Remembering Old Salty
I'm devastated to share that after a three month battle with mesothelioma, Grandpa passed away earlier today.
My family is tight, and I grew up proclaiming that I have the best grandparents in the word. (A statement I still maintain.) The loss of a family member so dear is difficult to comprehend and process and whatever else needs doing, so I thought I'd share a few of the good memories I'll always have.
Grandpa wasn’t a man of many words, so when he told stories, we listened. Many of them were recollections from his Navy days, sharing the exotic places he’d been and the people he met on his journeys. How his hearing loss was from working the boiler rooms at the way bottom of the ship, but he did so well that he was promoted to "Oil King" with added responsibilities and the ability to give orders. (I can’t imagine him doing the latter at home.)
He surrounded himself with a collective of service mementos. There's a photo of his ship, the U.S.S. Johnston, going down the sketchy stairs that leads to his basement of treasures (and junk), an anchor magnet on the refrigerator, Navy sticker on the mirror of his bureau, Veterans plate on his white Chevy, Navy cap he'd put on when going out- so many representations of four and a half years as a tin can sailor.
Before his mesothelioma flared up, Grandpa was scanning the old family Kodachrome slides taken on a camera he purchased while in the Navy. A camera he later gave to me. Each time I visited him and Nanny after that, I'd have a pile of vintage photos to sift through. How fun! There's one I spent a long time looking at- Grandpa in the yard at their home in West Newbury, handsome in his white uniform holding my six-month old mother. It was the first time he met her- Grandpa was docked in Barcelona when she was born.
It was incredible- absolutely incredible- to see a photo of a moment I've heard many times about. That was one of the few photos I saw Grandpa in.
You can always tell who the family recorder is by looking at who isn't in most of the family photos. I've concluded that was Grandpa's role before Mom assumed the position, one that she's having a difficult time passing to me. (I have the fancy camera, but she loves going paparazzi at family functions whereas I like to sit back and eat a stuffing ball or something.)
Speaking of which, stuffing balls are delicacy in our family. So much so, that Grandpa found an extendable fork at a yard sale that he used to pull a stuffing ball off my cousin, Danny's plate one year, much to his surprise and annoyance. We fight over those things. The stuffing balls.
I'll always remember walking into Nanny & Grandpa's kitchen at Thanksgiving, stepping over the orange plaid linoleum floor from the 70s to interrupt Grandpa from his cooking for a hug. Elvis was always playing in the background.
I grew up hearing about Grandpa's glory days in the Navy and as a meter reader for Essex County Gas, but I remember him as a custodian for the Sweetsir School. After stuffing ourselves (with stuffing balls!), Grandpa would unlock the school so us grandkids could tear up and down the hallways on the little red tricycles in the occupational therapy room. We'd play xylophones in the music room, pet Cocoa Puff the guinea pig, and play dodgeball with the entire family in the gym. Grandpa was well loved in this position, which he brought his own air of humor to. The teachers who visited him in hospice would giggle in recollection of the time he painted a bull's eye in the urinals. It improved aim tremendously, and made Grandpa's job easier. Unfortunately, the principal didn't find this moment of genius to be as fantastic as it was.
What I'll remember most about Grandpa is his kindness, gentleness, and especially the love he shares with Nanny. Putting her earrings in every morning, switching their breakfast dishes halfway through at the Morning Buzz so each could have a taste of what the other ordered, and afternoons spent at Salisbury Beach.
Nanny was at Grandpa's side to the end, pushing him to drink more Ensure or eat a little more chocolate pudding. It was easy to grasp the connection between the two of them. On our way to the beach after visiting Grandpa, Shelby turned to me in tears and said, "I hope we'll have a love like your grandparents. I want to be just like them when we're old."
Many of my photos of Grandpa are of him and Nanny; I always had a difficult time taking a picture of just him. The photo above was taken May of 2015 when I was photographing Nanny for this post. Grandpa was with us, and I asked him to join her in a few photos. I remember thinking, "I will be so happy I took this photo one day."
Mom may have captured the refrigerator moments, but I took the wall photos. I love you, Grandpa. Forever and ever.