Everyone in the neighborhood called him Mr. Joe. I called him Grandpa, or Gramps.
My mother’s father was Sicilian, which means stubbornness was part of his DNA. Not so much with me or my brother but with almost everyone else. He owned a small apartment building, two units on the second and third floor and one small unit on the first floor, which is where I lived with my parents and brother. In front of the first floor unit was a small grocery store/meat market which my parents ran. It was your typical neighborhood corner store. Adults congregated inside, discussing whatever adults discussed at the time, while my friends and I occupied the corner and playground which, in our world, was the street out front.
Gramps lived about five minutes away, so he was at the store everyday from morning until dinner time. He was a nice looking man with white hair and a great smile, and I loved him. He always wore this black leather jacket, except for the summer months, and he blended in easily with my friends. It was not unusual for him to sit on the corner with us for hours; playing cards, pitching pennies, taking us for rides in his immaculate Chevy or just talking nonsense. He used to love to sing, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, over and over again. I never asked him why he liked that song. He always seemed to be having so much fun singing it, I figured it didn’t matter why an Italian enjoyed singing a British song in broken english.
When Gramps was in his late 60’s he had a stroke. The doctor said he would never walk, speak or write his name again. But being a stubborn Sicilian sometimes has its benefits. He stayed with us while he recovered and I remember him trying to write his name over and over and over again, until he could. He eventually talked, walked and even drove his Chevy again.
Ten years after that stroke, which his doctor referred to as borrowed time, he had another one. I remember getting to my aunt’s house as he was being wheeled out on a stretcher and how scared his eyes looked. I think he knew. He passed away the following day. I was sixteen at the time.
After his funeral, my Grandfather’s black leather jacket found its way to our apartment. I don’t know if my brother and I asked for it or if my mother took it for us. I just know it was there.
We kept it in our bedroom closet and I remember how it hung there like a helpless orphan, secure in its memories, solitary in its space. I used to press his sleeve to my face, his scent still there, filing my mind as he did a child’s day, on a corner that was suddenly yesterday.
Five years later I got married and moved out. The jacket stayed for a while but one day when I went back to visit my Mom, it was gone. I never asked what happened to it. I guess my Mom just felt it was time to let go of the past. I understood. But there are days, even now, when I wish that jacket still hung in my closet. Days when I wish I could lift his scent to my face, slip my arms into his sleeves and feel him hold me one more time.
I still miss him. But if I sit quietly, I can still hear him singing in broken english, imagine our rides in his car and how he didn’t like losing at cards. His jacket may be gone, but he still lets me slip into it every now and then.
Thanks, Gramps. Love you.