Happy Birthday, Pops.

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Today would have been my Grandpa P’s 96th birthday. In a previous blog, I wrote about my mom’s dad, and today I want to write about my dad’s dad – Pops. This blog is sort of a rewrite of a blog I wrote years ago on the anniversary of his passing.

When my mom’s dad passed away, I had to deal with the loss of a loved one for the first time. It was an eye opening experience that changed me forever. I realized that the people in your life aren’t always going to be around. I made a promise to be closer to my remaining grandparents.

I was very close to my grandpa. When he passed away, it was one of the most difficult times of my life. When I describe him, I often tell people to think of Abe Vigoda from the Godfather (some may remember him as Fish on Barney Miller). Abe reminded me a lot of my grandpa.

He quit school at a very young age. I don’t recall how young he was, but I recall him being in elementary school or maybe junior high. He quit to go to work with his father (my great grandfather). He worked to help bring money in for the family, as times were rough and money was tight. When he was young, they had one of those cars with the crank in the front of it that you had to crank to start the car. As I remember the story, he was trying to start the car one day and the crank snapped back and caught him in the nose. His nose was broken and it remained crooked the remainder of his life.

I used to love listening him tell stories about when he was young. He often talked about the days that him and his friends would hang out on “Joseph Campau Ave.” in downtown Detroit. Detroit was very different then. He and grandma would tell stories of how they could leave the house unlocked when they left and how they could sleep out on the sun porch during the summer without ever having to worry about being robbed or hurt.

Speaking of grandma, one of the stories that they both loved to tell was how they ended up together. The story goes that grandpa saw grandma walking and wanted to ask her out. She kept telling him no, but eventually broke and decided to go out with him, after he bugged her too much. I used to love hearing those stories.

When he was young he was stationed at “the CC Camp”. I’m not really sure what he did there, but some of my favorite pictures of him are when he was a young man there. He never went to war, because of his nose. They wouldn’t let him serve because it was broken. Even though he didn’t serve, he used to tell me many stories about World War II and we would often watch shows about the war on PBS when we spent the night.

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I have mentioned before that grandpa was responsible for giving me my first cup of coffee. I was like 11 or 12 and it was probably more cream and sugar than coffee. He also gave me my first “job”. I used to come over and cut his grass. Before the term OCD was ever used regularly, grandpa was very strict about the way he wanted his lawn cut. I had to check with him before I started to find out if I was cutting the grass vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. He was a stickler for straight lines! We used to call him “eagle eye”. He’d stand outside while I mowed, making sure that I was keeping the mower straight. I was always afraid of making a mistake!

During the summer, you could count on him having the Tiger game on TV or on the radio. The excitement of hearing the Tigers during their 1984 season (when they went on to win the World Series) is a memory I treasure. I was familiar with the current team members, but he would share stories of the 1968 World Champions as well as many other great ball players – he always seemed to bring up Rocky Colavito. Another Rocky he would talk about was boxer Rocky Marciano.

Before he retired, he worked at the same company as my dad. It was about 2 miles down the road from my house. During the summer time, it was always a treat when he would stop by the house on his lunch break. He was probably out at the store buying his lottery tickets for that day, but he would always pick up something for my brother and I. He would stop by with candy bars – usually Mr. Goodbar or Chunky. I remember Chunky used to be wrapped in a foil – it wasn’t sealed like they are today. It was literally a piece of silver paper wrapped around it. Today, Chunky is divided into four sections so you can break off pieces to eat it. Back then, it was just one big hunk of chocolate (with nuts and raisins)! Those two candy bars still remind me of him. He knew that my friends were usually over playing, so it wasn’t odd for him to drive up with 5 or 6 candy bars, so my friends could have one too.

When I think about Pops, I am reminded of the laughter. He made us laugh a lot. Because of his limited schooling, his vocabulary wasn’t always great. He mispronounced many words and would flub words when reading. Some people may think this is cruel, but we used to write scripts for him to read while we recorded them on a cassette tape. I did this primarily because I never wanted to forget what he sounded like. I am glad I did this, because I still have the “tapes” saved in a digital format. Personally, I think he liked being the center of attention. He loved be the star. He never doubted we loved him, he read these scripts because he knew it made us laugh. It made us happy. We acted out plays with him on tape, too! Sometimes, while he read through the script, he’d be laughing so hard, he could barely make it through. I remember one week I wrote a bunch of stuff for him and when we came over that Sunday to visit, I gave it to him. When he saw how many things I wrote for him he yelled, “God Doggit!” – that still makes me laugh … and I can still hear him saying it! I find myself saying it today!

