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.|
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.|
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.