For My Grandfather.

I remember walking down a long straight line. On one side was a train. A line of men stood on the other side. I was three, maybe four years old, and I recall the noise from the train engines being so loud, it hurt my ears. In one hand, I held my grandfather’s hat as he guided me down the track, stopping at every man to introduce me as his granddaughter. Every man dropped a coin in the hat and patted me on the head. This was a railroad tradition – men took their grandchildren to walk this same line and receive a few coins for good luck. By the time we reached the end, I remember my grandfather had to take the hat because it was too heavy for me to hold. And, I remember he was smiling from ear to ear, his blue eyes twinkling in the sunlight. That was my first memory.

It is said that a grandfather is a little bit parent, a little bit a teacher and a little bit best friend. Not many grandchildren can call their grandfather their best friend, but I can, and I am thankful for that.

As a parent to my mom, Sylvia, he treasured every moment he spent with his daughter. I know my mom recalls their “special dates.” A few times a year, he would take my mom to a new restaurant or to a play at the Shubert Theater, so that they could spend some special time together. To put it simply, my mother had a hero, and her hero was him.

I also believe that my grandfather never considered my dad, Vincent, to be his son-in-law. He treated my father like a son, and never failed to tell him that he was a son to him. My grandfather loved working alongside my dad, whether it was to build a house or landscape a yard.

My grandfather, or Poppi as I always called him, was an exceptional teacher. I was lucky enough to grow up living just across the street from my grandparents in Higganum. I saw my grandfather daily and always loved to hang out with him as he did work around their house. As I grew up, my grandfather never failed to take time to teach me the lessons about life he believed were most important. My grandfather had beliefs that governed his life. They were:

Number one: My grandfather believed strongly in God, but he never feared God. He believed that a man should be judged only by his actions and the truth in his heart. He told me once that understanding God was in realizing that one’s actions and one’s words should always be in synch, because God pays attention to the little details everyone else misses.

Number two: A grandfather is someone who stands as the pillar of wisdom and strength in any family. My grandfather loved his family and understood that being part of a family wasn’t just convenient for the holidays it was about spending time together on the front porch on a cool summer evening. Family was about celebrating birthdays and anniversaries together, playing cards together after dinner, getting through difficult moments together. He was married to his beloved wife, Julia for nearly 70 years. Their anniversary was coming up in just two short months. Family was everything to my grandfather. Many people may say that but few live it. He was one of the few.

Number three: My grandfather was a proud U.S. Army Veteran, and a true patriot. He served in both World War II and the Korean War. At every July 4th parade, he was the first to stand and salute the flag and other veterans as they passed. Just a few months before he died, my grandfather was honored for his service to his country, which I know some of you attended. He received six awards and commendations for his time in the military, and was so overwhelmed by the attention that he told my mother it was almost too much for him to take in. He also told me more than once that if he was called back to serve, he would gladly go. I pointed out to him that if he was called back to active duty at the age of 93, we as a country would be in deep trouble!

Number four: My grandfather worked for the New Haven Railroad for over 44 years, where he held many different positions, including Chief Clerk. As I grew older and attended college and then graduate school, my grandfather always was there to guide me. He told me never to shy away from hard work, and that you could tell a great deal about a person by how much they complained while they were doing their job.

Number five: Competition is good. His beliefs about competition were two-fold. First, he loved sports. It would have been easy for him at the time I grew up, to suggest that girls should not play basketball, but my grandfather did nothing but support me as I played sports in high school and college. Some of my favorite memories of him were when he came to watch me play basketball in college. Part two of this rule extends to his beloved New York Yankees. The Yankees might very well win the World Series, but if they lost so much as a single game, they were “bums.”

Number six: Be Neat and Tidy. For those of you who knew my grandfather, you knew about his affinity for neatness. It extended everywhere from his closet to the car. His clothes were always perfectly pressed and if he wore blue, it had to match his eyes. A garage should be so clean that you could eat off the floor. A neighbor in Higganum once entered my grandparents’ garage and was shocked to see carpet on the floor. Clean carpet. She said, “Louie, your garage is cleaner than my living room. We should have dinner here tonight.”

Number seven: Never ride in a pickup truck with a dog. My dad had an old red Ford pickup truck that he used to take on trips to the dump or to pickup stones for any one of the twenty-seven rock walls he and my grandfather built over the years. We would bump along Little City Road, my Dad, me, our black lab Sam, and my grandfather. Inevitably, our dog Sam would, shall I say, swallow a great deal of air with his head out the window and release an odor in the car (who could blame him, the roads were so bumpy), always in the specific direction of my grandfather. These trips were actually learning experiences for me. Inside that old Ford pickup is actually where I gained my impeccable pronunciation and knowledge of Italian curse words.

Like all of us, my grandfather had his share of idiosyncrasies. He loved his “jammies.” At night he would always tell me that he could hear them calling his name so he could get ready for bed. He told me once that his pajamas said, “Louie, come on, it’s time for bed.” I don’t know why, but I never doubted that his jammies spoke to him.

He had a thing for telephones. And I don’t mean one or two- I mean nine or ten in a one-bedroom apartment, especially the train phone that sounded like grand central station every time it rang. Once I came to visit and saw him installing a new phone in the bathroom. When I asked him why, he looked up at me, surprised I would even ask such a question, and said calmly, “Christine, all the nice hotels have phones in the bathroom.” Who could argue with that logic?

He was also very, concerned about the time change every spring and fall. For some crazy reason, he’d start changing clocks (and let me tell you, he had about as many clocks as he did phones) the day prior to the time change. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother had to call my mom to ask what time it was. She’d say, ”Would someone please tell me what time it is? Your father has gone and changed half the clocks again.”

He greatly disliked any tree or shrub that was crooked. If a tree branch was not growing perfectly straight, it was trimmed. I like to believe this was because he was such a talented artist and painter, and that his visual aesthetic was just very precise, but the truth is, I have no idea where he got that one from.

In the days that pass, I ask each of you to do me a favor. Remember my grandfather. He was a kind man. A good man. A warm man. As my mother said, he was both a gentleman and a gentle man. This summer, when you smell fresh basil, tuck a sprig behind your ear as he often did and think of him. When you feel a warm breeze and hear the birds sing, think of him. When you eat a wonderful meal with your families, think of him. When you see a man pass with a perfectly trimmed mustache, think of him. When you watch an old Doris Day movie, think of my grandfather. Because all of us who knew my grandfather owe him this – for all he gave us, it’s the least we can do.

On behalf of my grandmother, mother and father, I wish to thank all of you for your love and support during this difficult time.


Chris - my thoughts are with you and your family. I lost my Grandfather almost 10 years ago - but the lessons he taught me have always stayed with me. Thank you for sharing.


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