It’s Tuesday. 6PM. A grin automatically grows on my face. I’m excited for two reasons; one, I’m finally getting out of work (which is enough reason to smile every day). Two, I get to spend my dinner time with one of the most influential, happiest, and best people in the world: my Poppy. I take the usual roads to his house, all the time thinking of what we can talk about when I see him, or what funny story he’ll have for me today. Finally, I get to his house, park the car, and go into his house to pick him up for dinner.
Every time I went down to get him, he was always sitting in his recliner, either watching the news on mute or reading the New York Post. I’d greet him with a fist pump in the air and a kiss on the cheek, and then get the famous “Three Fingered Willy” handshake.
“Philly, what took you so long? I was about to call the cops to go lookin’ for ya” he’d say, smile on his face and toothpick in his mouth. I’d often respond with a laugh or a quick joke, nonetheless just happy to hear his voice. He’d ask me if I’m ready, get out of his recliner and head to his kitchen table. He’d turn his hearing aids on and his cell phone off and always made sure to tell me “I don’t need a phone, nobody calls me anyway”. I always felt like telling him that even if we called he probably wouldn’t be able to hear it, but it became so routine, I didn’t say anything.
Poppy would slide his boat shoes on, put his “Stamford Old-Timers” or “St. Joseph’s” hat on, and then would ask me if he needed a jacket. He hated putting on a jacket, because it meant it was cold outside. “I gotta get outta here, Philly. Let’s go to Florida” he’d say. Poppy’s house had a staircase, but he never walked up them. Not because he couldn’t, but because he didn’t need to. You see, we had an electric chair installed for my grandmother when she couldn’t walk that would go up and down the stairs. When she passed, Poppy felt it necessary to not let the chair go to waste. “I’ll be up in a half a minute, Philly” he’d scream as I waited for him on the top of the stairs. Thirty seconds later, he’d meet me at the top of the stairs, get out of the chair, turn to me with his famous smile and say “it’s all bullshit, Philly.”
I’d help him get into my car, or as he called it, the “sardine can”. He hated that my car was so low, and would curse the whole way into his seat. This is where my favorite part of the day would occur. For that 14 minute drive, I got to have one on ones with my Poppy. He’d start by telling me about his day, which usually was him waking up at noon, going to the Tully Health Center to swim, then end up at the gas station on Hope St. (which he referred to as “the club”), where he’d sit and converse with his buddy Junior. I’d pick his brain about everything: politics, sports, top stories, but mostly about his life. I’d ask him about how it was back in the day, what he was like when he was my age, along with some things I’m sure he’d rather me not tell you what we talked about. No matter what we discussed, he always circled back to one theme: family. “Philly, a man without his family is nothing. You have friends, sure, but your family will always be your family”. I will always, ALWAYS, remember that. He always reinforced the fact that without my family, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
We’d get to my parents’ house, where he always thanked me for the ride and tell me “I hope you turned the meter off”. I told him I’d put it on my tab. He’d get to the garage door to get inside, knock on the door (to purposely rile my dog up), then make his grand entrance into the kitchen. He’d be greeted by my mother, father, and brother, and then would make his way to his seat at the table, where there would be a glass of White Zinfandel with three ice cubes waiting for him.
We’d eat dinner and talk about how our days went, but Poppy never spoke at the dinner table until he was finished. He’d always try to sneak a piece of whatever we were having to our pets, which would lead to my mother getting mad at him, and him winking at me. After dinner, he HAD to have a toothpick. He’d have hiscoffee and dessert, then kick back in my dad’s recliner, similar to the one he had at home. We’d try to get him to watch hockey, but he wasn’t really a big fan. He loved football, baseball, and the news. When it was time to leave, he’d make his way down our two stairs in the garage, and would complain that my father should put a railing on the wall. I always laughed.
When I didn’t have a practice at 8:30, or a softball game, or anything else, I’d take Poppy home. Again, we’d spend that 14 minute car ride talking, just the two of us. The first portion would be about how amazing the dinner was, and how lucky I am to have a guy like my dad that cooks so well. Then we’d get into the same old banter, most of which never got old. At my mother’s request (although he didn’t really like it much), I would help him get to the front door when we got to his house, or at least watch him all the way inside. I always made sure to tell him I loved him when he got out, to which he’d reply “stay to the right, don’t smoke in bed, and don’t piss in the wind” or “pleasure doing business with an established firm”. Once his door shut, my night was complete.
This was my Tuesday routine. Every Tuesday for the past three or four years. Every week, my schedule would change, but Tuesday’s remained the same. My Poppy was, is, and forever will be, one of the biggest chunks of my heart. He was the patriarch for our family, a lifetime resident of Stamford (much of which he and his brothers had a hand in constructing), and overall just a man amongst men. I could tell you the stories he’d tell me about meeting legends like Jim Brown or Johnny Unitas, spending time with Frank Sinatra’s parents, or how he lost his two fingers while working on the Charter Oak Bridge, but those are mere fractions of the man he was, and the life that he lived.
February 7th. Tuesday. I got the call around six in the morning that Poppy was in the hospital, and wasn’t doing all that well. I got to the hospital to join the rest of my family, and sat with Poppy one last time. Throughout the day and even into the night, the amount of people who came by to see my Poppy was mind boggling. Family, friends, anyone who knew him basically, made sure to stop by and see him. During this time, Poppy seemed to come to and acted normal. That night before I left, I looked him in the eye and told him I loved him, and made sure that I heard it back. Then Wednesday came.
When I heard that you had passed, I didn’t want to believe it. You’ve been in my life for 27 years, and I always thought you’d be around to see my kids. You were the guy that I believed was immortal. Now you’re with your brothers, Mimi, and the rest of the gang, probably operating a crane by day and at the track by night. Although your passing was devastating, I will not mourn your death for long. I will celebrate your life and everything you’ve accomplished, as well as the legacy that you left behind. Don’t worry, Pop; I recorded all of the conversations we had in the car when I picked you up, and I will play one every Tuesday when I go home for dinner. Love you Poppy.