I watched my son grab at his grandfather’s nose and giggle incessantly as my old man popped his mouth open and shut in an effort to make Jack smile and giggle. His little face lit up at the man with the white goatee and silver brushed back hair. Both of them were in a state of wonderment and true love. What an amazing feeling it is to see the bond begin with a little boy and his Papa.
Growing up in Cloverdale, our Italian side of the family was very much like the TV series, Everybody Loves Raymond. My father’s house was built in a cul-de-sac in 1988-89 and Nan and Papa’s retirement house was built at the top of that same cul-de-sac soon after. The door was always open and the grandkids were welcome to come and go as we pleased.
Nan was a beautiful, bright eyed woman who spent her life with my Papa Tommy, raising her three children, Rob (My Dad), Tom (My uncle), and Val (My aunt). Nan had a real gentle and charming quality. She was sweet in nature, but not soft, she, to me, represented a classic look. Everything you want your grandmother to be. My Nan was the one person who could keep me calm and explain to me why I was in trouble, or why Dad was frustrated. She had the ability to get a precocious child like myself to at least try to see the bigger picture and the Campbell’s mushroom soup and crackers helped as well.
Papa was a professional jockey throughout the ‘40s, ‘50s, and began training race horses in the ‘60’s and ‘70s. I was the 3rd of 4 grandchildren to Pearl and Tommy, and all of us had wonderful relationships with them. My cousin Jen had the strongest bond with my grandfather, as she was born in the ‘70s and had a longer time frame with him until his passing in 1998; I had thirteen years with him. I still remember that cheeky, mischievous grin he had when he would purposely tease my grandmother just to get a laugh out of me. Papa came to all of my hockey games, all of my baseball games and even to my soccer games, despite my huge lack of ability. He stood 5’5, 150 pounds, yet he was massive. His large presence and colourful Italian nature made him larger than life.
Papa has been gone 20 years this February, and Nan four years this January. Now more than ever, I miss them deeply. I wish they could see their Great-Grandson. I wish for that cheeky grin and for the mushroom soup. Kirstin and I made a point to frame and place black and white photos of all of our family members from the previous generations throughout the house, so our son knows and understands his background and heritage. If you don’t know where you came from, how can you ever truly know who you are or where you’re headed.
As I watched my son play with his Papa, giggle, paw at his mysterious white goatee, I am reminded of how much I love my grandparents. If you are lucky enough to have them living nearby, visit them. If they are not within reach; phone them. They are your link to the past and are truly special; I would love to have just one glimpse of Nan and Papa somewhere, whether it is in the clouds, walking in the distance hand in hand or for a brief moment in my dreams.
Today is a great day to be a grandchild, no matter how old you are.
To my friend, Michael Miertsch- take advantage of the amazing gift that is in front of you. Ask questions, learn about your family history, experience life through their eyes as best you can. It will be one of the best experiences you will ever have, I promise you.