My grandfather Poppop died on September 16th. Today the family gathers in their home town of Delmar, NY, to savor memories of his life. We’ll each have different experiences to relay, but mine are from the perspective of the eldest grandchild. I won’t be with the gang in person today. Here’s a memoir that hopefully gives a glimpse of his amazing character, and how precious it is to have had him as my grandfather.
“Splash!” The paddle smacks Putnam Pond’s silky surface. “GrrrrRumbleScrape!” The wooden handle protests in an echoing raucous as it’s dragged back into strike position. I sit there mesmerized by the sparkling drips as they fall from the blade, making that perfect trail of concentric rings. “Splash!” The paddle’s in the water again. “GrrrrRumbleScrape!” A little more of the polyurethane finish is scraped from the shaft.
“You’re doing great,” Poppop says from the rear of the canoe. He’s teaching me how to paddle. It wasn’t until many years later that I appreciated the level of forbearance required to teach a kid to canoe. AND let them enjoy it.
“Everyone is passing me, am I going too slow?” We’re on I-87, headed south during a school vacation, and I’m the nervous owner of a brand new drivers’ permit. It’s my second time behind the wheel. The girls chatter with Mommom in the back seats.
“Relax, you’re doing fine. Just nudge over to the right a little—there—now you’re in the middle of the lane. Don’t worry, if I need to I’ll just reach over and take the wheel.” Poppop’s reassurance was strong. I drove from Delmar to the Pennsylvania border that first day. It wasn’t until I watched my dad teach my sisters to drive that I appreciated the unruffled-able nerves, the imperturbability, the gigantic patience that is required.
“My Bride,” Poppop called Mommom. “I love her more now than I did when I married her,” he pronounced at their 50th anniversary. And it wasn’t just words. He worked, dish towel over shoulder, cleaning up the kitchen. He set up the dining room table for quilt making and helped cut the fabric. He patiently packed the car on their protracted exits from the house. He stuffed a whole donut into his mouth just to get her goat (it worked!). Loving with words and also with service. Loving Mommom as an equal.
When I manage to keep my cool in the face of Milo’s antics, I’ll remember Poppop. When I encourage Naomi on a mountain hike, I’ll remember Poppop. When I change a tire on the car instead of asking Jeremiah to do it, I’ll remember Poppop. At every turn, I realize more and more of the legacy I’ve inherited from his life.