Tag Archives: Pop Pop

The Legend Begins

Legends can come in all shapes and sizes and can be of stories about knights, archers, wild frontiersmen, cowboys, and Indians.  Most people know about the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood.  We have heard and read stories about them as well as the likes of Davy Crockett, El Cid, and Hiawatha.  A testament to any legend is their longevity.  After hundreds of years, their stories can be heard, or seen in the movies, or read about.

By definition, legends are stories handed down from earlier times about a person whose fame or notoriety makes him a source of exaggerated or romanticized tales or exploits.  These legendary figures are a part of tales of magic, miracles, and awe inspiring human experience. Theirs are stories that have been passed down to aspire us to do something greater, to stir our souls, fill our imaginations with wonder, and to close the gap between the years and let us glimpse, if only briefly, back to an earlier time.

But do legends have to be limited to kings and cowboys?  Do they have to pull swords from stones, rob from the rich to give to the poor or be national heroes?

Although our lives overlapped, I was too young to fully appreciate or understand the impact my grandfather had on me and those around him prior to his death.  I hold on to the few memories I have of him and cherish the stories I have been told about him.  They have, whether intentionally or otherwise, served to elevate my grandfather towards such exalted status as much as any other historical or legendary figure.  For example…

*****

My mom and I had broken down on the side of the road.  To be more specific, it was her Chevrolet Vega that had broken down; we were the unfortunate victims of the shoddy GM engineering in our car.  It was a time before cell phones which meant my Mom was going to need 28 cents if we were going to be able to make a call to anyone.  The traffic on the road we had pulled off of was heavy and the nearest payphone was a mile away from nowhere.  I was too young to understand what was going on but not young enough to recognize the panic slowly creeping its way to my Mom.  Then, out of nowhere, he came.  I don’t know if he was summoned by some sort of warning sense or we were broken down in the right place, but my grandfather pulled his grey Buick Skylark in behind us just when we were beginning to abandon hope.  My PopPop (as he was known to me) emerged from his car.  The late afternoon sun behind him, cast his silhouette.  He was as tall as an oak tree and his shoulders as broad as the horizon.  Not one strand of his jet black hair moved even as the traffic buzzed by him.  The reflection bouncing off of his glasses hid his pupils.  I didn’t know if he wore the glasses to protect his secret identity or from myopia that had set in from his age, but they were as much a part of him as his fingers were.  Just the sight of him there would have calmed a hungry alligator so it was no surprise the panic felt by both my Mom and I washed away instantly.  I remember thinking no matter what was wrong with our car, my PopPop would fix it and if he couldn’t fix it, he would probably just pick the car up with his bare hands and carry it to the nearest garage because with every step he took, he conveyed an innate strength.  As he walked past my Mom and I, his hulking figure blocked out the sun so we were able to see the lines in his face.  He was unwavering in the face of the flow of the speeding traffic only a few feet away from him.  I was waiting for him to lift the engine block out of the car to take a better look at the problem but instead, he laid his hands on the terminal to our battery and with a turn of the key, the car started. He said his goodbyes with a hug that could have squeezed the breath from a grizzly bear and a smile that would have melted an iceberg.  We pulled away at the same time but in opposite directions.  I turned back to watch him leave and watched as his car go off in the distance.

*****

While we did break down on the side of the road and we were lucky enough to have my grandfather happen to drive by, he didn’t jump start the car with his hands and while he was tall, he was no oak tree. But when I tell my kids about their great grandfather, sometimes the stories get embellished.  Partly out of fun and partly out of my own feelings of nostalgia but the truth is neither this story nor his memory needs any embellishment.

What he was able to accomplish in his life and the people he was so adeptly able to affect profoundly, is enough.  I know of my grandfather’s life from listening to family members and from the scant few memories I was able to capture with the limited time I was able to spend with him. Even if I didn’t know him as well as other members of my family, there are times when I have a yearning that longs to be in his company.  When those feelings arise, I think of the stories I have of my grandfather.  And think about how much I aspire to reach towards his legacy, how his life has been an inspiration to me in my own, and how every time his name, which I am so proud to share with him, is mentioned I’m able, if only briefly, to go back in time to be with him.  Back to a time when, for me, his legend began.

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The Green Chair w/Rounded Armrests

When I look at my 5 year old, I see my dad.  Her mannerisms, her sense of humor, the way her mind works, are entirely my dad (the poor kid even looks like his side of the family).  I make sure to tell her all about the things her Pop Pop did and how much she reminds me of him.  She gives me an awkward smile but doesn’t quite understand.  She wasn’t even 6 months old when my dad died (My oldest was fortunate enough to spend a few years with my dad and have a boarderline photographic memory).  Her memories of him are a mixture of what I have told her and pictures in photo albums. She has no memory of him otherwise.

I have been told, by relatives that knew him, I remind them of my Pop Pop.

I give them the same awkward smile Emma gives me, because I was 5 when my Pop Pop died. My memories of him are a mixture of stories told by my parents and pictures of him in photo albums. In my 5 years with him, I only have limited memories of him.

I can remember him talking to me but I can’t hear his voice.  I remember how tall he was and that his hair was the same color as the black frames of his glasses but can’t remember his smile without looking at a picture.  I don’t know what he called me but I know I ran when he did.  I don’t remember the last time he said “I love you” or the day he died.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t remember him at all.

There is one vivid memory I have.  A memory I keep close to me, because I am afraid if I don’t, I might forget it and in turn forget him.

My Pop Pop had a green chair.  A green chair he sat in regularly.  A green chair with rounded armrests.  When he would sit in the chair regularly and regularly, my cousin Joey and I would crouch behind the green chair with the rounded armrests.  Giggling and full of toddler energy, my cousin and I would reach around the chair and nip, pick, and grab at our Pop Pop then quickly retreat behind the chair again.  In a booming voice dripping with over exaggeration, Pop Pop said, “Who’s behind my chair?” To which my cousin and I would respond in high pitched, half giggling, “No one.”  With that, my grandfather would reach behind his green chair with the rounded armrests with arms that seemed longer than garden hoses.  We would try to fight off his hands only to lose and run in front of his chair and him.  He would scoop us both up in his arms.  Sometimes I think I remember his green chair with rounded armrests more than him?  But without that chair, I may not remember him at all so I hold on to it as tightly as my grandfather held on to my cousin and I.

Emma doesn’t have that with her Pop Pop.  She will have to look at pictures in photo albums and rely on my memories of my dad, her grandfather, to fill her thoughts.  No matter how many times she hears how she is like her Pop Pop, she’ll only be able to smile awkwardly or ask,

“Daddy, is that what Pop Pop would have done?”

“He sure would have Em.”

“I’m just like him aren’t I Daddy?”

“You sure are sweetheart.”

Maybe that’s why I am so eager to fill her memories with my dad.  Because I’m hoping, even though she may have not made the memories, as she gets older, one day she’ll be able to tell her own green chair with rounded armrests stories.