Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Eulogy to Pop Pop

Pop Pop: November 2, 1917 - May 13, 2011

I lost my grandfather this week. I was always honored to be almost 40 years old and still claim to have a grandparent. In spite of his death, I get to keep 38 years of memories. Well, maybe not 38, as I can't remember that far back. But many memories nonetheless.

My grandfather was born in 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland. Or as he would say, "Baldimer, Merlin". Yes, he was a true Baltimorean. He lived for a time in 'Warshington'. He was a junior, and to the best of my knowledge, born of English, and German ancestry. He was a Presbyterian, though never practicing. His father owned a chain of family restaurants in Baltimore City.

My grandfather did everything on his own terms. He remembered growing up on the intersection of St. Paul Street and 25th Street. If you were on that intersection today, you'd be dead in a matter of hours. Or at least robbed and/or beaten. He was extremely proud of the fact that he went to Poly High School. This was long before it was on Cold Spring Lane. According to him, Poly was known throughout the world as a great engineering school. And the accolades of the school were greater as he got older. "If you tell people anywhere around the world that you went to Poly you could get a job." If only it were that simple.

He had a knack for art and math. He joined the army before he was old enough - he lied about his age. He loved horses and joined the cavalry. Soon thereafter, the army rid itself of horses and the cavalry became the tank unit. He wasn't much interested in tanks, so he switched to infantry. Somehow, he was good at trigonometry, so he was a natural at shooting cannons. Shooting cannons - aim, trajectory, distance, curvature of the Earth, rotation of the Earth, wind, all things that had to be considered when shooting artillery, were things that he could do.

He was in the 29th Division when it shipped to England, but missed D-Day when he got sick and was out of commission for a while. I'm not sure what else happened while he was in the war. He either didn't want to talk about it, or as I got older and became genuinely interested, he no longer remembered. With age fades the memories.

My first memories of my grandfather are when we lived in Rosedale. He never had a phone. Refused to own one. So it's not like we could call him and invite him over to our house. He would just show up - on his own terms. And he would show up with first his brown Ford pick-up truck with the cap, or later in the 70's the blue Ford pick-up with the cap. You could fit a family of 5 across the bench of those pick-up trucks.

We (my brother, my sister, and I) always got excited when he came. We knew we were going to Burger King. I remember him asking what we wanted. I would always want the roast beef sandwich or the chicken Parmesan sandwich. My father would tell me that was too expensive and to pick something else. But my grandfather operated on his own terms. The roast beef sandwich or the chicken Parmesan sandwich was always fantastic. And no meal at Burger King was complete unless you followed it up with some ice cream. He always had to have coffee ice cream. And coffee. Pop-Pop and ice cream. They naturally went together.

And as quick as my grandfather would show up, he would leave. Sometimes you'd go to your room or to the bathroom and return and ask, "Where's Pop Pop?" He had left, often without a good-bye. He wasn't like that to be mean. He just lived on his own terms and did what he wanted. If he was ready to leave, he would leave. And we'd have to wait until he just showed up again.

He lived what I considered an interesting life. It was certainly more interesting than sitting in a cubicle pushing out reports to ungrateful clients. He was a paper-hanger by trade. This means he hung wallpaper. He loved the union and even went as far as to refuse to drink Coke because it was non-union. He was a Pepsi instead - when he didn't have coffee in his hand. He hung paper all over the Washington area. Even in the Pentagon. He says one time he was hanging paper and had his stuff all spread out. Someone walks by and says something like, "Tell this guy to clean up this shit!" My grandfather promptly turned around and told him where to go. It was President Lyndon Johnson. No one was going to talk to him like that, not even the President of the United States.

Later in life I enjoyed his surprise visits for different reasons. As a young adult he would tell those stories that you probably shouldn't have heard. Chasing girls, getting frisky behind the bushes. I found it humorous. And he loved red heads. You can imagine his joy when my first daughter was born and she was a bright red head. Whenever he left, he would always ask me if I needed money. "No, I"m okay." would be my response. But he never left without slipping me at least a 2o. Sometimes more.

About 8 years ago we almost lost him. He had some kind of illness, then a bad reaction to a medication and we thought he was going to die. He was in a coma. I remember telling my father that Pop Pop was too stubborn to die that way. He was going to do things on his own terms. He eventually came out of the coma, but he was never quite the same. He lost his ability to walk on his own. And his frame of mind was stuck in the 1940's for a while. He thought he was at Walter Reed hospital. He asked for my grandmother, who had died in the early 1960's. He later asked for my Aunt Lenore, her sister, who passed away in 1990. And he asked for his brothers George and Jesse, both of whom I had never met and assumed were deceased.

Over time his memory came back to a point. His short-term memory was terrible, but his long-term memory was fair. We'd go visit him at the assisted living facility and he'd ask how old my children were - three or four times. But he was always so excited to see us. He'd offer us stale cookies that he had swiped from the kitchenette. And he wasn't afraid to talk about the biddies on his floor that were always into everyone else's business. It was really funny. He never lost his sense of humor.

We never told him that my youngest daughter has cancer. We were able to hide it for a while, but after she lost her hair we kept it covered with a hat. He did notice her weight gain, but we never let him pursue the questioning. We figured there was no sense in him worrying about her.

Last Friday, my dad, who works at the same senior living facility, came and had breakfast with Pop-Pop. They had a good time talking. Later that day the staff told Pop Pop that he needed to talk a shower. After dinner he went to his room to go to bed. He must not have wanted to take that shower. The nurse came in to check on him and he had passed away.

You can't ask for a better death - in your sleep. He didn't suffer any illnesses or trauma. He was not in a hospital. He was just old. And he was tired. He was almost 94 years old. He left this world like he lived in this world - on his own terms.


Brian said...

THat was a great eulogy. Thanks for sharing. I've been reading your blog for a while and I now know where you goet your wit from. God bless your family.


71Z28 said...

I happened by this page to check out your Camaro pics.

Condolences on the loss of your grandfather. He sounds very similar to mine, who passed away in 1991. That "vintage" was certainly a rare one, and I doubt we will see many men of that character again.

At least we still have the memory of those priceless experiences.

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