I also remember that he was really ticklish, so we’d record him laughing while we tickled him. Sometimes he’d laugh so hard his false teeth would fall out!

Pops bought me my first lottery ticket. I think I was like 13 years old. He had this old raggedy book called “Skippy’s Lucky Lottery Dream Book”. The way it worked was, when you had a dream, you’d look up the subject and there was a 3 digit number. You play that number in the lottery and hopefully, you’d win. Early in my 7th or 8th grade year, I had lost my house key. I had a dream that I found it at his house. I looked where it was in the dream, but it wasn’t there. He, of course, looked up “found keys” and found the number – 195. He told me he was going to play that number for us, and if it won, I could have the money. Sure enough, that week, it came out. I remember he came over with an envelope with 42 dollars in it. He was true to his word. He never said, but I am guessing he played it for himself, too.

He and grandma taught me how to play Pinochle. That’s what they did almost every holiday. We’d have dinner, and the adults would go in to the sun porch and play cards. My brother and I would basically sit and watch TV, bored out of our minds while they played cards. I finally asked to learn and they taught me. They were patient and taught me well. My dad was happy that I learned to play, because he never really liked to play all night like everyone else. I, however, loved playing and was a welcome addition to the card table.

When I got my driver’s license, I would go over there on the weekends with Joe or Steve and we’d play Pinochle all night. Grandma would have coffee on and a Long John Coffee Cake for us. Grandpa didn’t like to lose. He’d get so mad sometimes! There were stories about him cutting up decks of cards when he was losing, but we never saw him get that mad. We saw him get mad … just not that mad! He was the kid of guy who at one point, you’d try to throw the game his way because you didn’t want to see him mad….lol.

My friend Steve used to make him so mad. Steve and I were always partners and sometimes, we’d get really lucky. A trickless is a hand where one team gets all the tricks and the other team gets nothing. It doesn’t happen often, and I remember one night Steve and I did it with back to back hands! We were happy as hell, but that was where the game ended that night!

One time Steve got up and went to get coffee. He opened the fridge without asking permission. My grandpa was so mad. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Where are your manners? I don’t go to your house and go in your fridge!” I was surprised at how much this bugged him. He was probably losing at cards, and he lost it at this little thing. Steve felt bad, and apologized.

Pop’s also used to help me with my paper route. The station where we’d pick up the papers was over by his house. He’d pick me up, take me to the station, we’d get the papers and he’d drive me and Jeff around so we could deliver them. He had a gold Caprice Classic with tan seats. I remember he used to put a blanket down over the seat because he didn’t want the ink to get on the seat. Jeff and I used to laugh and make noises and stuff while we were with him. He never really understood what was so funny. Because of those days on the paper route, he called Jeff “the crazy one”. I’d go over there to visit when I was older and he’d say, “Hey! How’s the crazy one? Do you still see the crazy one?”

As he got older, he got more forgetful. One time, my grandma asked him to take her to the store. He went out the the garage and got in the car, but left grandma at home. My dad had to go looking for him. Grandma called the police and they were looking, too. My dad pulled into the parking lot of Farmer Jack (I think) and found him sitting in the car. Dad asked him what he was doing and he replied, “I am waiting for your mother!” My dad had to break the news that she was still at home. He was so flustered.

He deteriorated pretty quickly after that. He was more forgetful and often repeated things. I don’t recall if it was on Christmas Eve, but I remember him sitting in his chair looking at the TV guide. Occasionally, he’d look up and say, “Murder, She Wrote” is coming on” and then stare back into the book. It was hard to see him like that.

I’ll never forget seeing him in the hospital on the night he passed away. I remember when everyone walked out of the room whispering to him how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. He had basically just been laying there the whole night, but as I spoke to him, he reached up and grabbed my neck. I remember being startled, but I again told him I loved him and it was ok to go.

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Grandparents are a wonderful gift. I remember the looks that my mom and dad had when they first held my oldest son. The smile just got bigger when my dad got to hold his second grandson. Seeing them, I realize the love that my grandpa had for me and my brother. I was blessed to have him for 24 years of my life. He was a very special man and I miss him very much. The memories I have of him bring many smiles and keep him alive in my heart. I wrote a song about him. It never was recorded, although I had hoped it would. I have shared it on Social Media before. Perhaps I will add it in a separate blog sometime….

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Happy Heavenly Birthday, Pops! As I wrote in my song – I still love you and I still miss you!

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