Thursday, October 13, 2011

Menlike Gods At Rest Within The Tableau Of Loved Ones

My grandfather passed away last week. I wanted to take the time to dedicate a blog post to his memory by sharing a couple stories. I'd rather not talk about the wake and services period, much less on a blog for public viewing. I will say that I had the opportunity to give his eulogy, which was a tremendous honor that I'll never forget.
There are many people, especially within my family, who have had their lives impacted significantly by my grandfather, Jim. I do have to say that one of the things I felt was pretty exclusive to his and my relationship was our mutual appreciation for life's bells and whistles. In a sense, he and I were the same in that we could find some silly little observation that no one either understood or cared about hilarious enough to laugh about in ten minute segments over the course of a couple weeks. I will say that the generation gap at times hindered our ability to laugh at the same bells and whistles, but I feel confident in saying that there was a mutual understanding of this similarity between us that ostracized, yet endeared, us to our family. No one else quite thought of life the way we did, and from that acknowledgement we formed a strong bond and love for each other that unfortunately was becoming stronger than ever since my graduation from college.
Among a couple of his quirks (just for you to get to know him a bit) was telling strangers of all shapes, colors, and sizes that he was a mere 21 years old given that he was born on a leap day. Such an oddity of space, time and coincidence never failed to amaze and amuse him, and he loved to share that while the rest of us were unfortunate victims of time's cruel march towards the future, he only aged once every four years.
He also collected toys and dolls and placed them all over his house to amuse himself and my Grandma. As I grew up, I watched the dolls and toys dominate a wall, then a stairwell, then a basement, and eventually, an entire home. Now, those of you who really know me are likely wondering how I ever set foot in the house in the first place. I never told him how much the toys freaked me out and just how deep the waters of my phobia ran. He got too much joy out of adding to his collection and sharing it with others for me to dare saying a word about it. When someone you care about finds a passion that makes them happy, you have to embrace it. Plus, there's that whole bit about respecting your elders. Suffice to say, though, I kept my eyes on the steps in front of me whenever I had to use those stairs. I found out a couple of years ago that while not quite to my degree of discomfort, my grandma also didn't always appreciate the collection and had a hard time eating "with all the dolls staring at {her}" The sacrifices of love, my friends.
Hopefully that gives you a bit of an idea as to what kind of man my grandpa was and makes this post interesting enough for you all to enjoy. Strangely enough, my favorite memory about my grandpa involves a story that I wasn't actually present for, so I figured I would tell that one and a story in which I was more directly involved.
My grandparents live (now obviously just my grandma, but it's a reflex to refer to them as a unit. For the sake of the story, go with it.) in Manorville right near the game farm (It might be called the Long Island Zoo now. I'm not sure.) where you can find all sorts of farm animals, deer, gators, bison, peacocks, etc. One day, when I was no more than 6 or 7 years old, my grandpa mentioned that he had found a back way to the back-end of the deer field through the patch of woods that faced his condo development. If we ventured to make the trip, we would get an up-close and personal look at the deer without having to pay for admission (thinking like a Policastro). Essentially, we would be able to face the crowd looking at the deer from the game farm and get our own view of the animals. My sister and I readily agreed to make the trip with him and we set out on a rather crisp, but beautiful autumn day. To be honest, I can't remember a time in my life when my grandparents weren't chronically frigid, so my grandpa tossed on a rather no-nonsense winter coat while my sister Noelle and I donned less arctic outerwear.
My grandpa didn't really emphasize just how much of a trek this was, as we left behind all semblance of a woodland path and wound up soldiering through some really dense woods and some really tall grasses which, given my age and directly proportional lack of height, were taller than I was. I remember distinctly having a close encounter with a thorn bush that nearly engulfed me. Naturally, Noelle got quite a bit of enjoyment out of that. Naturally, I don't doubt I was already plotting my revenge. Despite the rural scenic route, we did make it to the deer and had a good time bidding them to come over and say 'hello' with mixed success. Eventually, we'd had our fill of inter-species interaction and bid adieu to the does. Which left us with one problem. How on earth do we get back?
That's right, ladies and gents, the three of us spent the better part of at least an hour wandering aimlessly in the grass that was taller than I was. We had completely lost our sense of direction and given that this was a bit before the the cellphone invasion, we were truly off the grid. Now I think the fact that we had planned this trip early enough in the day that we weren't at risk to losing daylight is that only factor that keeps this childhood memory a positive one rather than a suppressed brush with death (like the ill-fated "squirrel quarrel" incident). Time was indeed on our side, at least in that sense.
