Remembering PopPop

It’s been three months since my grandfather died.  It’s crazy to think about it.  It has been a difficult three months.  For those of you who don’t know, I called my grandfather PopPop.  As did my friends, other family, and random strangers.  Some called him the Candy Man, some called him a dirty old man (make no mistake, he definitely was), he called himself Crazy Bernie, but to me, he was always PopPop.  I’ve thought about the right words to honor him and remember him for a long time.  To be honest, for several years I’ve wondered what would be the best thing to say about him and I’ve hit a wall.  There’s a lifetime of memories and things to share and none of what I put into words can do him the true justice he deserves.  But I’m going to try.

PopPop and I were extremely close.  More than what most people would consider in a grandfather-granddaughter relationship.  Attributed to being the youngest grandkid, or maybe the only girl – I couldn’t tell you.  But we had an amazing relationship.  And I’ve recognized that the very reason these past three and a half months have hurt so much and have left me in tears or staring off into space at some random times is BECAUSE we had such a good connection with one another.  We were involved in one another’s lives.

My dad and PopPop worked together.  They did everything together really.  Every morning PopPop would be waiting in his car for my dad outside our apartment.  Back in the ’90s, PopPop had this ugly brown car.  I have no idea what kind of car it was, but I hated the color and I hated that it always smelled like smoke (he used to smoke way too much).  My dad was rarely ready before my brother and I had to leave for school, so we would often get rides from PopPop instead of having to walk.  It was about a mile, but especially on days when the weather was bad – best days ever.  And the car had a bench seat in the front so you could actually sit 3 people if you wanted to.  And I was super tiny as a kid, so naturally, I would sit right next to PopPop in the middle seat.  That was my seat.

Somewhere along the way, PopPop discovered I liked these gummy burger and pizza things.  I have no idea if they still make them (I haven’t had them in probably two decades), but at one point, any time I got in his car, he’d have a bag of them for me.  Because that was the kind of person he was.  PopPop was the first person to let me “drive.”  We were in Pennsylvania (my grandparents had a vacation house up there) and my brother and I were fighting so he took me for a ride to get away from the chaos for a little.  Just us.  We went down a state park and I remember asking him if I could drive and without pause, he put me on his lap and I got to drive the ugly brown car.  I vividly recall him not even having his hands on the steering wheel (that may have been ignorance on my part, but blissful I most certainly was)!  I was probably 6 or 7.  I went back to that state park the day after his funeral with my parents and brother and the memory of going down that road with him scared the life out of me.  No person in their right mind would let a child even pretend to drive that road!  It’s super narrow and windy.  But he didn’t hesitate.

PopPop would often pick my brother and I up from school too.  Both our parents worked and the alternative was after school.  PopPop picking us up was way better.  We’d go to this restaurant called Zeke’s.  I don’t even remember the kind of food there and they’ve long since closed, but we went a lot.  There was a park across the street from there that we would go to after eating.  The best.  And when PopPop was ready to leave and we weren’t?  I would scream: “Stranger! He’s trying to take us!!”  I was a brat.  He would throw his hands up in the air “Oh!  Ho, ho!  No, no.”  and we would get to play a little longer.  It never occurred to me then that he still continued to take us to the park after we pulled those stunts.  When I went to high school I figured the rides to school would stop – I was going to a school much farther away and traffic would be a nightmare – the train was the only logical transportation.  But I still got to see PopPop in the mornings, waiting for my dad.  And a few times, I did get a ride.  Who was luckier than me?

As kids, we went to PA a lot, but after my grandmother had died, not so much.  We started doing other things and PopPop came with us quite a bit.  We went to Disney World.  We went to the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  Skiing in Killington.  Yup, my 78 year old grandpa went skiing with me.  We went on a cruise in Hawaii.  That cruise was when I realized my sweet, kind, thoughtful grandfather was also a dirty old man. :/  I don’t remember him drinking in my lifetime, but according to his stories (and some family members’s stories), he could drink.  We had just gotten on the boat and my parents and brother were off doing something else, so him and I sat at the bar and sipped on some sodas.  And the stories.  Oh the stories he told!  From his Navy days, from married days to his current days.  Things no granddaughter should hear.  Had they been told by anyone else – hysterical.  And good for him.  But not my PopPop!  But we became closer on that trip.  I was always the favorite (I’m joking, but really I’m not).  And when I told him I was joining the Navy?  Forget it.  I could do no wrong.  I was already at an elevated status in his mind.  Joining the same branch of service as him?  Set for life.

