happy childhood. I lived with four people who watched my every move more closely than Kennedy was watching Cuba.
The most vigilant of the group was Pop-Pop. There was not one thing I did that he wasn’t at my side. I think he would have gone to school with me had Sister Angela Marie allowed him.
Pop-Pop had never had any small children of his own. He’d married Nana when my dad was seven years old. When I was born I was treated in the same manner as a porcelain doll and Pop-Pop made it his main mission in life to see I didn’t get broken.
Of course I did several times which only increased his anxiety and watchfulness of me. “Landing in Normandy was easier,” Pop-Pop would say under his breath as Nana gave him instructions as to what I was and was not to do while we were out of the house. We were going to run a few errands for her on Light Street. I was still in an arm cast and sling from my most recent operation so there were even more rules than usual. No skipping, hopping, running, jumping or swinging my arm around. Watch where I was going. Hold Pop-Pop’s hand. Stand up straight, don’t bump into anything. The list went on.
We never made it to Light Street. Pop-Pop stopped at the corner to visit his pal Mr. Palmer who owned the tavern a block away. They watched the ball game and drank a beer while I sat spinning on the stool eating a pretzel stick and drinking a Coke. Three spins in and I went flying off the stool. Who knew Pop-Pop could move so fast? He caught me in one hand while holding his beer in the other, never spilling a drop.
He was my best friend, my first friend. He took me to my first burlesque show, my first bar and a funeral parlor everyday after school to visit his friend who was the mortician. He tried to teach me to play guitar and I learned to sing every song he knew. We played poker, rummy, dominoes and any other game that I could play while sitting down to limit my chances of injury. Pop-Pop sat with me at Children’s Hospital on more than one night and when I was in middle school he watched all my soap operas and gave me a complete rundown in the afternoon when I came home. He was there everyday and I could no more shake him off than I could my own shadow.
When I was twelve he died of cancer. It was near the end of February and neither my sister nor I had been told he was sick. I wasn’t allowed to see him at the same funeral parlor where we had spent so many afternoons together. It was the greatest loss of my life.
The day of the funeral I stayed home with my cousin. We made the coffee and put out the luncheon meats and pastries. After nearly everyone had gone home I overheard one of my aunties tell Nana she had lost her best friend. It was the only time I’d ever seen my grandmother cry.
When my son was born there was only one name I would consider for him. His name is Louis, in honor of my grandfather. I have told him every story I can remember about Pop-Pop. I think how proud Pop-Pop would be to have a child named for him and how I wish he could have lived to see my beautiful boy. I’ve done my best to teach him all the things my grandfather taught me. Louis can play rummy and poker, he knows how to sit at the bar and drink Cokes and eat pretzel sticks and can sing all the words to Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey. We’ve hung around a funeral home or two, but have yet to take in a burlesque show. Maybe when he’s twenty one.
If we are lucky, some wonderful person will enhance our life. If we are smart, we will acknowledge their gift.
Readers: Who made the strongest impression on your childhood?
My Aunt Esther — actually, my Great Aunt, as she was my paternal grandmother’s sister. She’d been one of the very first special education teachers in the state, and she told me many stories of teaching and what a difference it could make in the lives of children who were thought of as “less than” by some people. It’s because of her that I became (briefly) a special education teacher. She taught me how to do spool knitting when I was about 4 and how to knit with needles when I was about 6. She never did succeed in teaching me to crochet, though. She taught me how to play my first song on the piano — “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” and listened to me sing. She read to me constantly and, when I taught myself to read, encouraged me to read to her. I still have some books that she gave me. She taught me how to make applesauce and how to make dandelion curls. I remember how, on bread baking day, she’d cut a slice of still warm bread, spread it with butter and sprinkle it with brown sugar and give to my cousin and me as a treat. I still think of her when I smell bread baking. She was my biggest cheerleader when I was in concerts or sang solos in church. She died when I was 10. That is more than 50 years ago and I still miss her.
What a beautiful story! My grandmother’s best friend was named Esther. She was also a wonderful woman. I spent many summer days with her at her country house picking blueberries. We are both lucky to have had such lovely people in our life!
What a wonderful essay, in tribute to a wonderful grandfather. How sad is your loss, and how uplifting is your memory.
