Pops was an oasis in a home filled with sharp-tongued women. Every Thursday evening, he would bring my Nana over to spend the night at our house. On Fridays she got her hair done downtown. After work on Friday evening Pops would come to our house for Family Dinner. Then they’d go home. While with us, Nana talked incessantly. She gossiped, she was mean, she lived her life as it were a soap opera. It was widely acknowledged that my grandfather “couldn’t get a word in edgewise” living with my grandmother. When Pops had something to say, it was generally said thoughtfully and quietly. We listened.
Pops was the first in his family of 11 children to graduate from high school. He read voraciously. I listened to classical music at his house with him. He encouraged me to learn more about music, and he subscribed me to the entire set of Reader’s Digest Piano books, which were collections of songs from the 20th century by decade. He’d pull out his trumpet and we’d play together. Consequently, I know more about Cole Porter, Gershwin, and Rogers and Hammerstein than most people of my generation. I remember all the words to those old songs because my mother would come in and sing with us while we played. The joy of making music inspired me to become a professional musician.
Pops retired at 65 as Vice President of HR for that same savings bank, having spent his entire career there. I was blessed to have him in my life for another 28 years, 10 of those without my grandmother. Those years were when we really talked about everything. One day he confessed to me that when he was in his 20s he’d had a mental health crisis, suffering panic attacks after becoming a new father. He’d held that inside for 70 years – afraid to talk about it due to fear of losing his job. My grandfather refused to get a haircut professionally for 20 years because he’d had the panic attack outside the barbershop door. The odd thing was that I’d had a panic attack a year before. I’d read that they could be hereditary, but I never expected that my strong grandfather was the one who had had that experience. I was so glad he trusted me to help him finally process that experience aloud. Our mutual experience brought us even closer together.
My grandfather was my rock, a constant in my life for 43 years. His passing was a huge loss for me. I gave the eulogy at his funeral and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I felt him supporting me the entire time I spoke. I was that little girl again, standing on his feet while we danced.