PopPop has always been there for me.  When I graduated from high school and college, he was there.  He came down to Florida when I got my master’s and spent the week with us in Disney before I actually walked across the stage.  That was an awesome experience.  When I commissioned into the Navy, I don’t think I ever saw him look prouder.  The night of my commissioning was the Navy Ball and we attended.  My favorite picture of the two of us was taken that night – the last dance I ever had with him. When I was stationed in Hawaii, he came to visit again with my parents.  I got to give them a tour of my ship and after running into my CO, we went to the bridge for him to sit in the Captain’s chair.  Another proud moment to share.

In the past few years, I’d gotten used to calling PopPop just to say hi.  Or he would call me.  Our conversations were always short, but meaningful.  If I was unable to answer my phone, I’d get random messages.  “Hellloooooo.  Anybody home?  Haha.  OK! Goodbye!” He had a distinct way of saying goodbye.  There was the very staccato way.  Almost as if it were one syllable.  The race to saying it the quickest.  Or the drawn out “Good-bi-eye”  as he shook his hand at you as in a ‘get outta here, crazy.’  There were a lot of mannerisms he had like that, though.  His expressions were priceless.

The week before he died, he made it clear that he was ready to go.  He had been in the hospital and I was lucky with work that I could be home to see him as often as I did before he passed.  He was always in good spirits.  We had some alone time at one point and I wasn’t ready to accept that he was going to go yet and had brought up a conversation him and I had had in July.  We had agreed that he would live to be at least 103.  I initially had said 100 and he laughed at me, saying a hundred was too young.  It would be 103.  So that day in the hospital I told him he wasn’t allowed to go – he promised me another seventeen years.  The look in his eyes was what I needed to accept that he was ready then – he was just waiting for us living people to catch up.  He told me a lot of things that morning, but what I choose to share with you is summarized to this: Live.  It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, you just need to enjoy every minute of when you’re alive.  When I couldn’t help but cry, he yelled at me.  Told me not to waste my time mourning – he had lived his life and had more fun than he should have.

Throughout that week he told us of heaven.  It’s a beautiful place.  And all your sins are forgiven.  Even the ones you might be nervous about – you’re good.  PopPop was never all that religious.  He gave me rosary beads at my First Communion that were in a very nice box that says “The family that prays together stays together” and has come to every single sacrament I’ve received in the Church, but otherwise not so much.  He died on a Monday.  The Sunday morning before he asked me to pray for him (I had visited before going to church).  When I got back after church, he had taken a turn for the worse.  I was closing on my house in Virginia (yes, I moved again) the next day and had to get on the road.  When I told him I needed to go, he laughed at me and told me he’d get there before me.  And laughed.  He was in so much pain, but he still laughed.  “Good-bi-eye” he said to me as I tried to hide tears, knowing this was truly our last goodbye.  It was the only time he said that to me without waving me off.  Mostly because we were holding hands.  My dad and aunt walked me to my car and I’ll never forget me aunt asking my dad “what happened?!” in disbelief.  We thought even that morning that he was going to make it through this.  My dad’s response: “He lived 86 years.”

I closed on my house and took care of some new owner things before making my way back up to New York Monday afternoon.  I stopped for some dinner and was messaging a close friend saying I was pretty sure he had passed, but no one was answering my calls.  I just had this feeling that it was THAT moment.  I had just gotten back on the road again and was about halfway home when my mom called with the news.  You know that even when you expect the worse, it still feels miserable to hear it and confirm the truth behind it.  I had to pull over again to let it truly sink in.  I texted two friends.  I couldn’t use the words and I certainly couldn’t say it over the phone.  And I pulled it together as much as I could and got back to driving.  I was overwhelmed by the support my friends showed.  They passed the word along to make sure I had someone to talk to and distract my thoughts so I could make it the remaining 4 hours that night.  And then even moreso by the fact that almost all my friends had met PopPop at one point or another.  Because he was that important.  My friends knew my grandfather.  And loved him.  Because how could you not?

To everyone who reached out – it is greatly appreciated.  There are few words that can really make a difference, but your presence (physical or through phone calls or messages) meant the world.  Especially you Queens folks that braved the R train to come to the wake and funeral.

