Thursday, August 02, 2007


Yesterday marked the eighteenth anniversary of my Grandfather's death. The first of August is always a day I'll remember...August 1, 1989 to be exact.

My sister and I had just arrived at my Dad's house in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania for our annual summer "vacation". We just finished dinner and, after helping clean up the kitchen, went into the living room to watch tv. I can picture exactly what the furniture looked like and the brand new lamp shades my stepmother recently purchased (still covered in plastic.) I remember Marla being pregnant with Bryanna. I can still feel Braxton laying next to me on the couch. I can still hear the telephone ringing and see the look on my Dad's face. I remember Katie and I knowing instantly what was wrong just by the way Daddy looked at us from the kitchen. We started crying.

We all got back in the car and immediately drove back to Hamburg, NY. The last thing I remember before the funeral itself was my Mother answering the door at 2 a.m. in her pink nightgown...crying.

Grandpa "Dem" was, to me, the best! He always smelled like cigarettes and Old Spice aftershave. I remember riding the lawn mower with him when he cut the grass; I remember sitting next to him at Christmastime...opening his gifts. His birthday was (is?) two days (and many years) before mine - we used to share a birthday cake. I was the first grandson (first grandchild) so I was his favorite...he told me so (he probably told everybody that.) I remember his pet toad that lived in the cracks of the sidewalk. I most vividly remember the time he and I had "breakfast" together:

It was early morning and I don't know whether anyone but Grandpa and I were awake (or even in the house for that matter). The sun was shining through the windows and I sat down at the breakfast table next to Grandpa. He was drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette. He looked at me, smiled, and asked if I wanted to have a contest with him. He went to the counter and returned with two packages of Auntie Anne's Cinnamon Twists - one with pecans, the other plain (he knew I didn't like the ones with nuts). Our contest was to see who could eat a cinnamon twist the fastest by unravelling it. I think we ate both packages and I remember laughing harder than I'd ever laughed before. I don't remember who won.

The day of his funeral, albeit a bit fuzzy in my mind now, was, of course, a very somber day. He was only in the hospital for 39 days before he died so, although we knew he was sick, it was rather shocking to everyone. I was still too young to really understand "why" he died - I just knew that he was dead. I remember what he looked like. I remember touching his hand and telling Katie how weird it was. I remember everyone saying how "great" he looked (which was very strange to me.) I remember crying my eyes out. I remember the "Grandchild" flower arrangement with seven white roses - one for me, Katie, April, Justin, Danielle, Geoffrey & Christopher and one red rose for the future Bryanna (the colors may have been the other way around but this is what I remember.)

Yesterday, when I went to visit my Grandma, I noticed her eyes were swollen and red. Although I knew what day it was I was still surprised that she had been crying so much. She told me it was due to her eyedrops but I secretly knew better. We were chitchatting when she started to tear up again.

Remember how I told you that my Grandpa had a pet toad that lived in the cracks of the sidewalk? Well, for years and years after he died, we (Aunt Eunie, April, me and Grandma) would see a huge toad outside Grandma's side door. Every once in a while I even saw a toad outside my own side door. This always put a smile on our faces because it reminded us of Grandpa. I even liked to pretend that it was a reincarnation of him.

Monday night, when Jamie and I were installing the dreaded screen/storm door, "Grandpa the Toad" was sitting there the whole night, watching us. He didn't seem afraid. The big toad just sat there and watched us fix "his" house. I kept joking with Grandma about it! I even teased that we should fix the frog a small cocktail...preferably a screwdriver. (Grandpa wanted to "feel" the vodka, not taste it.)

Grandma finally told me why she was crying earlier in the day and why she started crying again just then:

Yesterday morning, after making coffee and getting dressed, Grandma walked outside to get the newspaper. Of course she knew what day it was but normally she reflects quietly and fondly to herself. While walking down the cracked sidewalk she looked down and (in her own words) "started sobbing" - on the sidewalk, on the morning of the anniversary of my Grandfather's death, was a dead toad. "As strange and messed up as it sounds," she said "it felt like that day all over again."

As strange and messed up as it sounds...I believe her.

I'm going to visit the cemetery afterwork today. I like to every once in a while. I water his flowers; I pull the weeds; I lean back on his "neighbors" headstone and have a cigarette with him while discussing current events.

Maybe I'll see a toad.


Rion said...

Grandpa sounds like a lovely fellow. I hope you see a toad.

Anonymous said...

Joe, one day I'll have to tell you about the phone call on the day of
Dad's funeral.... AH