Today would have been my paternal grandpa’s 100th birthday. We lost him nine years ago and not a single day goes by when I don’t think about him. He was a lot of things—a farm boy, native Polish speaker, trolley conductor, bus driver, father, grandfather, dancer, card player, provider, WWII veteran, devout Catholic, golfer, ladies’ man, great cook and all-round bon vivant.
I can’t believe you are 100 today!!! Something tells me you are up in Heaven, with Grandma (who, I am told, is my doppelganger) with a glass of bourbon—two ice cubes—playing cards and merrily dancing the polka up in the stars. You are probably busy having too much fun to notice what is going on down here, so let me bring you up to speed.
Your son grieves your loss every day. He might not say it, he might not show it in the day-to-day grind, but losing you was the hardest thing I ever saw him go through. I’ve seen him after losing his house to fire and flood. I’ve seen him visit his children after brushes with death. But the only, and I mean the ONLY, time in my life I saw him cry was the day we buried you. I may be in my thirties, but there is something primally unnerving about watching your father cry. Dads are supposed to be strong and protect you, so when you see Dad cry…I don’t know…seeing the paradigms shift is pretty freaky.
I can’t thank you enough for many things. First of all, thank you for your service to the United States in WWII. You were dragged off to basic training kicking and screaming. Not because you weren’t a patriot, but Grandma was 8 ½ months pregnant! You didn’t see your oldest son until he was four. That just blows my mind. I also know you came home from the Pacific theater with snow-white hair and you never talked much about life in the Army. Whatever you did, whatever you saw profoundly changed the man you became. Again…thank you for preserving our freedom and being a part of the Greatest Generation.
I also want to thank you for providing the seed money for my college fund. You were proud of only having an eighth grade education because you left school as the Great Depression kicked in to support the family. I know I did right by your—you were around long enough to see me get my master’s degree and get a teaching certificate. Thanks to your generosity, I was able to finish college debt-free and not have a millstone around my neck in the form of student debt. I am not 100% financially free—I will be soon, but not quite there—but you have laid a strong foundation for me.
Thanks for being the only other polyglot in the family besides me. You didn’t learn English till you started school. I look at my family who had Latin and Spanish in high school yet don’t speak a word of it. I would seriously wonder if I was adopted had it not been for you! I know you know the frustration of being able to express yourself fluently in another language and not always succeeding. I wish I knew some Polish, but somewhere in my DNA is a deep love of learning languages. I wonder where I got that? Hmmm…
Thanks most of all for being Grandpa. I got some of your more colorful traits—jet-black eyebrows, stubborn as a mule, opinionated, bunions, well-travelled, thinking on the feet…Thanks also for marrying Grandma. By all accounts she was a wonderful woman—gracious, eye for beauty, strong, and loved to shop! I can’t wait to meet her someday. And thanks for making Dad what he is today. He’s not perfect but he is my dad and I resemble him in a lot of ways—stubborn, driven, chatty, opinionated, thinking on the fly. And bunions. Thanks for the bunions!
I miss you. I hope you’ve been proud at my endeavors even if they haven’t been perfect—the nun who gets kicked out of the convent, the teacher with the nervous breakdown, the sister who runs her mouth too much…but you made me what I am and I wouldn’t change it one bit. Tu me manques…à bientôt, cher Papy!