Thanks so much, Pat!
Wow! What a great tribute to your grandfather. You were very lucky to have him in your life
I had a wonderful relationship with my grandpa, or grpop as we called him. Not as close as yours, but he was a wonderful man as well. Sadly, I never got to know my dad’s dad since he died when I was 11 months old. Both my grandmothers and grpop lived until I was an adult, and I treasure memories of them.
Mark, what a great gift to have grandparents when you were an adult. I don’t think we realize how important our relationship with our grandparents are until we are adults. They teach us a lot of things our own parents are usually too overwhelmed to share.
You’ve got me crying at five thirty in the morning, Kim! I adored my grandfather, who we called Poppa Nitter. He could do magic tricks, like pull a stick of wrapped gum from your ear. He was a great storyteller and reader. He was elegant and kind in one package. He was living with us when I was in ninth grade and died suddenly one day of an aneurysm at age 70. Such fond memories.
Edith, not only did this post take all day to write because I had to allow myself frequent crying breaks, I am standing in the shop crying now as I reread it! I think every girl needs a Pop-Pop or a Poppa Nitter. We are two lucky ladies!
I had two memorable grandmothers. I was close to one and the other was very funny, and we still quote her a lot, though she’s been gone for years.
I had siblings who spent a lot of time in hospitals while I stayed at home, so my grandmother took care of me and we had wonderful one on one time. She was a widow but loved men–younger men–and was a nonstop flirt. She had an autographed poster of Magnum PI on her wall and claimed she never remarried because Tom Selleck never asked….She also worked at the elementary school cafeteria, and everybody in town knew her. She and the other cooks would sneak food to some of the children they knew were poor and had younger siblings at home. Now, of course, they’d be arrested, but people just looked the other way then.
Ramona, this made me laugh out loud, which I desperately need this morning! Reading about your grandmother made me think of your mom’s love for Colin Firth. Was this her mother, by any chance?
Why, yes, it was, Kim!
I see a genetic pattern forming.
This was a lovely piece of writing and such a vivid portrait of your grandfather.
Thank you so much, Triss. I am happy you enjoyed it.
This was so moving, Kim! Thanks for sharing your grandfather with all of us!
You know I’m a good sharer, Jessie!
Both of my parents grew up in extended family households during the depression, my dad with his maternal grandfather whom I called ManPop, and my mom with her mother’s sister, my Aunt Bertie. I’m sure for all the adults involved it was a case of expectations dashed by the economy, tough life circumstances (ManPop was a widower and Bertie divorced) and lack of privacy. But for the children, it was such a gift. My father’s relationship with his grandfather was so much like the one you describe with your Pop-Pop (except he was a Christian Scientist, so no bars were involved). My mother’s Aunt Bertie, was the calm, funny adult, who believed in addition to doing homework and practicing the piano, her nieces deserved a little fun.
My mother believed firmly that every child, and especially every teenager, needs an adult who is not a parent, whom they can spend time with and confide in. I’m sure she believed that because of her Aunt Bertie.
And Barb, did you have such a non-parent adult? I felt the same way as a parent.
I was lucky enough to have four grandparents who survived into my adulthood. They were all role models in different ways, especially my grandmothers.
Barb, first off, I love the name Manpop, I have so many conflicting visions of that. Secondly, this could be the premise of an Ann Tyler novel! I am happy that I lived with two generations of my family. In today’s world so few children seem to know their families. It’s interesting to me the whole ancestry movement with everyone researching their roots. We have a generation of people who move great distances from family and then spend hours on the computer searching for deceased relatives. I believe that’s why I have written down family stories for my children. I don’t want that connection to disappear. Discovering dates and places on ancestry.com is fun, but not the same as really learning what these people were like and discovering you share the same habits as a long ago relative.
I agree, Kim. Now that my parents are gone, I am so aware of the stories I know that no one else is.
Every time you post one of these stories, I am reminded of one of my favorite Baltimore movies, Avalon.
Love Avalon! Well, really I love anything with Adain Quinn and Baltimore.
Aww, Kim! Loved this. My grandpa was my best friend too. I was lucky enough to have him until I was 25, but still nearly not long enough. Hugs.
Grandpa’s are special and important men in a girl’s life!
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