Grandpa was doing his best to keep our spirits up by singing various different ditties that we'd learned to sing with him over the years. I don't think that was too hard though, I think Noelle and I were still a little young to realize just how serious being truly lost is. Bear in mind that this was well before the release of "The Blair Witch Project". It was before the "Lord of the Rings", too, so it never dawned on us to ask the trees for directions.
Eventually, we came to this kind of pipe that gave gave grandpa some sort of idea as to where we were and we were bid to cross it. (Whoever came up with the over the river and through the woods anecdote clearly left out the pipe crossing balancing act in their description of how to get to grandmother's house.) Noelle and I did so pretty easily as we just kind of crawled across it. My grandpa had a much more difficult time with it and fell a good five feet or so into this miscellaneous brush. (It reminds me now of my struggles to cross the YCP creek.)
My grandpa was still young enough that him falling like that could still be considered the cream of the crop in physical comedy. I won't speak for Noelle, as she was a little older than me, but I was still young enough to consider the fact that my grandpa might be hurt a sheer impossibility and just one of the few instances of grown-ups proving themselves imperfect. I laughed hysterically and fortunately, grandpa was okay, climbed out of the little pit, and we got home a short time later telling grandma about our adventure.
Now, I know it's bizarre that my all-time favorite grandpa memory was something I'd never seen, but I was directly a part of it.
Throughout high school, I was quite active in musical theatre. ( *dons spontaneous surfer accent* Chicks did it, bro.) My Junior year, we performed Godspell in which I had the pleasure of being Judas alongside my brother from another mother, Matty Matura, as Jesus. (Despite the role he was given, he's my brother from another father, too... why is it near impossible to make a good immaculate conception joke? That's my new project, I think.) The role I was playing isn't relevant, but there are far too few Matty references in this bad boy. Anyway, one of the things we did as a drama club was create our own bios for the audience to peruse while waiting for the show to start and keep as a memory or whatever.
I admittedly don't remember the specifics of the show itself, but I can only assume that the first act ran smoothly enough seeing as the only in-show drama screw ups I remember is botching a "Tommy" entrance and a horribly timed attack of puberty during the run of the same show. Also, there was a random gunshot from the backstage area mid-show during Ragtime, but I had nothing to do with that.
Anyway, the first act seemingly went fine. Then Mr. Kramer (our director) enters the backstage area and calls my name out immediately. That's never good and while not the end of the world, usually means your mike is off, or your underwear is showing. Bottom Line: Something you did wasn't part of the plan. Mr. Kramer walks up to me grinning wildly (although you can only tell from the way his beard bends unless he's right in front of you; I got pretty good at using his beard to judge his mood) and grabs my shoulders and asks, "is your grandfather in the audience today?" I nod in the affirmative. "He's a wonderful man," he says and walks away. I'm a little perplexed, but inclined to agree with him. Following the show I get the lo-down from my Aunt Debbie as to what provoked Mr. Kramer's compliment.
Apparently, the copy of the bios that my grandpa received was missing the page that listed mine and right as intermission started, he walked to the top of the auditorium, quaint as it was, and approached Mr. Kramer to find out why it was missing and get a new one. Despite the protests from my Aunt and other family members who offered their own bios to him and pleaded with him to ask an usher for a new copy. My grandpa was undeterred and approached Mr. Kramer directly, which is a bit like telling President Obama to fix a pothole on your street. While firm, my grandpa wasn't rude about the situation and Mr. K apologized and had someone bring him a new copy right away. After talking with him about it later, I guess Mr. K got quite a laugh out of the ordeal and so did I after hearing both he and my family members (including my grandfather) recount it from their perspective.
Perspective is just what the story gave me, as it really personified just how much of a caring, unique, and charmingly stubborn man my grandfather was. I mean, it's easy to micro-analyze everything he said and did now that he's passed, but I genuinely never forgot that story and his reaction. It was one of life's bells and whistles that has provided me many a ten minute burst of laughter over the past many years, and will continue to do so.
One of the last things my grandpa ever said to me was:
"If there's one thing I've learned in this life, it's that if it doesn't break no laws or hurt anybody
you've got to do what makes you happy in life."
With that sentiment in mind, I dedicate this post to his memory and thank you from the deepest part of me for reading. It means a lot to me, and I'm sure it means quite a bit to him as well.
I love you, grandpa. I'll see you everyday.
Song of the Day: Top Rankin'-Bob Marley
Jazz Song of the Day: Every Time We Say Goodbye-John Coltrane

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