Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Watching the Waves

"Who's my good best friend I got?" -A question my Grandpa Sal routinely asked his 15 grandchildren, creating a very fierce competition.

My Grandpa Sal is one of my favorite people ever. Gregarious, loving, and loyal, he lit up a room even when he wasn't getting involved in everything going on in it. (We call my mom - his daughter - "Parsley" because she gets into everything. He was the original Parsley.) He and my Grandma Sylvia lived in the house behind us growing up. Our backyards connected. As a boy, I thought it was amazing to have my grandparents so close. We could eat meals at each other's houses any day we wanted. As a married man with in-laws, I realize my dad was a saint for buying his first home so close to his in-laws. And as a result he is certainly in heaven right now, having earned his place and then some.
Gramps with my niece, whose name he
couldn't pronounce. July 1985.

One of the most memorable things Grandpa Sal did was crash our swimming pool. We'd be in the pool in our backyard, and he'd stop whatever project he was working on in his, ambling through the gate between the two properties. Without saying a word, as we worked ourselves up into a frenzy anticipating the coming tidal wave, he soaked up our cheers and climbed onto the diving board. He'd proceed to perform a massive belly flop that was always meant to be a dive, swim to the shallow end while spitting water out of his mouth with every stroke, exit through the stairs at the opposite end of the pool, climb the slide and shimmy down it head first. Euphoric, my cousins, friends, and I would splash him and dunk him. He still wouldn't speak a word. The maestro of mayhem would then exit the pool, walk back to his yard, take off his swim trunks (yes, right there for all to see), hang them to dry, change back into his overalls and continue his work.

We lived "down the shore," as my north-Jersey bred cousins would say. Our houses were a popular one-week summer retreat for relatives. Some summer days, especially during one of those weeks when one of them was visiting, Grandpa Sal would announce, "Let's go to the Broadwalk and watch the waves." Yes, he called it the Broadwalk. That's not a typo. He comically and chronically mispronounced many words, like toilet (terlet), oil (earl), and my niece Clarissa's name (Clarister-ertle.) It was just another thing to love about him. Terminally frugal like me and my mom before me, Grandpa Sal took us to the Boardwalk in Seaside Heights a couple of times a summer JUST to watch the waves. No rides. No games. No food.

He didn't even take us to the beach. We stood there on the Boardwalk, or sat on a bench, and watched the waves. We never understood why. What the hell is the fun in that? We were surrounded by a child's paradise and he was essentially punishing us. Teasing us with this boring endeavor. Eventually, as I grew older, I stopped going with him, knowing he was seriously NOT going to take me on any rides or buy me a sausage and peppers sandwich. "Why would we spend $5 on that when I can make you one at home?" He had a point. I find myself saying similar things now to Peanut and My Director, who keeps our budget despite her spendy ways. #Irony

Eventually, Grandpa Sal would go watch the waves by himself many times, without us. Oh, how I wish he would have insisted that I go with him.

What's left of the Boardwalk at Seaside Park. 
On Thursday night, a fire destroyed a large section of that Boardwalk where he would take us to watch the waves. The same Boardwalk that was badly damaged after Hurricane Sandy last October. A lot of people from the Jersey Shore, myself included, who have countless memories of this Boardwalk recall their parents taking them on the rides, then being old enough to cruise it alone with their friends as a pre-teen and teenager, eventually being old enough to drink at the bars, up until now, when we've taken our children to the Boardwalk to give them the same memories and share with them the same traditions.

But I thought of my Grandpa Sal, and how we made fun of his wanting to take us to "watch the waves." Turns out, Gramps had it all figured out. He was teaching us to stop and appreciate what you have, what you've done. Relax after a hard day. Take in God's splendor, the beauty of the sand and the ocean. You don't need beach toys, snacks, or money. It's free. You don't even need a chair. One will be provided for you. All you have to do is go. I didn't see the man relax a lot, but I did when he was watching the waves.

My grandparents. December 1983.
Grandpa Sal was my first hero. A hard-working, blue-collar member of the "greatest generation" who provided for his family, protected them, did everything for them. He was proud of us and our heritage and instilled that pride in us. He was the first person who was close to me who died. It was the summer before I was in sixth grade. I remember being so sad for him, for my mom and my Grandma Sylvia. But I also remember being so impressed with his bravery.

He showed, to me as a young boy, amazing strength in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis. All he did to his dying day was love us, and tell us so. Sitting in the funeral parlor at his wake, I looked at him laying there and thought he was so brave, by simply dying. By going to that great unknown with faith and courage. I think I felt that because until then death was foreign to me. It was something you saw on tv, movies, or video games. He made it real, with grace and dignity. With pain. And love.

Sometimes when I take Peanut to the Boardwalk I stand near the fence along the beach for a minute or two. I watch the waves. In those moments I stop. I relax. I take in the sand and the surf and I think of my Grandpa Sal. I do so, of course, until she snaps me back into reality and we go on a mission to win her a stuffed animal she doesn't need.

All of these years later, seeing the Boardwalk burn, I know why Gramps took me to watch the waves. He was teaching me to take every opportunity to stop and savor every day, every moment. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Turns out, my Grandpa Sal taught me that. It just took me this long to realize it.


  1. Another lovely post. Thank you. It reminded me of my many aunts and uncles and my Mom & Dad, all gone now but not the memories.

  2. I am absolutely in love with this post.

  3. I could not say cholesterol for a long time because of this nick name. I can now! Loved this post Unlce Justin!

  4. Loved it! Thanks for writing :)

  5. Therese Consiglio FibraioSeptember 17, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    Justin, loved the post.....and loved your Grandpa Sal and your Grandpa Silvia......My Uncle Sal and Aunt Silvia were the best of the best.....I remember him coming over to our house.....he always made me laugh.....he had a great/warm heart and a great/bad temper. Our family taught all of us the meaning of family, respect, responsibility, and consequences. These pillars of character are missing in many homes today. They, my aunts and uncles and my mom and dad, were that great generation. The first generation of Americans. They were very proud of their family, being Americans, and America. Many of them fought in WW2. They worked hard and raised your mom and all of us with values. I will always remember my Uncle Sal and Aunt Silvia will a smile. I miss all of them also. They have passed but are still loved and remembered and talked about. I love your post. Keep writing. I am sure he is so proud of you.....hugs.....Terry

  6. More of Grandpa's favorites:
    Everyday after school, even through high school, he'd ask "Whattja learn today, 2 and 2?"
    To actively engage his toddler grandchildren, he would point excitedly to the room's ceiling fixture and ask, "Where's the light?"
    He would frequently get on all fours to give "horsey" rides.
    To my mother's chagrin, he would invariably enter through the family room sliding door during nap time; while loudly whistling his infamous singsong bird call, then ask "Where's the baby?"
    The best was the unexpected, which became expected, thump on the back of your head, followed by "Hey Tony!", regardless of your real name.
    His was one of a kind and I miss him.

  7. Well you just wrote the hell out of that, didn't you? So real, storytelling at it's best. Thanks, as always. You never fail to impress.

  8. thanks just,that was truly wonderful,it brought back such fond memories of my childhood.my father gloated over his children,but especially his daughters.He loved to put my sister and myself on display at family functions.my sister would sing and i would dance to a number called ballin' the jack. first you put your two knees close up tight and then you sway them to the left and then you sway them to the right and so on. he was just so proud of us. I MISS YOU DADDY!!

  9. This is beautiful. Your grandfather would have been proud of you.

  10. I hope this isn't weird and stalkery, but you haven't posted in almost a month! Are you okay?


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