Lessons Learned Early

What love is.

The hero of my life was my grandfather. Oddly, he was not a blood relative. He was the second husband of my maternal grandmother but the only grandfather I ever knew as both natural grandfathers died before I was born. He never had any children of his own. He himself was an orphan and adopted just before the turn of the century. A WWI vet, he was the most compassionate, gentle, and unassuming man I ever knew.

He treated me and my brother as if we were born into his family. Never overbearing and always understanding, he gave me the courage and confidence to face anything life had to offer.

He was a cigar smoker. To this day, whenever I smell cigar smoke, which is less and less often, I can’t help but think back to my grandfather Al, who was also my namesake. It’s a warm, happy nostalgia that doesn’t happen often enough.

There are two things that standout as the fondest of memories from my days with him. One was the bedtime ritual of one of his “smackers”. As he was tucking us into bed, he would lean down and put his mouth on our cheek or neck and just blow as hard as he could. The air pressure caused a “rasping” sound and tickled so much we were in tears from laughing so hard. We would feign trying to get away, but we really wanted it to go on all night, it was so much fun. He didn’t have to say I love you, that smacker said it all!

The other thing was the big “meet up” after work. We often stayed at their house in North Haven, CT during the summers. He worked In New Haven which was about a 6-7 mile ride for him. He would call my grandmother when he was leaving his shop (he owned a speedometer repair shop, an extinct breed now). At an appointed time, my grandmother would tell me I could head out down the road in the direction he was traveling from. Of course, those were the days when a child could go out without fear of being abducted. I would probably get about a mile or so and sure enough, I would see him puttering down the road toward me. I say puttering because my grandfather drove an old antique Model “A” two-seater Ford with a rumble seat in the back. Oh, how I wish I had that car now! He would pick me up like he was surprised to see me and we’d ride the rest of the way home together. For a 9 or 10 year old boy, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

He also helped me through the traumatic times in my life. When I was 14 and living in Texas, my father was laid off from his job. We had no idea where he would find another and where we would settle. My brother was sent to live with my other grandmother in New York and I was sent to live with them. He gave me moral support, worked with me on my homework, and never missed a little league game I played. Then later, during high school, my parents divorced. He was my confidant and stabilizing influence all during that turbulence.

Yes, love is what I learned from him, and I only hope I am giving to my two granddaughters half of the love that flowed from that man.

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