After Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, I had moved into my Pop Pop's house because my parent's home was flooded and we had to wait six months for the rebuilding to be finished.
I was a college student in Manhattan studying English, Religion and Spanish at the time, interning as a wish granter at the Make A Wish foundation, and waitressing and bartending on weekends.
The days following the hurricane were dreary as we tried to salvage anything we could from the water damage and decipher whether our home was inhabitable by staying on the second floor. My Pop Pop offered us his home indefinitely while we figured things out. He lived in a large, four story house a few towns over that my mother was raised in, along with six other siblings. After my grandmother's passing a few years earlier, my Pop Pop had been living alone for almost five years.
I didn't have the closest bond with my grandfather around that time. We spoke briefly at family parties as he was known to monopolize conversations and barely listened when you spoke. He often repeated the same script on topics such as the news, politics and how different America was when he was a kid.
His famous line interjected into most exchanges was "I won't be around to see the fall of the Roman Empire!" followed by a laugh and a sip of his Rusty Nail. Additionally, he loved telling the story of his favorite bartender at the VFW who once gave him a glass filled with water and a single nail after ordering the cocktail. He'd garner a deep belly laugh when retelling this antic. "That Freddy I tell ya! He's a real pisser!"
At the time, I remember wishing we could go anywhere else but his house. Even though my schedule didn't allot for much down time, the thought of becoming accustomed to my Pop Pop's antiquated ways of living seemed unbearable. The room that I would be staying in was the tiny, dusty space that fit a single bed, a thin vanity with a note on the mirror that read "4 Farts Per Guest" and the doorway to the attic where the ghost of Mrs. Duffy lived.
Apparently, the woman who lived in the house before my grandfather bought it had died there and remained in the attic to haunt my cousins and I when we were kids. He didn't want us running around his house when we visited, so he'd open his eyes real wide and whisper to us "Mrs. Duffy is waiting for you upstairs" as we'd scream and run into the backyard.
The first few nights that I stayed there were interesting to say the least. My Pop Pop randomly yelled profanities while getting ready for bed, while I laid awake wondering what in the world could be pissing him off at 10pm. The following mornings he'd sing songs just upon waking, as I'd hear "She'll be comin' around the mountain when she comes! Yee haw!" through the thin wall separating our bedrooms.
Some late nights that I'd get home from the city, I'd find him sitting in the breakfast nook with a cup of Lipton Tea on a saucer with a piece of lemon, a newspaper in hand and Frank Sinatra singing on the radio. I'd take out my homework and sit across from him as he'd ask if I saw people "smoking dope" in Manhattan because "they're all smoking dope these days!" He'd also tell me to stand with my back against a wall when waiting for the subway in case someone tried to push me in front of a subway car.
I remember one day walking into the living room after a run and he jolted up from his recliner, grabbed my hand and said "Hey! Wanna cut a rug?" as we began dancing to "In the Mood" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000" by Glen Miller.
It didn't take long for me to realize that it was a gift to stay at my Pop Pop's house during such turbulent times. I quit complaining and acting like my world was crumbling around me and began looking forward to coming home to our weekly chats. Even if 90% of the time he didn't listen to a single word I said, I loved hearing his stories about WWII, how he met my grandma, anecdotes about their three day wedding, adventurous tales of fighting fires in New York City, and what life was like in the 20's and 30's.
How I wish I could go back to those moments now and savor them just a little more sweetly. What I'd do to sit across from him again at the breakfast nook and get transported back to a world that moved slowly and patiently. How I'd love to smell his cigar mixed with peppermint candies, watch him write letters to local politicians at a desk concealed with stacks of papers, and feel his hands in mine as he teaches me the Foxtrot.
Today on Veterans Day, I remember my Pop Pop and how lucky I am to have had a hurricane force me out of my home and introduce me to the life of a man who sung songs simply for the sake of singing; who danced alone because he loved the grandiose nature of Big Bands; and who shared his deep seated pride for America to anyone who'd listen.
Thank you to everyone who's served our country and who continues to serve us. We appreciate you, we thank you and we honor you. May you live each day similar to my Pop Pop - a man who continued to believe in the potential of our country despite living through such tragedies and fought through one of the most gruesome wars.
This one's for you, Pop Pop. I'm missing you dearly today.
Never say goodbye. Say "Cheerio!"