To the man who taught me:

  • some people are screwballs and should be treated as such
  • $20 will get you crack if you’re ten years old
  • to always have a spare napkin or two (you neva know when ya gotta go)
  • not to take any wooden nickels from anybody
  • laugh when people are angry with you
  • live and be happy
  • you always love me, no matter what
  • and so much more

– you are forever missed.

My last saved voicemail from PopPop was from May 6th, 2017.  It’s 7 seconds long and I had no idea I still had it until another friend had left me a message and I saw his name on the saved messages list.  I say these words back to him now:

“I miss you.  I love you.  Good-bi-eye.”

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Home 

I find stereotypes really interesting.  Not saying I agree with them – or even disagree with them: I just find them interesting.  For instance, people say New York is dirty and crazy and the people are rude and crazy. Sometimes that’s absolutely right.  But tens of thousands of people a day visit the city.   Quests, adventure, I ❤ NY everywhere. Seems counterintuitive for a dirty, rude city for people to want to visit.   I went to NYC’s Fleet Week this past weekend.  It’s in those moments of walking around my city, watching people connect and show appreciation for the military and whatnot that it makes me so proud to be from there.   

The city changes for events such as Fleet Week. When a NY team wins the World Series or Stanley Cup or whatever sport you’re into. You get the idea. I watched people in cabs flag down Sailors crossing the street to give them money to buy a drink.  Service members getting VIP treatment to observation decks of the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower. Free meals and beer and people genuinely appreciative of other people.  It’s an unforgettable experience. 

I also checked off another Broadway show while I was home. It may be hard to believe, but until this weekend, I had never seen The Lion King on the big stage! I’ve been hesitant to see it. With it being my favorite movie, I had high expectations and I didn’t want to be disappointed! Well. I was not. The costumes and puppet work was phenomenal.  Nothing I imagined it would be and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was enthralled. I wish I had a thousand pairs of eyes to see everything. One to see again, methinks!

Hakuna Matata!

NY State of Mind

So I’m officially a New York State resident again. It’s kind of funny. I’ve always associated myself with being from NY and it will always be home. But this is the first time in my adult life that I’m actually living in NY.  I went to college in Florida when I was still 17 and haven’t been back other than visits since. Go figure! Granted,  I live in upstate NY now,  but it still feels more home than my previous digs have.  There’s just something about being close to mountains and having seasons and just the charm that is the greatest state that I can’t explain with words alone.  It’s that feeling of truly being somewhere you love.  You don’t need to DO anything to have that vibe. It’s sheer contentment sitting on your stoop or driving to nowhere and reveling in the beauty and magnificence of where you are. The feels are just there.  It’s simple and wonderful tied up in a bow and BAM! Home. 

I went home home (yes,  Brooklyn) for Easter weekend. It was nice. I didn’t tell all that many people I was returning. It was pretty sad to go home and not have the Ice puppy there.  Empty. 😦  There’s no words that can make that go away. Maybe time helps. I don’t know yet.   The other day was the anniversary of my good friend who took his life. I’ve written about him before (re: Sandman) and I guess it is a true testament to time since it was the first year that I didn’t completely lose it thinking about everything.  I still miss him. I still wish he was with us and nothing will change that he wasn’t here for long enough.   But I think I’m finally accepting things and coming to peace with it. It’s a strange feeling. Part of me thinks that’s a betrayal of him – that somehow that makes me miss him less or not care. But the other part recognizes you can’t dwell on the what ifs or should haves. What’s done is done.  There’s still an empty void that will probably never be filled.

But back from that tangent, home was otherwise nice. Had some meals at my favorite restaurants with family,  got breakfast – I would call it brunch but apparently if you meet before 10AM the absolute earliest,  you’re out of your mind and it’s definitely breakfast – with some high school friends (we’ve known each other for over a decade!!! How crazy is that?!??!!), and, of course,  an amazing dinner for Easter at my aunt and uncle’s – with more family! Om nom. So much food and goodness!  Anyway. Life is good. 

Hakuna Matata!

