[Content note: family death.]
My grandfather passed away the Sunday after Thanksgiving. He’d been in various hospitals since the beginning of October, and I travelled home to Philadelphia almost every weekend to visit him. While he was in the hospital, he and my mother started planning to sell his house. He moved there in the early ’60s, a bit after marrying my grandmother, but now had his own small, one-bedroom apartment and hadn’t lived in the house for a couple years. I originally thought I’d spend the weekend after Thanksgiving going through the house, writing up an inventory, and taking photos. Instead, we were all at the hospital with Pop in his final days.
After spending that Saturday at the hospital, I returned to my hotel room with Matt, and two of my best friends arrived shortly after. I had a glass of The Glenlivet, I told stories about Pop, and we paged through a box of Polaroids I’d found in my grandparents’ house.
This was the typical scene. What happened at Pop’s, stayed at Pop’s.
In the last couple months, I learned some surprising things:
- There was a secret room in my grandparents’ basement, that housed several vintage mayonnaise jars, my grandfather’s Lionel train set, and my grandmother’s honeymoon luggage. My mother insists “it wasn’t a secret room! You just didn’t know about it.”
- My grandfather had false teeth. Not just a couple fakes, like some people I know, but full-set, top-and-bottom dentures.
- My mother had never, not once, ever seen her father in pajamas. Not even when Pop was sick. Not even on Christmas morning.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Pop in the few short weeks since his death, and realized that much of who I am has come from spending time with my grandfather, especially when I was younger. We shared a love of old radio shows, like Abbott & Costello, Baby Snooks, and Bergen & McCarthy. (We sometimes listened to The Shadow, but were partial to the comedies.) Over summer vacations, when I would stay at their house, every night we’d watch old reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, Laugh-In, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. This would come to no surprise to anyone who’s ever met him, since he always had a smile on his face and a usually quite terrible and groan-worthy joke to tell.
Pop got home from work—3:30pm, on the dot, every afternoon—and whenever I stayed over, we’d go through an elaborate ruse. I’d sit surveillance at the front window, next to the stairs, watching until I saw Pop emerge from the convenience store across the street. Immediately, I’d hide in the most inconspicuous spot I could find, usually under the stools at the kitchen counter. Pop would open the front door, kissing my grandmother hello, and asking if she had company. “Just me,” she’d reply, “home alone all day!” Pop would then come through the house and place his lunchbox on the kitchen counter. As soon as I heard footsteps heading back to the living room, I’d peek up, quietly lifting the latch on the lunchbox and peering inside. Just as I’d reach my hand inside to feel around, Pop would jump out from his hiding place, making me squeal with fright and joy.
Some of the things I frequently found over the years: Chuckles, Slim Jims, apples, peanut butter crackers, Bubble Yum, Snickers, bananas, Necco Wafers, Mike & Ikes, cheese sticks.
Except for minor changes to cut or fabric over the years, Pop’s style was consistent. With a little dab of Brylcreem, he styled his hair the same way at age 77 as he did at age 5. (The hospital staff could not get his floof right. It looked really weird.) His scent was classic Old Spice aftershave. For as long as I can remember, on more formal occasions, he could be seen sporting the same navy pinstripe three-piece suit. The photo above could have been taken just this year, if not for the fact that I’m no longer 3 months old, and Pop stopped grooming his sideburns to that depth sometime in the early ’80s.
It would also make sense that my style inspirations would also come from Pop. Some of my earliest dress-up memories include rummaging around my grandparents’ bedroom, listening to cassettes of old Abbott & Costello episodes, wearing Pop’s ties and trilby hats, falling over because his brogues were too big on my tiny feet. When getting ready to buy my first car, the opportunity to purchase an Oldsmobile Ninety-eight came my way. It wasn’t exactly the Oldsmobile Eighty-eight that my grandfather had, but for $500, I plopped my cash down and didn’t complain.
Now, in my 30s, while I find that the full menswear look is just not my style, I like to incorporate certain things that remind me of the man who helped form my personality. Sadly, my own wool trilby is a bit flattened from being stored with the rest of my winter wear, but that’s nothing a little shaping won’t fix by Christmas. This holiday season, I think I’ll hang up some mistletoe, wrap the railing in crepe paper, and drink a PBR in a vintage Smurfs tumbler from Pizza Hut, just like my grandfather.