My grandfather doesn’t talk much.
I think that’s why I’ve always been his biggest fan.
He doesn’t expend words on things that don’t need to be said, and he doesn’t need to hear himself talk to confirm that he is a man of wisdom and compassion.
The running joke amongst my extended family is that he doesn’t know how to talk to people. They don’t deny that he is a good man—merely that he doesn’t have any people skills. I tend to tune out his detractors, and when everyone chimes in with a snide remark I’m cursing them all in my head. They just don’t seem to get it.
I remember a time when my cousins from Minnesota were visiting, and Grampy took the 7 of us ranging in age from 5-15 mini golfing. He had the audacity to enforce the rule that whoever finished with the best score on the previous hole gets to hit first on the next, and a couple of my cousins threw tantrums over it. Grampy ends up looking like the bad guy because he was trying to teach the kids how golfing works in the real world. My cousins couldn’t just fucking listen to the guy who was merely trying to provide a little life lesson for them to serve them down the road.
Now one may certainly construe this as over-regulating a simple game of mini golf, but you have to take into account who this man is. He worked at his father’s bakery in Hyde Park during the Depression, he was flying over Japan during World War II at the age of 18, and he, along with my nana, raised five boys—including one that is intellectually disabled. With these credentials, when he says something, I listen.
I have heard that in his younger days he used to raise his voice a bit more. He’s as Italian stoic as they get, don’t get me wrong, but suffice it to say he didn’t stand for bullshit and he’d let you know it. I’ve admittedly only been exposed to the mellower version: the one that researched Pinewood Derby car designs so I’d have a competitive car in cub scouts, the one that’d take you golfing and offer gentle suggestions along the way (he was a very fine golfer, and still more than holds his own at 93), the kind that would crack harmless jokes to his grandkid when they watched a baseball game together or something.
So it is possible that some of his kids, like I do when anyone dare criticize this great man, tune him out. They may already know what he’s going to say: something principled, a conclusion you probably should have come to yourself if you were approaching the topic with a level head. People may be bothered by the fact that, deep down, they know he’s always right.
I can’t recall a time when I visited my grandparents’ house and he wasn’t reading the paper. The Globe, the Times, the Herald, the Journal—local, national, international—you name it, he’d read it with golf likely on in the background. He wouldn’t share his political opinions on things, but my dad’s relayed to me that both he and my nana were FDR liberals. Raising an intellectually disabled child at a time when that wasn’t the norm, they appreciated people that fought for them: your Teddy Kennedys, your Robert Kennedys. Nothing frustrated him more, politically, than the build up to the Iraq War—and my dad’s told me that was the only time he’d voice his dismay if guys around the clubhouse were discussing current events.
My grandparents took my Uncle Tommy everywhere because you don’t abandon family. My dad, two years younger than my uncle, recounted that they were stared at everywhere they went as a child. None of it fazed my grandfather. It was just another chapter, and you take care of your own.
My nana has been relatively sick for much of my life, and she deserves a tribute in her own right. Irish, talkative, funny, cheerful, battling depression, just a saint of a woman. Ironically enough, The 1975’s “Nana” came out at about the same time of her passing, and though it doesn’t do her particularities justice, the song has really resonated. The dynamic of a stoic Italian and a bubbly Irishwoman made for some quality entertainment value.
But anyways, a little less than a year ago, she was worsening rather quickly and so I went down to Florida with my dad to, more or less, see her off. She couldn’t really make out faces anymore, but she was still fully cognizant and you could hold her hand and have a conversation with her. She was mostly concerned with how the Patriots were looking down the stretch of the regular season and the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency.
Grampy waited on her every whim—coaxing her to eat food and drink liquids that her body just didn’t really want anymore. She’d pass a few weeks later, and when they came to take her away he wouldn’t let her go. And people always say he wasn’t capable of showing emotion, that he didn’t know how.
So here’s to you Grampy, a little paper I’ve written up, one that could go on another 100,000 words if I willed it to be so, in the same vein of the one I wrote up when I delivered that speech about you in the 2nd grade on Memorial Day. I won’t ask you to read it, and I know you wouldn’t want the recognition bestowed upon you.
Let the record show you’ve fought the good fight every step of the way.