Positivity

It’s been a rough month.  I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the hours of daylight I saw in the previous two weeks. And in all of that, I ended up not succeeding on my first attempt on a task that’s rather vital for my job. I get another shot at it next week. So that really just means another week of killing it to ensure round 2 goes better. 
In all of this, naturally, I was pretty devastated. I’ve been working so hard,it’s frustrating to see those efforts seem to go to waste. They’re not. But in an instant when you learn you’ve failed at something – That’s the moment you think everything you’ve been doing is for naught. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?  I try to find the good in everything. A reason that maybe isn’t so obvious as to why certain events occurred the way they did.  It’s still pretty hard for me to accept this didn’t go my way. But I was reminded of something more important than anything else in all of this. 
I’ve mentioned this before. And I’ll say it again. I have the greatest people in my life. When I got to my phone the other night, I had a handful of texts and voice-mail messages from my people with their words of encouragement and support. It’s easy to blame other people for things that go wrong. But ultimately that gets you no where. Easier said than accepted of course. But my people all avoided any of that blame. Simply stated how I’ll get it next time and how I’m still awesome and all the feels.  The focus on the positive and what can be controlled.  That’s huge.  And makes all the difference in the world. 
I’ll end my sappiness here for the evening. But don’t forget the importance of being positive. It changes things. For the better. Hakuna Matata!

Thankfulness

Whelp.  It’s almost the end of November.  I’ve been writing this post in my head since the 1st.  But here we are.  Time freaking flies.  It’s amazing.  Here I am sitting on a plane on my way home for the holiday and no update to mention.  Yeah, I know.  I’m a terrible blogger.  2016 has been a pretty crazy year.  There are quite a few of my facebook friends who insist we don’t even acknowledge this year in the future.  But I have to admit, it’s been a pretty memorable one for me.  I’ve moved from Hawaii to San Diego to South Carolina.  I’ve explored Iceland and Denmark and Estonia and the outer skirts of Germany, and visited Russia and Sweden and Finland.  I’ve driven across the United States on an epic road trip and visited famous landmarks and national parks.  I’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean and I’ve gotten to visit friends and family across the country.  So can I really complain?  These are the things that matter.  I am so blessed to have the people I do in my life. Regardless of how they got there.  I’ve revisited our nation’s Capitol and returned to the greatest city in the world twice (yes, I’m referring to New York).  And I still have this weekend and Christmas to enjoy before the year is out.

I’ve been fortunate enough to join my dive family in Florida for an annual Thanksgiving celebration, not to mention surprise my family for my dad and uncle’s birthdays.  I’ve reunited with my college roommate and made new friends at my latest job.  Of course there has also been failure and total feeling of loss and despair.  But mostly joy.  At least the stuff I choose to dwell on.  And that’s what I think is the key.  Why focus on the bad?  There’s so much good.  Moving for the third time this year was a struggle. Leaving the people I grew to care for and accept was challenging.  Returning to academia was a lot harder than I imagined it would be.  But there have been a multitude of people who have helped me get where I am.  And I am more than grateful for their input.  From the 5:30AM wake up calls to wish me well on an exam or just to say hi, to the random texts and messages just that say people are thinking of me and are hoping I am well.  Those mean the world to me.  Even if I’m not the greatest at conveying that in the moment.

I’m thankful for more than I can ever write about in a blog post.  My family plays a huge part in that.  As crazy as they drive me at times, they are the best.  I don’t care who you are.  You don’t beat the genuineness and love that is experienced in my family.  I have the best friends.  We can not talk for months.  And when I pick up the phone in a moment of despair or boredom, they are there for me.  I’m a pretty crappy friend.  My job takes up a lot of my time.  And when I’m not working, I’m kind of burnt out.  And a loner.  Not in the creepy or bad way.  I just like me time.  So I screen my calls and texts and eventually, I will get back to you.  But aside from the fact that I’m usually asleep before 9PM and I talk to about 2 people on a regular basis (and yes, one of those humans is my mom), my people are still there for me in spite of that.  I don’t get invites to go to the opera 500 miles away.  But I get videos of my friends being awesome and killing it in their chosen profession.  And updates on so and so and what I’ve missed.  Like nothing has changed since I left New York.  And I’d like to think that as anti-social as I can be, my people do know that I would be there for them in a heartbeat if they truly needed me.  It’s funny how that works.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blog World.  Always remember.  Even when things don’t seem to be going right, there’s always SOMETHING to be thankful for. Hakuna Matata!

Life Paths

As more and more of my friends get engaged and married and have children or get pets, I find myself wondering how my life may have been different if I didn’t follow the paths I did.  There are days when I think it would be the coolest thing in the world to have a mini human.  They are few and far between, but they are there.  And there are days when I miss my little monster (I use this term affectionately) so damn freaking much that I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly ever want to not experience the joy a puppy could bring.  But then I think of how heartbroken I was having to leave him every morning to go to school and work and life.

I am a nomad.  I literally just moved less than three months ago and I’m jonesing to go somewhere else.  It’s really hard to travel when you’ve got a dog who can’t go with you.  Or kids, I’d imagine.  But it’s hard to travel with adults too.  I started this blog shortly after I got to New Zealand.  After spending 6 months on my own in Germany.  I’ve posted about the challenges of living in a foreign country, not knowing the language or people and being 6 hours and 5,000 miles off from your people.  I stand by those sentiments still.  Before I did the study abroad in Italy, I couldn’t even go to a fast food place by myself, even just to pick up food to go let alone live in a different country by myself.  I would rather starve than be by myself.  Not because I wanted to be around other people, but because I hated appearing lonely in front of other people.  I don’t know why that distinction was important, but it was.

Europe made me change that mindset.  I wanted to see what was out there.  And I didn’t know anyone so I had to go by myself if I wanted to have that adventure.  And in traveling solo, I discovered something incredible.  I met people I would have never given the time of day to ordinarily.  I spent time on the things I thought were fascinating and skipped the boring stuff.  To me.  That’s the beauty of people, though.  We all are enchanted by different things.  Finding someone who will like and dislike the exact same things as you is nearly impossible.  Sure, there will be some similarities, but we all do appreciate different things.  Having that opportunity to experience things at your own pace is something everyone should be afforded.  It made me stronger.  And more independent.

Traveling alone, however, can also lose some of the magic.  It is nice to share certain moments with other people, especially those you love (platonic or otherwise!).  I’m planning my next adventure – it shall be epic.  There’s driving across the country, and gallivanting through different bodies of water, and cruising to countries I’ve only read about.  And I don’t want to go alone.  But I do.  Because planning this adventure is proving to be more stressful than I anticipated.  Mostly because I’ve become so accustomed to doing what I want, when I want, I don’t know how to compromise.  Well.  I don’t want to.  And because visas are involved.  And consulates.  And no email addresses and I have to call people and speak to them.  On the phone: I hate the phone.  This is 2016 for goodness sake!  I should be able to text someone to get a visa!

But when adventuring with other people, you have to take into consideration their stuff.  Well, at least you should. So back to seeing my friends committing to other people and all.  I can’t even commit to where to go for dinner!  And I wonder.  If I never went to Italy, if I never moved to Germany, or studied in New Zealand, or worked for Continental: Where would I be?  Would I want to travel?  Would I still be with my college boyfriend? Would I have the career path I found myself in?  Would I have more education?  Maybe I would be living back in New York. Maybe I’d have my dog.  Who knows?  I think things happen for a reason.  What those reasons are?  No idea.  But we end up where we do to affect someone or something.  In my opinion.  Good or bad – we have purpose.

It’s crazy how many variables there are out there.  But ultimately, mine has been pretty freaking awesome.  It’s been a roller coaster, but I’m ready for the next turn.

Good Riddance New Year’s Resolutions

As the year closes out and my facebook news feed is plastered with reminiscings of  2015, everyone seems to also include their well wishes and hopes for 2016.  Which is all nice and wonderful, but my issue with this is that shouldn’t we be well wishing and thankful for what we have year round and not just for one or two weeks at the end/beginning of a new year?  The notion that a new year should mean we better ourselves isn’t a bad one, but why wait for the new year?  Fix the issues you have when you realize you have them!

There’s a quote I’ve always found amusing: “Don’t wait – procrastinate now!”  It’s the same concept even though it’s opposing what I’m encouraging if that makes sense.  Along the same lines, people always try to stay in touch around the holidays. As if Christmas and New Year are the only times we think of these people we care about. How absurd!  I admit, my lifestyle does pose some issues with how frequently I keep in contact with the people I love.  But I still attempt to talk to them year round. And by talk, I really mean text,  facebook stalk/message/post, or emails mostly. But just a simple text that says ‘hey’ usually gives a person those warm fuzzies that makes the extra seconds you took out of your day (and not just on a holiday) seem all worth it.

It’s been a good year. And of course I want the next year to be even better. But how much better would our lives be if we reflect on the awesomeness that is life and people and what we have on a regular basis?   Just sayin!

Hakuna Matata!